Friday 28 March 2014

A Salon Guest... Lesser Spotted Pirate: Rachel Wall

Today it is my pleasure to welcome Nick Smith to the Guide. Nick is a gentleman who knows a thing or two about the ways of buccaneers and today he shares the tale of Rachel Wall, a most particular pirate.


Well I must say Madame, it’s a pleasure to take a turn around the Gardens with you on my arm – Captain Hilberton will be most green with envy when I tell him!

After so long at sea, the life here fills my very veins with youth. Ah to be young again, prancing around in stockings, to eat the fine food from yonder stalls, to be the epitome of bilious. Alas, the gout has it in for me these days…

But look, what’s this? Fancy dress by the theatre? Devils, Princesses… and what’s she wearing? Outfitted as a pirate you say? Why Madame – I declare you are correct. A pirate… hah – how brazen. I suppose she thinks it’s most romantic, life on the ocean, the sea spray on your face, beholden to none but your brethren.

Well Madame, let me tell you a thing or two about pirates, for I just returned from the Colonies. Pardon Madame? No, you are quite right – the ‘United States’ we must call our misled cousins now eh? Aye… land of hope and free; well I’d love to see how long that’ll last… But I digress.

I was in Boston where I witnessed the trial of a real pirate maiden – not some noble being stood afore the mast with her jack tar, but a dirty conniving wench who’d rip out your tongue for the bonnet on your head. You think I exaggerate perhaps, but that is the very crime for which she was caught…

Rachel Schmidt was her name, a Presbyterian by birth, but she led the life of nothing so dour. She came from an honest Pennsylvanian farming family of German descent, a dull existence for one who sought adventure. So in 1776, at the age of sixteen, she befriended the American privateer George Wall – one of those roguish sailors fighting against our beloved King George.

To Boston the couple eloped, no doubt with the promise of wealth and adventure deeply planted in our Rachel’s head. But the life she dreamed was not to happen – not yet at least, for George abandoned his newly wed. Lost and confused in a strange city, Rachel managed to find work as a servant in a well to do home. Here she may have stayed, treated well by her betters, many have done so much worse than this existence – a roof over her head, a warm home and food in her belly. And if that were the case Madame, then I wouldn’t have this tale to tell. No, five years later George eventually returned to her, laden with money from his plundering – but whether this wealth came from the British or others, it is unknown.

He snatched his abandoned bride from her employers. It no doubt took little to persuade her, the greedy little minx had spied her husband’s gold. To an inn George and his friends revelled long and hard, drinking and gambling their fortunes into oblivion. Was Rachel angry at the dissipation of their wealth, or was she party to it? Who is to say, but Rachel’d had a taste of the high life now, and George promised her more, much much more…

An American may say George’s initial sailing enterprises were noble for their young pretender nation, but fighting the British was not enough for this rum cove. He acted not for the love of the United States, but for greed alone. George had a new target – the merchant sailors of his own shores, and with his wife, he had a cunning plan. Accompanied by a band of pirate friends, they would wait for rough weather to strike the area, sail out to sea in a schooner, lay to with Rachel at the mast crying for help. Their vessel was no doubt in disarray to add to the illusion. And who wouldn’t come to the aid of an apparent lone female caught in the midst of high waves?

As soon as her rescuer drew alongside the trap was sprung. A bloody slaughter ensued, with no quarter given. These were not like the sea rovers of the golden age – those who boasted of their deeds, but spared sailors who laid down their arms – no, for George and Rachel wanted nothing of their actions to be reported back to Boston. Every man, woman and child’s throat was cut, their bodies dumped in the ocean, their cargo pilfered and their blood-spattered vessel sent after them deep to Davey Jones.

This premeditated and bloody murder continued for over a year, until 1782, when their ally – the stormy weather – had the better of them. According to Rachel, George and other pirates were swept over board to drown when their main mast sprung. Are we to take this at face value though? I of all people know the harshness of the ocean, yet one cannot but wonder whether some other foul deed fell upon Rachel’s beloved, whether the vixen herself had some part in his demise. Either way, his corpse followed those of his victims, dropped to the watery depths below.

The very ploy of the distressed maiden in her floundering vessel now became a reality, and the type of merchant she would once call prey became her saviour. Rachel returned to Boston, back to the role of servant. Here she could have stayed, her foul deeds unknown, but she had the taste for criminality and the rewards such a life could reap. She was soon back to the docks, whoring her way around the captains of the ships, stealing their keepsakes as they slept. She carried on with this brazen behaviour until 1789 – how she ever managed to get away with such open robbery for so long is beyond me – for this was a far cry from the Presbyterian farm girl we once knew. Now though, we come to her end, for through the docks one day, she came across a pretty little girl of nineteen, and like the magpie that she was, Rachel was drawn to her bonnet. She snatched it from her head, but the girl fought back. Rachel, as we know was no soft girl – she smashed her victim to the cobbles, and drawing a blade, attempted to cut out her tongue. All for a bonnet no less! We already know Rachel preferred no witnesses to her crimes, and so perhaps was trying to silence the girl from reporting her to the authorities.

Fortunately the young lass was saved by a passing sailor, and Rachel was imprisoned. Her trial Madame, was most extraordinary, for she refused to be tried for robbery, and instead cried out she was a pirate, and spoke of all her crimes to date with her dead husband George. Why she admitted such a thing after seven years of silence we can never know. Perhaps guilt, or a boast of the colourful life she had led far from the farm of her birth? Regardless of her motives, Rachel Wall was hanged on Boston Common less than a month later.

That’s a real pirate Madame Gilflurt – and not very much romantic about the business at all eh?

Biography of the Author:

Nick Smith is a twenty-eight year old Northumbrian in exile, currently living on a small rock in the Channel Sea where he teaches science. He has a love for all things of a nautical and historical nature.

He is the author of the gritty swashbuckling adventure ROGUES’ NEST – a realistic look at buccaneers and pirates at the start of the 1700s.

1699. Stranded on the greasy shores of a notorious pirate haven, Captain Miguel Fan├ęz begins a near suicidal mission to find his missing sister Maria. She was returning to Spain aboard the storm-damaged San Isdora galleon until buccaneers took her and the precious cargo of indigo and silver for their own. 

Lost in a lawless place where he doesn’t belong, and struggling to keep his true identity hidden, Miguel finds safety with local whore Jacquette – a girl with her own secrets and problems. 

He becomes embroiled in the rivalries between grounded buccaneers and smuggling gangs on top of Jacquette’s dangerous scheming. So deep is his descent into the rogues’ nest, he doubts he’ll ever see Maria again…

Find Nick and his work at

Written content of this post copyright © Nick Smith, 2014.

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