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Howell Davis

Born September 10, 1674, London, England. Died October 12, 1712 off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey

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Captain Howell Davis - The Jester Pirate

The son of a glassblower, Howell Davis did poorly in school. Leaving his education behind, Davis sought work on a British merchant vessel at the age of 14. What few records survive indicate that Howell Davis found himself being lashed at the mast several times during the start of his career on the High Seas for insubordination, refusal to follow orders and for playing "trickster pranks" on his shipmates. One such folley of Howell's was shouting "Abandon Ship" in the middle of the night. While this caused chaos and amused Howell, his fellow crewmen grew weary of his impish pranks.
The Captain of the merchant vessel put Howell Davis ashore on the British colony of Antigua in 1692. The young sailor sought work on land but found nothing to hold his interest. In 1693 he found a berth aboard a British sloop and again set sail. Off the coast of Martinique the sloop was attacked by a French barque. The battle went in favor of the English and Davis was given the post of First Mate aboard the newly captured vessel.
In 1694 a mutiny ensued at which the Captain of the barque was deposed. A vote was put to order and the crew nominated young Howell Davis as their Captain. The salty 20 year old took the helm like a seasoned veteran though he despised taking orders from the Captain of the sloop. 7 weeks after being nominated Captain, Howell Davis attacked the sloop, sank the vessel and set out across the Spanish Main seeking his own fortune.
Notorious for his practical jokes and inability to take issues seriously, Howell Davis openly mocked the Spanish governors throughout the Main. He sacked and plundered several towns throughout the route and enjoyed parading the magistrates, officials and governors of the town through the streets naked.
Captain Howell Davis eventually made his way east and landed at the port of Cape May, New Jersey. In exchange for safe haven and supplying his vessel, Davis promised the British colonial governor that he would bestow him with lavish plunder. He gave the governor a map and promised that great wealth awaited him at the marked spot on the document. Needless to say the map was worthless and while the governor was out searching for this bogus treasure, Howell Davis relaxed in the warmth and comfort of the governor's mansion.
While there, a detachment of colonial guards from Virginia arrived in Cape May with orders to arrest him. Davis convinced the soldiers that he was the governor and informed the guards that "Howell Davis" was digging for his treasure. He redrew the map and the soldiers left to subsequently arrest the colonial governor of New Jersey by mistake. This gave Howell Davis ample time to summon his crew and flee the port.
Davis resumed his plundering of the Spanish Main and over the next several years sacked the cities of Nassau, Isabella, Bermuda, Santa Catalina, St. Martin and Nombre de Dios. He also attacked and captured more than 80 vessels. In 1712, heavily laden with treasure, Davis sent his fleet north along the eastern coastline of America. Hoping to reach New York or Boston, his ships were sighted near Virginia and a fleet of British warships confronted him off the coast of Cape May.
Even when his death was less than an hour away Captain Howell Davis continued his pranks. He struck the colors of surrender and when the British vessels came alongside to board him, Davis opened fire. The British warfleet returned the cannon volley and sank Howell Davis off the coast of Cape May on October 12, 1712.

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