Slavery, piracy and a hanging: the unforgettable tale of The Flying Cloud

This mighty and horrifying ballad is packed with journeys: first, the butcher’s boy runs away to sea and sails to Bermuda; second the young lad joins a brutal get rich quick slaving voyage to Africa and Cuba; third he becomes a merciless pirate and sails for the Spanish Main; and fourth he is captured and taken to London to be tried and hung on the gallows.

And I suppose the fifth is a mental and spiritual journey in which this adventurer becomes contrite, and bitterly wishes he’d never done any of it.

I guess all of this may well have happened in some genuine cases, but I suspect this ballad was written in a later era, and packed with adventure in order to sell printed ballad sheetsy. The earliest date it was collected as a song was in 1906.

3 thoughts on “Slavery, piracy and a hanging: the unforgettable tale of The Flying Cloud”

  1. Great stuff, thanks. Slavery and piracy seem to be with us still. John Newton author of Amazing Grace was pressed, became a slaver and was also enslaved in Sierra Leone. He finally saw the light, was ordained and became an abolitionist with Wilberforce. Michael Greenwood of 89 Abbey Street was pressed in Faversham Market Place aged 16, wrecked off Morocco in 1758 and enslaved by the Moors. The West Africa Squadron’s most successful ship was HMS Black Joke, a Brazilian slave ship captured in 1827 and renamed after the bawdy song. She was probably a Baltimore clipper like your Flying Cloud.

    1. Many thanks! Damned right about slavery. it’s back, and often in sneaky ways we don’t recognise of even see.

      I knew about the Faversham man, but my heavens! That’s a great story about the ship.


      1. Yes indeed, my favourite part of the story of HMS Black Joke is 14 year old Midshipman Hinde taking command to rescue the boarding party at a critical moment during the capture of a slaver. The 31 hour chase and capture of another slaver including using the sweeps is a pretty good tale too.

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