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Peter Cornelius Hoof was born in 1683 in Sweden. Hoof began his career as a seaman at the age of 17, sailing with Dutch trading outfits. At this time, it was not unusual for teenagers and even young boys to take to a life on the seas. Although a difficult and laborious career path, work on a merchant ship was plentiful and easy-to-come by, especially for the inexperienced or uneducated. It stands to reason, then, that Hoof was probably from a lower economic class.
Sea trade was a booming business for the Dutch, who established trading relations all over the world early on, including parts of India, Asia, the West Indies, and in fact the entire Spanish Main. The Dutch were the first to open trade with China and Japan, as well. In his 16 years working aboard Dutch trading vessels, it's likely that Hoof sailed as much of the known world as any of his peers. That navigational experience and firsthand knowledge of the shipping routes of the Spanish Main would have made him a coveted and indispensable member of any crew—particularly a pirate crew.
In spring 1716, just after Sam Bellamy and his crew "went on the account," they managed a series of successful raids around Cuba and along the Central American coast. In was during this time that Hoof joined Bellamy's crew.
At his trial for piracy, Hoof maintained that upon his capture by Bellamy and his pirates, he was forced to sign the ship's articles and pressed into service. The other six captured defendants entered the same plea. Was he actually a captive, forced to toil under the tyrannical hand of Bellamy and his gang of cutthroats? Probably not. Consider the life of a merchant sailor: the hours were long and hard, the pay was abysmal, rations were poor, discipline was harsh. It's likely that after 16 years of this life, Hoof had simply had enough. The so-called Golden Age of Piracy had begun, and Bellamy and his motley crew of upstarts were coming off a stellar rookie season. Indeed, by the time the Whydah wrecked, each member of her crew was due a 50-pound sack of booty—a king's ransom. It's likely that Hoof saw the opportunity to live a "short life, but a merry one," and he jumped at it.
For the next year, Bellamy and his crew, which now included Peter Cornelius Hoof, continued their winning streak, wreaking havoc all over the Caribbean, until the Whydah finally went down off the coast of Cape Cod in April 1717. Not actually aboard the Whydah at the time, Hoof and the rest of the survivors of the Mary Anne, another of Bellamy's fleet, managed to make their way inland, where they took billet in the home of John Cole. In an ill-advised move, they decided to head down to the Eastham tavern for a drink. By this time, news of the wreck had spread, and Hoof and the others were quickly apprehended by Justice of the Peace Joseph Doane. The prisoners were taken to Boston, where they appeared before a special Court of Admiralty and charged with piracy, a hanging offense. To a man, the prisoners maintained they were forced into captivity by Bellamy and his crew. The judge, for the most part, did not believe them. All of the Mary Anne's survivors, save Thomas South, were convicted of piracy and condemned to death.
During his incarceration, Hoof and others were counseled by Cotton Mather, an infamous fire-and-brimstone preacher who was most noted for his involvement in the Salem Witch trials. It appears these meetings had some influence on Hoof, who, before he was executed, repented for his sins. In fact, one account tells of how, on the gallows and with a hangman's noose around his neck, the convicted pirate recited a Dutch psalm.
In a gruesome footnote to this short, merry life, Peter Cornelius Hoof's mortal remains were covered in tar and suspended in a metal cage at the water's edge, a warning to pirates everywhere.
Dan Hopman is thrilled to be making his Science Museum of Minnesota debut. Local credits include Park Square Theatre, Pillsbury House Theatre, Theatre Latte Da, Mixed Blood Theater, Girl Friday Productions, Minnesota Jewish Theatre, Red Eye Theatre, Yellow Tree Theatre, Balance Theatre Project, Theatre L' Homme Dieu, History Theatre, and The Playwrights' Center. He resides in Minneapolis.