Once a Knight is Enough

Knight Genealogy

by Laura Knight


William Knight, Pirate

William Knight (fl. ca. 1686) was a 17th-century English buccaneer known for joining privateering expeditions against the Spanish colony of Peru in 1685 and 1686, where they looted cities along the coast, in some cases being paid a kind of ransom to depart.

In 1684, William Knight led a landing party consisting of forty English and twenty French buccaneers in an attack on La Serena in the Spanish colony of Chile, but was forced to retreat in the face of strong cavalry. The following year he joined a privateering expedition with Swan, Townley and Harris under the command of Captain Edward Davis that raided and looted the town of Realejo and, the island of Pueblo Novo early in July. They were joined by William Knight and his crew on 15 July. He had brought Francois Grogniet and his French pirates with him. The crews fell out and fell into fighting; the French and English parted agreeing to occupy opposite sides of the island.

On 7 September, three of the English captains, Davis, Knight and, Harris decided they would leave and head back to Peru with four ships and three hundred men. A "spotted fever"[2] broke out on board ship contracted from the raid into Nicaragua, so they put into the shelter of Amapala Bay. Lying up on the a small island for weeks many of the sick among the crews died.

They careened off the Galapagos Islands, had engagements with the Spaniards, and took prizes. With fewer than 250 men, in March they raided and looted the Spanish town of Sana, Peru south of Trujillo, carrying away an estimated 100,000 pesos (£25,000).

Although their similar raid against Paita gained slightly less, the buccaneers liberated forty slaves who joined their expedition. The expedition attacked five more cities during the months of May and June, reportedly murdering city officials and priests who refused to reveal information on hidden treasure. The city of Pisco paid the raiders £5,000 in July.

Knight and Captain Davis parted company at the Juan Fernández Islands, where each crew member received £2,500. Knight's later activities are unknown, other than crossing the Atlantic where he is thought to have been lost. (SOURCE)

Additional information about William Knight's associate, Captain Davis, that may help to understand the time and activities and the real possibility that this William Knight may have been a Virginian:

Edward Davis or Davies (fl. c. 1680–1688) was an English buccaneer active in the Caribbean during the 1680s and would lead successful raids against Leon and Panama in 1685, the latter considered one of the last major buccaneer raids against a Spanish stronghold. Much of his career was later recorded by writer William Dampier in A New Voyage Round the World (1697).

Possibly of Flemish ancestry, he is first recorded as one of the members of the Pacific Adventure led by Bartholomew Sharp and John Coxon in 1680. But first and foremost he emerges in the Caribbean on a French privateer commanded by Captain Yanky. He was transferred to Captain Tristian's ship, the crew mutinied at Petit-Goâve, southwest of Port-au-Prince in Saint-Domingue (Haiti). Davis then sailed under Capt John Cook (fr) arriving in April 1683 at Chesapeake Bay, where he met William Dampier.

We notice here that Davis, John Cook, and William Dampier were in the Virginia colony in 1683. It would be impossible, in my opinion, for this not to be common knowledge amongst the colonists, and the three buccaneers to have been interacting socially with friends or even relatives or business associates which could have included Capt. Peter Knight, and others! As to whether this  might have been the time and place that the two privateers recruited William Knight, who can say? But it is plausible.  

On 23 August 1683, while selling captured prizes in Virginia, he [Davis] agreed to join a privateering expedition as a quartermaster under the pirate John Cook. Sailing eastward, they soon captured the 36-gun Delight (or Bachelor's Delight) shortly after arriving off West Africa at Guinea. Sailing to the Pacific in November 1683 by way of Cape Horn, Davis and the others were joined by (the buccaneer) John Eaton before raiding Spanish cities along the coast of South America.

Davis and the Delight arrived in the West Indies in early 1688 and eventually arrived in Philadelphia in May. Although he and Lionel Wafer and John Hingson would be arrested on 22 June 1688 for piracy in Virginia for two years as they crossed Port Comfort to Elizabeth River. On 26 June 1688 at his trial, Davis denied ever being a privateer, saying he had been a resident of Jamaica for seven years. A black servant, Peter Cloise contradicted the statement on 16 August 1688; Davis petitioned under a King James II Proclamation of 1685 for Privateering. In October 1686, Lord Sunderland issued a Council of Trade and Plantations instruction for their prosecution - but they may have received a royal pardon.

In August 1689, the Council of Virginia ordered the buccaneers to return to England. By November they had arrived, but without their possessions. In December 1687, Davis's expedition had found a land mass 500 leagues south of the Galapagos at 27°20′S 'Davis Land' shown on the frontispiece to Dampier's A New Voyage Round the World. In 1721, Dutch West Indies Company, and three ships under Jacob Roggeveen could not find the island, although it could be Easter Island.

Davis would eventually return to England in 1690 and successfully managed to have most of his former property and estates returned to him within two years. A royal order of March 1692 agreed to return Davis fortune, but £300 was retained by the Crown; and he kept about one quarter of the Jamestown property. The moneys may have been put toward building the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, Virginia. In November 1693, the Council of Virginia invited creditors of the three men forward. Davis signed with a cross and so may have been illiterate. 

Now, let’s consider William Dampier who was also hanging around the Virginia Colony and hooked up with John Cook and later with our William Knight:

William Dampier

William Dampier (baptised 5 September 1651; died March 1715) was an English explorer and navigator who became the first Englishman to explore parts of what is today Australia, and the first person to circumnavigate the world three times. He has also been described as Australia's first natural historian, as well as one of the most important British explorers of the period between Sir Walter Raleigh and James Cook.

After impressing the Admiralty with his book A New Voyage Round the World, Dampier was given command of a Royal Navy ship and made important discoveries in western Australia, before being court-martialled for cruelty. On a later voyage he rescued Alexander Selkirk, a former crewmate who may have inspired Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

Dampier's service was cut short by a catastrophic illness, and he returned to England for several months of recuperation. For the next several years he tried his hand at various careers, including plantation management in Jamaica and logging in Mexico, before he eventually joined another sailing expedition. Returning to England, he married Judith around 1679, only to leave for the sea a few months later.

In 1679, Dampier joined the crew of the buccaneer Captain Bartholomew Sharp on the Spanish Main of Central America, twice visiting the Bay of Campeche, or "Campeachy" as it was then known, on the north coast of Mexico. This led to his first circumnavigation, during which he accompanied a raid across the Isthmus of Darién in Panama and took part in the capture of Spanish ships on the Pacific coast of that isthmus. The pirates then raided Spanish settlements in Peru before returning to the Caribbean. […]

Dampier made his way to Virginia, where in 1683 he was engaged by the privateer John Cooke. Cooke entered the Pacific via Cape Horn and spent a year raiding Spanish possessions in Peru, the Galápagos Islands, and Mexico. This expedition collected buccaneers and ships as it went along, at one time having a fleet of ten vessels. Cooke died in Mexico, and a new leader, Edward Davis, was elected captain by the crew, taking the ship Batchelor's Delight, with future Captain George Raynor in the crew. (SOURCE)

Finally, let’s look at Francois Grogniet, the French buccaneer with whom William Knight appeared to have been most closely associated:

Groginet began his career as a flibustier (French buccaneer) in 1683, sailing  a 70-man, 6-gun ship named St. Joseph (or St. Francis) alongside fellow Frenchman L’Escayer. In March 1685 they and other Frenchmen joined forces with English buccaneers Townley, Edward Davis, Charles Swan, and Peter Harris. With the addition of troops from Mathurin Desmarestz and Pierre le Picard the French contingent had grown so large that the English gave them the captured Spanish prize ship San Rosario (Sainte-Rose or Santa Rosa). In exchange Groginet gave Davis French commissions to sail against the Spanish. (SOURCE) )

So, it seems to me to be altogether possible that William Knight, was part of a milieu that entertained Dampier, Davis and Cook and others and may have been already involved in mercantile seafaring as were many Knights both in England and the Colonies.  But it is also clear, from the text available, that Knight left the company of pirates after just a short time. The text says nobody ever heard of him again and that he was presumed lost.

Considering the later treatment of Davis, it is unlikely that William could have returned home unknown and unmolested by the authorities so the odds are he was lost at sea or put ashore somewhere else and lived out his life under an assumed name. He may also have been gotten off the hook by family connections of which there are no records.

It’s on the wish list to figure out who this Knight was and who he connects to.

Rogozinski, Jan (1996) Pirates!: Brigands, Buccaneers, and Privateers in Fact, Fiction, and Legend. New York: Da Capo Press.

Gerhard, Peter (2012) "Pirates of New Spain, 1575-1742," Courier Dover Publications.

Shomette, Donald G. Pirates on the Chesapeakeand Wafer, Lionel: “A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America”


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