Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Edward Davis (d. after 10 March 1692), pirate, was born probably between 1645 and 1655, perhaps in England but possibly in one of its colonies. The names of his parents are not known. Surviving documents in some instances confuse him with other men of the same or similar names, and his contemporaries occasionally rendered his surname as Daveis, Davies, Davys, and David. When he made his mark, Davis signed with a capital letter E, usually rotated clockwise ninety degrees.

As a young man Davis went to sea, where he learned some Spanish and by 1679 commanded the Emanuel. In wartime, governments issued commissions to private persons to prey on the enemy's ships and allowed the owners, officers, and crew of the private ships of war to keep a stated portion of their plunder. Often those ships and crews continued their operations in peacetime and were then called pirates. Since the sixteenth century the English had allowed privateers and pirates to attack Spanish vessels and raid Spanish settlements. Davis raided Spanish colonial towns, attacked and burned Spanish ships, and relieved them of their riches.

In 1683 Davis made his first recorded visit to Virginia. He and a company of pirates brought several French vessels they had captured in the Caribbean to Northampton County. After rechristening one of the ships Revenge, the group departed on 23 August with John Cook as captain and Davis as quartermaster. A well-known pirate, Cook cruised against Spanish ships and ports in Central and South America, and following his death in July 1684 Davis became captain of the Batchelor's Delight, a ship carrying when fully supplied thirty-six guns and a crew of about 150 men. He skirted icebergs when rounding Cape Horn, survived a tsunami off the coast of Peru, and sighted land in the South Pacific that appeared on later maps as Davis Land but may have been Easter Island. Davis prospered, and late in 1687 he sailed with his gains for Barbados.

Following the conclusion in 1686 of a war with France, the English king offered a pardon to all privateers and pirates willing to surrender within twelve months and give security for good behavior. Early in 1688, perhaps with an intention of retiring from the sea, Davis and two longtime shipmates, John Hinson and Lionel Wafer (whose surname appears in most documents of the period as Delawafer), traveled to Philadelphia and then south to Maryland. Also accompanying them was Davis's slave Peter Cloise, a native of Curaçao. From a shallop off the shore of Gloucester and Mathews Counties, Virginia, the four men transferred to another private vessel en route to the Elizabeth River. On 22 June 1688 a royal warship stopped and boarded the vessel as it crossed the mouth of the James River. The ship's officers discovered that the chests of Davis, Hinson, and Wafer contained a large quantity of silver and gold, plus approximately 3,590 pieces of eight. Davis later estimated the value of the treasure at more than £4,000, not including a cache of pearls and precious stones.

Davis, Hinson, and Wafer asserted that they had acquired their property by trading with the Spanish in the Caribbean, but Cloise reported that the men had spent years plundering Spanish settlements. Held in the James City County jail on suspicion of piracy, Davis and his associates admitted to the charge on 16 August 1688 and applied for the king's pardon. They informed the governor that they had intended to turn themselves in but had not dared because the king's offer of a pardon had not yet been published in Virginia. Still imprisoned while authorities in Jamestown awaited a ruling by the Crown, the three men engaged Micajah Perry, a prominent London merchant with many commercial ties to Virginia, to petition the king for their release and for the restoration of their property. A delay in legal proceedings prompted the governor's Council to release Davis, Hinson, and Wafer on 30 April 1689, and the following year the three men sailed to England to seek recovery of their treasure. The Privy Council granted their request on 10 March 1692, after the three men had arranged with James Blair, later president of the College of William and Mary, to donate £300 for "the pious design of a free School and College in Virginia." The account books of the College of William and Mary contain a 1697 reference to £300 "obtained of the Privateers."

In 1699 Wafer published an account of his travels, including his time with Davis, but he did not provide detail about piracy or about his detention in Virginia. The names of Davis and Hinson do not again appear in the archival records and contemporary literature of pirates and privateers. It is possible, though unlikely, that Davis was the mariner of that name who in May 1697 testified in London about defense of the Newfoundland fishery against the French; it is less likely that he was the seaman of that name who in July 1700 testified in Boston about Captain William Kidd's piracy; and it is even less likely that he was the man of that name in Virginia who in November 1700 patented and later deserted 300 acres of land in Gloucester County. The date and place of Edward Davis's death are not recorded.

Sources Consulted:
Edmund Berkeley Jr., "Three Philanthropic Pirates," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 74 (1966): 433–444; Raveneau de Lussan, A Journal of a Voyage Made into the South Sea, 1st English ed. (1698), 16–54, 59–62, 115–137; William Dampier, A New Voyage round the World (1698–1703), vol. 1; Lionel Wafer, A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America (1699), 189–224, and L. E. Elliott Joyce's introduction to 1934 ed., xxix–xxx, xxxiv–l; Public Record Office (PRO), Colonial Office Papers (CO) 5/1305, fols. 122–125 (first record in Virginia), National Archives, Kew, England; "An Accompt of plate & other things that were late in the possession of Edward Davis Dollawafor & Hincent," 26 June 1688, Colonial Papers, Record Group 1, Library of Virginia; letter, depositions, petitions, and copy of inventory (1688), in PRO CO 1/65, fols. 97–105; Council and General Court records (1689–1690), in PRO CO 5/1405, fols. 148–151, 157–160, 174–177; Warren M. Billings, ed., The Papers of Francis Howard, Baron Howard of Effingham, 1643–1695 (1989); Davis, Hinson, and Wafer's petition to king (1690), in PRO CO 5/1305, fols. 203–204; donation (1692), in PRO Treasury Office Papers 11/12, fol. 395, and PRO CO 5/1306, fol. 377 (first quotation); William and Mary Quarterly, 2d ser., 8 (1928): 223 (second quotation).

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Katharine E. Harbury.

How to cite this page:
Katharine E. Harbury,"Edward Davis (d. after 10 March 1692)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2016 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Davis_Edward_d_after_1692, accessed [today's date]).

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