Born in England, Colonel William Rhett (1666-1722) came to the Carolina colony in November 1694 as a captain of a merchant ship. In the impoverished Carolina colony, pirates, former seamen who had participated in Queen Anne's War, were once a welcome sight, for they brought much needed goods (see Major Stede Bonnet, and Edward Teach, A.K.A. Captain Blackbeard). As South Carolina became more prosperous, attitudes changed. Forced out of the Caribbean by the royal navy, pirates sought refuge along the Carolina coast and seized merchant ships leaving Charleston harbor. Angered by their attacks, Rhett began tracking pirates off the coast. In late 1718, Rhett had tracked the pirate Stede Bonnet to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. After a bloody battle, Bonnet and his men were captured, bought to Charleston to stand trial, and eventually convicted and hanged. In 1721 Rhett was appointed governor of the Bahamas, but died in Charleston on January 12, 1722, just as he was preparing to leave for the Bahamas. Portrait by Henrietta Deering Johnston (?-1728).
Courtesy of the Gibbes Museum of Art/Carolina Art Association.