Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pirate Profile - William "Billy" Bullard

William "Billy" Bullard was born in Dover sometime around the early 1670's.  His exact birth date is unknown but according to Bullard himself, he signed on his first ship when he was a "lad of twelve years."  According to papers found in London, William signed aboard the sloop Deliverance as cabin boy on the 8th of March, 1683.  If his memory served him correctly, that would make his birth date 1671.

 Little is known of his childhood save what he has told this author during our last voyage together.  Many a night was spent listening to his tales of adventure as a lad on the docks of Dover but I have been unable to verify any of the information.  He told me his father was a sailor but was lost at sea when Billy was very young and he remembered little of the man.  His mother however, is another story.  To provide for the young Bullard she apparently turned to less than noble ways of earning money.  She became a favorite at The George and Dragon for many a sailor and it was no doubt here that William first felt a call of the sea.

As he grew older, William spent less time around The George and Dragon and the promiscuous ways of his mother.  His days were spent on the Dover merchant docks where he dreamed of a life at sea when not begging or stealing food.  It was on these docks that a chance meeting changed his life.  The young urchin was caught stealing hard tack by none other than the good Captain William Hastings, master of the Queen's Fancy.  For some odd reason that even Billy can not explain to this day, instead of beating the young rascal or worse, the captain pitied his lot in life and took him for his own.

In time Billy grew to love the old captain, yet in the beginning the relationship was strained.  Young Billy, as the captain began to call him to differentiate the junior from the senior, wanted to take to the sea on the Queen's Fancy with Captain Hastings, but instead the lad was made to stay at home with Abagail Hastings and was schooled as best as could be afforded.  Though Billy longed for the sea, he proved himself a capable student and excelled in his studies...a trait that would serve him well in his later years.

Finally in 1683, William "Billy" Bullard was allowed to go to sea with Captain Hastings, now master of the Deliverance.  It was during this first voyage to the West Indies that the young Bullard showcased his uncanny ability for navigation.  He would routinely match or best the navigator's plotting and seemed to intimately understand the currents, tides, and winds of both the wide open sea and areas closer to land, even though this was his first ocean voyage.  This gift did not go unnoticed by Captain Hastings or the ship's crew.  In fact, on one particular stormy evening after the ship's cable parted, Billy was able to help guide the Deliverance through a gap in the reef line and out to the comparative safety of the open sea despite poor visibility and challenging sea conditions.  This heroic feat earned the boy gratitude and a respected position among both the officers and crew.

William Bullard continued on his first voyage as cabin boy in name only.  Even as a young lad, the superstitious crew began to trust Bullard's instincts and adopted him as their good luck charm.  Before navigation decisions were made, the officers and crew would insist that Captain Hastings have a word with "young Billy".  In this manner, William gained rank rapidly and became a fixture upon the Deliverance for the next eight years.  As a side note, the Deliverance was lost with all hands on the very first voyage undertaken after Billy left.  (Author's note:  Captain Hastings was not on board the voyage either).

Great love and respect grew between the elder William and the younger.  But in 1691 their ways parted.  At this point in his career, Captain Hastings was more than happy to continue the routine crossing of the Atlantic from Bristol to the West Indies but Billy Bullard felt the call of the great unknown.  He served as sailing master and navigator aboard both merchant vessels and Royal Navy ships of war with great distinction until 1699.  It was in this year that his navigational abilities brought him to the attention of William Dampier.  Having already circumnavigated the world one time, Dampier was about to attempt the feat once again.  He was given command of the 26-gun ship St. George and signed on William "Billy" Bullard as navigator.  For the next two years Bullard gained invaluable experience and returned as one of the foremost sailors of his time.

But Bullard was not one to rest upon his laurels.  When Dampier was hired by Woodes Rogers in 1708 as sailing master aboard the Duke, Dampier in turned insisted that William Bullard accompany him.  Once again Billy rounded the world in a very profitable voyage, capturing three Spanish vessels in the process. But the trip would prove costly on a personal level.  A bullet from a Spanish sharpshooter found its mark during the last ship to ship action of the voyage and Billy would have perished if not for the valiant efforts of Stancil Jones, the ship's surgeon.

It was on this fateful voyage that Alexander Selkirk was rescued from the Juan Fernandez islands off the coast of Chile.  Selkirk had been the sailing master on board the ship Cinque Ports which had accompanied the St. George on Bullard's first circumnavigation.  Selkirk was marooned when he complained of the ship's seaworthiness and left on the island with little more than a musket, gunpowder, a few tools, and rope.  Bullard and Selkirk were on friendly terms and Billy did not take well to the marooning and it may have been from the urging of William that the Duke rescued Selkirk more than four years later.

William "Billy" Bullard returned from his second circumnavigation both well off financially and quite experienced.  Rather than settle down to an easy life on land however, Bullard continued to serve as sailing master aboard both merchant and privateer vessels.  It was as navigator on the latter that he achieved his greatest fame.  With his unmatched knowledge of the West Indies and the east coast of the Americas, few foes could out sail or hide from him.  Many a captain has credited Bullard's navigational ability as the deciding factor in the success of a voyage.  And though he is getting on in age, it is in this capacity that he continues to make a name for himself today.

Profile:   S     F     St    D    A   W    C    Fa   Ft                   Recruitment Fee:  16 doubloons
              6+   2     3     3     1     1     3    2     1                     Retainer:  7 doubloons

* Once per game, William may reroll both dice when using the Master of the Wind ability and choose the highest single result from both attempts.

* William "Billy" Bullard acts as a hero in game terms but must be hired like other hired hands.  He is a bit more expensive due to his added point of Fate and ability enhancement.

(This is the first of a series where I will profile characters created for my Legend's of the High Seas game.  Though the background will include elements of historical people, places, and/or events, any resemblance to actual history is purely coincidental.  Readers may use the profiles for their own games as long as I am given proper credit.)

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