During the Golden Age of Piracy, Rhode Island was a haven for swashbuckling buccaneers, most notably associated with Thomas Tew and Henry Every. Many of them received a warm welcome, initially at least, as they typically sailed off to North Africa to raid Muslim ships.
Newport was one of the major pirate ports, and its historic White Horse Tavern was at one point owned by William May, a crewman of Captain Every. It is also home to the site of what is remembered today as the largest-scale public mass execution in Rhode Island history.
On June 10, 1723, an hours-long combat took place off Delaware Bay between Royal Navy man-of-water HMS Greyhound and two pirate ships led by the notoriously cruel Captain Edward Low. Greyhound fought back quite well, to Low’s surprise, and succeeded in the capture of one of his ships, the Ranger, though it allowed Low a chance to escape.
Charles Harris, the young captain of the Ranger, was found guilty at the trial alongside 25 of his crewmen, and sentenced to death. They were hung on July 19 of the same year on Gravelly Point amid a public spectacle. Following the execution, Newport no longer served as a safe haven for pirates, who started attacking local shipments rather than foreign cargo.
Today, a Wyndham hotel and a yachting club stand on the site of Gravelly Point, which sits adjacent to the quiet Mary Ferrazzoli Park with a simple information plaque to mark its past. Some locals believe that the spirits of the pirates haunt Goat Island to this day, where it is believed they were buried.