Student Finds Clues to Famed Pirate’s Identity
THERE’S AN OLD PIRATE legend about a forgotten place on the Trinity River named Sailor’s Bar. Now that saga has been revived—and revised—by an HSU undergraduate.
Last summer, senior Wesley Korpela, an Anthropology major and avid fan of pirates and underwater archaeology, heard claims about a band of fugitive British sailors led by William English.
The story was that a group of sailors made its way to Trinity County in 1842 after burning its ship off Cape Mendocino. The pirates were believed to have discovered and attempted to mine gold at Sailor’s Bar. If true, it would mean revising the history of California’s famed gold rush.
Bill Rich, co-director of the HSU Cultural Resource Facility, knew of Korpela’s intense interest in the subject. He explained that historians around the area had been probing the mystery for decades, but kept running into dead ends. He then asked if Korpela would be interested in using the facility’s resources to try to find something new. What Korpela uncovered was a mistaken name that led to the identity of a known pirate.
At the outset of his investigation, Korpela ran into false leads and dead ends galore.
Without definitive proof of pirates at Sailor’s Bar, Korpela re-examined his notes, where he discovered the clue that gave a new break to the case.
According to information Korpela found in the Humboldt Room in the HSU Library, William English may have been the mistaken name of Major William P. Reynolds, the reputed son of a Massachusetts sea captain and a Malay-Chinese mother—a key part of the puzzle.
According to the Sailor’s Bar legend, the mis-named Captain English piloted a warship of the British East India Trading Company, went rogue along the Chinese coast and was subsequently pursued by British authorities. It was said he fled across the Pacific to Cape Mendocino, where he burned his vessel.
Although many questions remain in the saga of Sailor’s Bar, Korpela appears to be the first researcher to unmask the legendary William English as Major William P. Reynolds.
Since graduating in 2011, Korpela is pursuing a career in maritime archaeology.