I have known the Golden clan of St. Croix for about 30 years and enjoyed the company of family members on many occasions. Brother George was a natural story teller and he and I spent many days and hours sharing stories of life experiences and family lore. George Golden insisted that he was a descendant of John Golding who was hung for piracy in England around 1693.
Brother Mario is part of my Facebook family. Naturally, I pointed out my next book was going to be on the Lost Pirate Treasures of St. Croix and teased him about his being related to pirates. He replied that their serious and scholarly Brother Morty had researched the issue and determined that Golden and Golding were two different family names and that the pirate that was hung was John Golding.
I actually admire many pirates and indeed Pirate John Golding was an honorable man who is still an important part of case law involving piracy. Besides, I like a good story and felt compelled to determine who was correct. My conclusion is that both could be right but to conclusively prove it either way would take a lot of research and a lucky DNA match.
The biggest part of the problem is that we don’t really know whether the pirate’s name was Golden or Golding which as it turns out are really too different names.
From the Internet Surname Database (http://www.surnamedb.com) Golding “is an English surname. It derives from the pre 7th century personal name Golding, recorded as Goldinc in the famous Domesday Book of 1086. The development is from the original personal name “Golda”, meaning “son of Gold”. This persisted into the Middle Ages as a given name, with “Golde” as the feminine form, and was used in some cases as a nickname or byname for the color of a person’s hair whilst any names with “Gold” as the first element were usually compounds often associated with the Gods of Fire, Water and War. The modern surname can be found recorded as Gilden, Gilding, Golding, Goolding, Goulding and others…The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William Golding, which was dated 1202.” Other databases suggest that Golding might also be associated with a lover of Gold or friend of gold.
On the other hand the same database site suggests that Golden is an unusual name of Anglo-Saxon origin, and derives from the habitual use of a nickname that was originally bestowed on someone who had bright yellow hair, with reference to the color of the metal. The nickname derives from the Old English pre 7th Century term “gylden”, golden-(haired). The development of the surname from gylden” includes Hilde Golden (1279, Cambridgeshire), Henry le Gulden (1316, London), and Roger le Gildene (1327, Somerset). The modern surname can be found as Golden, Goolden, and Goulden.
To further compound the problem with family names is the issue of spelling and pronunciation over the ages. Think of a Mr. Coming as in “I am coming home.” Now think of all the ways it could be phonetically spelled; ie comming, commen, comin or comen.
Now think of Golding transformed into to Goolding, Goulding, Gilden and Golden depending on what a census taker, tax collector or immigration officer heard. Some old family Bibles even track the transformation of the family name from Golding to Golden. A further issue is that both names originally developed in England and Ireland before the Protestant reformation and the expulsion of the Jews from England so the ancient name can be Catholic, Jewish or Protestant and is distributed in many European Countries.
So indeed Morty Golden was correct Golding and Golden were originally two different family names with a somewhat natural transformation from Golding to Golden. So where does that leave Brother George our storyteller? Is he necessarily wrong? The answer is probably not. The family name of Golden is the more popular name in Ireland and the pirate who was hung was definitely an Irish Catholic and a loyalist to Catholic King James II of Ireland, England and Scotland. Therefore he was most probably named John Golden at birth.
However, in England, the more common form of the name was Golding and Protestant and in a politically motivated trial testing the rights of Englishmen, the new King and Queen, William and Mary, wanted to set a wicked example of trying a Catholic Loyalist to King James II for High Treason and Piracy. It would be easier to demonstrate treason if the Pirate were a Protestant Golding than if he were a Catholic Golden. If there were no treason proven, then there could not be a piracy charge as Captain John Golden was sailing with letters of Marque issued by both King James II and French King Louis XIV and was a privateer for the sovereign he recognized as his king.
Every nation at the time used privateers and more or less hung pirates and exchanged sailors, soldiers and privateers for their own people held by the opposition. During the rule of Catholic King James II, the English did not like his edicts of religious freedom. Seems James had been a very popular and efficient administrator and leader while his brother was King. This popularity lasted until he converted to Catholicism and married a Catholic princess from Italy who was viewed as an agent of the Pope. During this time, his brother convinced him to allow his daughter Mary to marry Protestant King William of Holland and this started the loss of his kingdom.
King James II started instituting edicts of religious freedom and appointing Catholics to important positions including leadership in the military which he was expanding even in time of peace. When the nobility got tired of the changes, they initiated a civil war by inviting Prince William of Holland to invade and promised military support and to make William and Mary co-regents upon his success. When the invasion force arrived and several protestant Generals took their troops and joined the invaders, King James II threw his seal into the River Thames and escaped to France where he lived by the grace of his cousin King Louis XIV of France. By this act, the English Nobles in support of William and Mary assumed he had abdicated his throne and was no longer reagent.
Shortly thereafter, he returned with an army and landed in Catholic Ireland where the Parliament recognized him as King. He proceeded to recruit more Irish soldiers and sailors with mixed success. When King William decided to personally lead the military invasion of Ireland to defeat King James II, James ran away for the second time and took an army and navy of 10,000 men with him. After this, James became known in Ireland as Séamus an Chaca or ‘James the Shit’.
Apparently Captain John Golden was one of the sailors in exile with the King in exile and accepted a Letter of Marque making him a privateer working for the French and the Government in exile led by King James II. From the English perspective, James the second, could not lead a government in exile as he had trice abdicated by virtue of his cowardices.
When the British Captured John Golden and seven other privateers, King William ordered that they be tried as traitors and pirates. Since the English were also making use of privateers, this would set a very poor precedent and make all privateering more risky and less desirable an enterprise.
When Dr. Oldish, the King’s Advocate, was asked to draw up the prosecution charges and to lay out the evidence. He refused, because of the poor precedent it would set. Dr. Oldish was fired as the King’s Advocate and replaced by a new man who tried the case and condemned those charged with high treason. The penalty was hanging.
As traitors, the men were not allowed counsel nor a jury trial. They were tried by a tribunal appointed by the king which found them guilty. The importance of this case is not the unfair method of how it happened but on appeal a fine distinction was drawn.
The appeals court ruled that these men were stateless people not entitled to the rights of Englishmen. At one level, their commission came from a king who had abdicated all territorial claims on two occasions and was therefor a private citizen. On the second level, they were Irish subjects of King William and Queen Mary serving the best interest of a foreign monarch King Louis XIV of France. In either case they were no longer Englishmen entitled to the protection of civil law. Thus, they were guilty of high treason and piracy.
This distinction still serves to define foreign mercenaries and pirates by a two level test. Are they serving the head of state of a legitimate government and are they working for a foreign government against the best interests of the legitimate government of their original state.
As often quoted, “might makes right and the winners write history,” so indeed, John Golden was a pirate and hung as such for being faithful to his king, country and religion.
Is it possible that Pirate John Golden came to St. Croix and started a family?
St. Croix was French and a pirate haven in 1693, so it is possible that he came her to trade with French and Dutch Merchants and to prey on Caribbean Shipping using the island as his home port. In this case the Goldens could all be descended from the famous John Golden.
Is John Golden related to the Golden Family of St. Croix?
We May Never Know!
This information is not included in my book (Lost Pirate Treasure’s of St. Croix: Your Search for Billions Starts Here!) because there is no solid evidence that John Golden ever crossed the Atlantic to engage in acts of piracy near St. Croix. Thus, if John Golden was never on St. Croix, there would be no pirate treasure of his on the island. If you want to search for pirate treasure that may still be on St. Croix, the best place to start your search is with my book.