At least Captain Alexander Thompson gave a reason. It was a lie though. Some privateers just burned and plundered, then sailed off, without leaving residents with so much as a thanks for letting us steal your doubloons. But, Captain Alexander wanted to be dramatic.
Thompson of the American privateer ship, the Midas, plundered and burned Harbour Island in late September/early October 1814, out of sheer spite. He was angry because he had not been paid for 22 slaves, he had captured from the British, and delivered to the Americans, just a few months before, in June 1814.
What makes this story even more intriguing is that so many of the slaves captured by Captain Thompson (Midas) off of the British privateer ship, the Dash, came from Nassau.
The youngest slave was a 14 year old boy named Jim Gordon from Nassau. The oldest slaves were Baptiste Lightbourne and Charles Hunter, both negroes and both 60 years old.
Oh, Thompson gave some grand reason about the destruction of the American capital for burning Harbour Island, but the truth was, he wanted money.
He tried to make a dramatic scene of it, but it all came down to a fight he was having with his own people, the Americans, for prize money for the slaves he captured. Thompson captured Nassau slaves for which he wasn’t paid. He came to the Bahamas, to the nearest island, to get his money, one way or the other.
The attack on Harbour Island was triggered by a series of sea battles that American Captain Thompson of The Midas had with various British privateer ships. They were capturing each other’s ships in battle, seizing whatever valuables were on board, and then taking it to the nearest friendly port in order to receive payment, called bounty, by the government receivers.
Somehow, poor Harbour Island became a target for Captain Alexander Thompson’s anger and frustration.
What is largely forgotten in history is the continued hostilities between the Americans and the British, long after the end of the war for independence. They hated each other. Privateers from both sides were given free reign, by their respective governments to plunder the other at will. Whatever could be seized was fair game.
Piracy became legal and moreover, government sponsored.
On June 13, 1814, just a few months before the devastation on Harbour Island, Captain Thompson had captured the British privateer ship, the Dash. He took 40 people as prisoners, 21 were negro slaves who worked as the crewmen and 19 freemen who were the privateers.
The Marshall in Savannah, Georgia refused to give Captain Thompson payment, prize money, for the slaves.
It was this refusal which enraged Thompson and sent him to Harbour Island to lay waste to homes and fortunes.
The battle for compensation for the slaves went on into April 1818 and into 1819.
At that time, 100 dollars was paid for every prisoner brought in.
DESCENT ON THE BAHAMAS
Extract of a letter dated at Amelia Island
“By an arrival here yesterday in six days from Nassau, we learn that the privateer Midas, captain Thompson, had appeared off Harbour Island, landed her crew, and burned and plundered twenty-seven houses.
It was asserted at Nassau that they had taken seven hundred and fifty doubloons from one person (a Mr Bernard) and that they assigned as a reason for their proceedings, that it was in retaliation for the destruction of the American capital.
The Midas sailed from Savannah a few weeks since.”