Henry Jennings, Pirate Mayor of New Providence (around 1715).
Little is known of Henry Jennings’ early life. It is known that during Queen Anne’s War he made a living as a privateer operating from Jamaica, probably as a captain of a ship. Like many fellow privateers he had a hard time adjusting to the peace that followed the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
It is uncertain when Jennings went “on the account” however he is famous for one single act of piracy. On July 31, 1715, the Spanish Plate Fleet led by the Flagship El Capitana was making her way through the Bahama Channel. The weather had begun well enough as the fleet left Havana but as she hugged the coast of Florida a hurricane hit with such ferocity that the entire fleet was lost. Only a few Spaniards managed to make it to the long boats. Some of the men headed for St. Augustine while others returned to Havana.
Word of the devastation quickly circulated through out the Spanish Main and just as quickly among the other colonies in the New World. Once word reached Spain, King Philip V declared all the sunken treasure belonged to Spain and demanded no other country to attempt any salvage on the wrecks. Philip’s command was largely ignored; however Spain was able to get salvage crews in the area before other nations and was intent on keeping all other interlopers off the wrecks.
The Urca de Lima was quickly located by Spanish salvage crews. In an effort to support salvage operations and protect the recovered gold, Governor Martinez of St. Augustine had a small fort built along the Florida coast near the site of the wreck. Surprisingly the Spaniards were able to recover a large sum of the money because many of the ships sank in relatively shallow water.
When word of the sunken gold fleet reached Jamaica Henry Jennings, being an unemployed privateer saw Spain’s ill fate as his good fortune. Jennings knew very little about salvaging gold from sunken ships. However, his years of privateering had taught him how to relieve the Spaniards of gold.
In short order he made sail from Jamaica to the Florida coast. Sailing up the coast he found the poorly defended Spanish fort. After a short disagreement with the keepers of the fort, followed by a little blood shed, Jennings thanked the Spaniards for their salvaging operation and relieved them of as much gold as his ship could carry.
Sailing back to Jamaica, Jennings assumed he would be welcomed back with a wink, a nod, and request from the governor for a share of the gold. Instead he was warned by friends that he was more likely to be hanged than welcomed. Jennings being a sensible man found this a disagreeable option and decided he had seen enough of Jamaica.
With more gold in his ship than he and his crew could ever spend, Jennings went looking for a friendlier location. He and his crew decided that the Island of New Providence in the Bahamas was a nice “fixer upper” and with that in mind, his crew landed in the small shanty town of Nassau.
When Jennings arrived in 1715, Nassau was already a pirate hot spot but was more like a sleepy little “one whore” tavern than a booming metropolis. Apart from a decent port and fresh water, it was of little consequence to Great Britain. Jennings found it an ideal place to set up shop.
Pirates had been using the town as a stop over and portage but now with the gold and silver brought to the town by Jennings and crew, the town began to grow into a city and pirate haven. Jennings became the unofficial mayor of the pirate city, taking tribute from those looking to be lost in exchange for safe harbor. Life was good. Nassau became the new Port Royal. Piracy in the area became so bad that decent merchants feared traveling in the area and avoided it at all costs.
Two years later, Woodes Roger, was appointed Governor of the Bahamas and vowed an end to piracy in his waters. Rogers gave the pirates an ultimatum to either accept a King’s pardon and cease all acts of piracy or be hunted down and hanged. Jennings being rich beyond belief considered himself the luckiest man in the World and eagerly accepted the King’s pardon, leaving piracy forever and assuming the life of wealthy plantation owner.