Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
'A Greater Monster Never Infested the Seas'
By Cindy Vallar
One of the last successful pirates in the waning years of the golden age, Edward “Ned” Low also gained a deservedly vicious reputation. Of his early life, we know next to nothing and what is recounted comes from a single source, Captain Charles Johnson. The problem is that some information included in his bestseller, A General History of the Pyrates, is false or embellished, so there’s no way to ascertain where the truth of Low’s childhood lies.
According to Johnson, Low was born in the Westminster area of London, England. He was illiterate and spent most of his formative years gaining his education from the streets. Petty thievery and gambling were his usual pastimes, and woe to anyone who dared to steal from him or had the audacity to accuse him of cheating. He ably defended himself and feared nothing. Such behavior was apparently a family trait; one brother spent a fair portion of his time being toted in a basket on a porter’s back through the crowded streets of London. When the opportunity presented itself, this seven year old stole hats and wigs from other porters’ heads and hid them. It proved a lucrative trick until he grew too big for the basket, at which time he turned his skills to pickpocketing, stealing, and burgling. This brother was eventually caught, tried, convicted, and executed.
Another sibling persuaded Low that he needed a different and more honest line of work. The two signed aboard a merchant ship and, several years later, Low set down roots in Boston, Massachusetts. Historical records show that he married Eliza Marble, who came from a good family, on 12 August 1714, at First Church; the Reverend Benjamin Wadsworth presided over the ceremony. Rather than continue working on ships, Low became a ship rigger. Four years later, he and his wife joined Second Church, where their children were later baptized. Their infant son soon died. Daughter Elizabeth came into this world in the winter of 1719, but her mother died shortly after her birth.1 After Eliza’s death, Low lost his job and left Boston.2 Rather than take his daughter with him, he gave her into the care of relatives of her mother. This abandonment of his daughter left its mark on Low. One of his captives later remarked:
[I] could observe in him an uneasiness in the sentiments of his mind and the workings of his passions toward a young child . . . which upon every lucid interval from reveling and drink he would express a great tenderness for, insomuch that I have seen him sit down and weep plentifully upon the mentioning of it. (Ashton, 264)Low did not immediately turn to piracy. He boarded a sloop heading to the Bay of Honduras to pick up logwood.3 In the midst of loading such a cargo, Low and the men working with him returned to the sloop just before dinner. He proposed that they stay and eat before resuming their work, but the captain nixed that idea. The quicker they finished loading, the sooner they could sail away and the less likely anyone would try to stop them. Angered, Low fired a musket with the intention of wounding or killing the captain. Instead, his shot hit a fellow crewmember in the head. The fatal shot compelled Low to abscond with one of the sloop’s boats and twelve men went with him. Sometime during the next day, they seized another vessel, voted to go on the account, and elected Low captain of the pirates. They hoisted a black flag with a red skeleton and set sail for the Cayman Islands.
When they arrived around Christmas, they discovered they weren’t the first pirates to anchor in the harbor. The need for fresh water had brought George Lowther and his men there. While the pirates became acquainted, Low’s vessel sank. Since Lowther also needed men, he offered Low a proposal. Since he only had a few men lacked sufficient arms and ammunition, they should join forces. Lowther would remain captain of his sloop, the Happy Delivery, and Low would become his lieutenant. The two men reached an accord, and after sinking Low’s little vessel, the pirates went hunting. It was a union that lasted until 28 May 1722, but would be renewed several times more during Low’s career as a pirate.
They returned to the Bay of Honduras on 10 January 1722, where they found a 200-ton merchant ship called Greyhound. Benjamin Edwards was captain of the Boston-owned vessel, and he refused to just surrender to the pirates. The battle lasted roughly an hour, at which time Edwards deemed it was better to surrender, else their fate might be harsher. Neither Low nor Lowther were in a forgiving mood. Their men whipped, beat, and cut the sailors, before forcing five to join the pirates.4 One of these was the Greyhound’s second mate, Charles Harris, who apparently had no problem with becoming a pirate, for he would become captain of another captured sloop.
While Low torched Edwards’ Greyhound, Lowther captured and burned seven other Boston vessels just “because they were New England men.” (Dow, 144) Three more sloops were also taken. The one from Connecticut suffered the same fate as the previous eight, but the captain of the Virginia one was permitted to keep her after the pirates unloaded her cargo. The Jamaican sloop was added to the pirate fleet; her new captain was Harris. Low also gained his own sloop that originally hailed from Newport, Rhode Island. Aside from being new, this 100-ton boat sailed well. The pirates added eight guns and ten swivel guns. With her addition to the armada, the pirates had three vessels with which to mount an attack and one that served as a supply tender.
The first stop after weighing anchor was Port Mayo in the Gulf of Matique to careen their sloops so they would sail more quickly than they did with the hulls fouled. This required they unload as much as possible, storing their booty and supplies under tented sails, and then heaving the sloops onto their sides. Doing so made the pirates the most vulnerable because their guns were off-loaded and they were less mobile. Normally, they feared an assault from the sea; this time, a great number of natives attacked. The pirates sought refuge on the unrepaired sloops, while their attackers hauled away or destroyed their stores and set fire to the Happy Delivery.
Lowther assumed command of the largest of the remaining sloops and named her Ranger, which carried ten guns and eight swivels. All the pirates piled aboard her and towed the other sloops from the island and abandoned them. Hungry pirates, few provisions, and lost treasure made for short tempers, bitter accusations, and infighting – a situation not remedied until they encountered a brigantine in the West Indies. Seizing this vessel, they found much needed food, which alleviated the bickering. Once the supplies were offloaded to their vessels, they sank the prize and headed for the Florida Straits to attack ships near the Bahamas.
Another brigantine was taken on Tuesday, 28 May 1722. The Rebecca was on her way to Boston, having left St. Christopher (St. Kitts, today), and Captain James Flucker knew his crew numbered far too few to fight Lowther’s 100 or so pirates. Among the twenty-three on Rebecca were five women and, for once, they were apparently well treated. Lowther also promised that they would, in due course, reach their destination, because once he found a better vessel, Flucker could have his ship back.
The Rebecca provided Lowther with the means to part company from Low. Apparently, the latter was never satisfied and often caused problems among Lowther’s men. To appease the troublemaker, Lowther offered Low the brigantine and forty men chose to go too. These pirates also took “two guns, four swivels, six quarter-casks of powder, provisions and some stores,” as well as three from Rebecca’s crew: Joseph Sweetser (Charleston, Massachusetts), Robert Rich (London, England), and Robert Willis (London). (Dow, 146) Willis, who had previously fallen from the mast, pleaded a broken arm and asked not to be taken, but Low ignored the request.
At this point, Low and his men needed their own articles of agreement. These later appeared in the 8 August 1723 issue of the Boston News-Letter and in an account of the “Tryals Of Thirty-Six Persons for PIRACY” published that same year.
I. THE Captain shall have Two full Shares, the Master a Share and a half, the Doctor, Mate, Gunner, Carpenter, and Boatswain a Share and quarter.Five days after Low’s company signed these articles, they seized a sloop near Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. This boat belonged to Newport, Rhode Islander James Cahoon, whose arm was badly sliced during the fight with the pirates. Low took the mainsail, provisions, and water. He ordered his men to toss overboard the sloop’s bowsprit and all rigging, before setting sail on a southeasterly course. In spite of the damage to both his vessel and himself, Cahoon arrived at Block Island around midnight. A whaler left for Newport with the news of the pirate attack. Early the next morning, drummers announced the governor’s need for volunteers to pursue the villains. One hundred forty men answered his summons; eighty went with Captain John Headland aboard a sloop armed with ten guns. Captain John Brown, Jr. took sixty men on his sloop of six guns; they also carried a large reserve of small arms. Their commission to hunt for the pirates was good for ten days, but they never caught sight of Low and eventually returned to Newport empty-handed.
II. He that shall be found Guilty of Striking or taking up any unlawful Weapon either aboard of a Prize, or aboard the Privateer, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and majority of the Company shall see fit.
III. He that shall be found guilty of Cowardice in the Time of Engagement, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and the majority of the Company shall think fit.
IV. If any Jewels, Gold or Silver is found on board of a Prize to the Value of a Piece of Eight, and the finder do not deliver it to the Quarter-Master in Twenty-four Hours Time, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and majority of the Company shall think fit.
V. He that shall be found Guilty of Gaming, or playing at Cards, or Defrauding or Cheating one another to the Value of a Royal of Plate, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and majority of the Company shall think fit.
VI. He that shall be Guilty of Drunkenness in the Time of an Engagement, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and majority of the Company shall think fit.
VII. He that shall hath the Misfortune to loose any of his Limbs in the Time of Engagement in the Companies Service, shall have the Sum of Six Hundred Pieces of Eight, and kept in the Company as long as he pleases.
VIII. Good Quarters to be given when Craved.
IX. He that sees a Sail first shall have the best Pistol, or Small Arm aboard of her.
X. And lastly, No Snapping of Arms in the Hold. (Tryals, 191)
When Boston learned of what had happened to Cahoon, the drums sounded there and more than 100 men responded. Captain Peter Papillion never found Low, but they did locate the Rebecca. As Lowther had promised, Low returned the brigantine to Captain Flucker after selecting a new vessel at Port Roseway (Shelburne), Nova Scotia. Aside from the remainder of his crew and his female passengers, Flucker also carried a number of Marblehead fishermen who had lost their vessels to Low. On 9 July, the Boston News-Letter reported that the goods left aboard the Rebecca were auctioned off at Captain Long’s house in Charlestown. The items sold included
1 Turtle Net, 1 Scarlet Jacket, 1 small Still, 2 pair Steel yards, 1 Jack and Pendant, 2 doz. Plates, 2 papers of Pins, 5 Horn books, 2 pieces of cantaloons, 1 main-sail, Boom and small Cable belonging to a Schooner, a small Boat and 20 yards of old Canvas. (Dow, 149)5Intending to sail for the Bahamas, Low went first to Buzzards Bay to collect fresh water in the early summer of 1722. While in the area, his men appropriated sheep from No Man’s Land (Nomans Land), southwest of Martha’s Vineyard. They also plundered several Nantucket whale boats. Rather than head south as planned, Low headed in the opposite direction to Port Roseway (Canada) where mariners often put in to rest on the Sabbath. When he entered the harbor on the afternoon of Friday, 15 June, thirteen other vessels sheltered there. Many of those fishermen saw the stranger, but thought they had come from the Caribbean and also needed a place to anchor for the weekend. Captain Philip Ashton of the Milton wasn’t alarmed when four sailors rowed from this brigantine to visit his schooner; he figured the newcomers sought news and company after many weeks at sea. Their intent proved anything but friendly.
[The boarders] drew their cutlasses and pistols from under their clothes and cocked the one and brandished the other and began to curse and swear at us, and demanded a surrender of ourselves and vessel to them. It was too late for us to rectify our mistake and think of freeing ourselves from their power. (Ashton, 262)The pirates repeated this ploy with all the vessels and, in relatively short order, soon seized all thirteen. Of these prizes, Low selected a new schooner out of Marblehead named Mary for his own, because the eighty-ton boat with clean lines would sail well. He moved his weapons, provisions, and men to her decks, and changed her name to Fancy. To his prisoner Captain Flucker, Low returned the Rebecca, transferred aboard most of the newly-captured fishermen, and bid Flucker adieu, which was how Captain Papillion of Boston eventually encountered the brigantine carrying the female passsengers while hunting for the pirates.
Ten of the fishermen, however, remained with Low against their will. Four unknown men were from the Isle of Shoals – a group of islands off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire – and six came from Marblehead, Massachusetts: Philip Ashton, Lawrence Fabens, Joseph Libbie, and Nicholas Merritt, as well as two unnamed in the historical record. Low remained at Port Roseway until Tuesday, 19 June 1722.
When they reached Newfoundland on Monday, 2 July, the water was blanketed with fog. As it lifted, Low spotted a large ship at anchor in the harbor of St. John’s. Thinking she might be a worthy prize, he sent most of his men belowdecks. The remaining handful on deck pretended to be fishermen. This allowed the pirates to sail close enough to a passing vessel to inquire about the mysterious ship’s identity. Informed that she was HMS Solebay, Low opted to hasten away as fast as possible rather than tangle with the warship.
Fifteen leagues to the north, the pirates came ashore at Carbonear. After plundering the Canadian village, they set fire to all the houses before weighing anchor and heading to the Grand Banks. There, they attacked seven or eight vessels, one of which was a French ship known as a banker that carried two guns and weighed almost 400 tons. She became Low’s second acquisition, and from the other prizes, the pirates took a significant amount of rigging and ammunition, as well as some men. Later in July, they came across two sloops bound for Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, carrying provisions and troops for the garrison there. Low still had the audacity to attack, but when the sloops fired on him, he rethought that idea and used the fog to camouflage his escape.
Heading south to the Leeward Islands, the pirates encountered a hurricane.
The sea ran mountains high and all hands were employed both day and night keeping the pump constantly going besides bailing with buckets and yet finding themselves unable to keep the vessel free. The schooner made somewhat the better weather of it but on board the ship they began to hoist out their heavy goods and provisions and throw them overboard together with six guns in order to lighten the vessel. They even debated cutting away the masts, but the ship making less water, so that they could at last keep it under with the pump, instead of cutting away the masts they were made more secure by means of preventer-shrouds and by laying-to on the larboard tack, the hurricane was safely ridden out. The schooner split her mainsail, sprung her bowsprit and both of her anchors had to be cut away. (Dow, 151)The needed repairs forced them to make landfall on one of the westernmost Caribbean Islands. They used stores they had to fix the vessels and traded with the natives for needed provisions. During the refitting, Low went cruising on the banker with a portion of his men. They came across a dismasted ship damaged in the same hurricane, from which they took over £1,000 worth of cargo and currency, before allowing her to continue on to Antigua.
After rejoining the rest of their party, the company voted to head east to the Azores (about 850 miles off Portugal’s coast) since warships were hunting for them around the Leeward Islands. They captured and kept a French ship, armed with thirty-four guns, at the end of July. They also stopped at St. Michael (Barbados) on Friday, 3 August, and proceeded to take eight vessels, including Nostra Dame, Mère de Dieu, Dove, and Rose. Low threatened to kill all aboard if they did not immediately yield, and since previous pirates had carried out such threats, the captains struck their flags without firing a shot.
Since Low needed fresh food and water prior to crossing the Atlantic, he proposed to St. Michael’s governor an exchange of six vessels for provisions. If the governor refused, the pirates would set fire to all the prizes. The governor acquiesced and Low received his supplies. He kept his word, after taking what he wanted from the six prizes. Having taken a particular liking to the Rose, he kept the pink, and Charles Harris took over as captain of the schooner Fancy. After transferring everything from the French banker to Rose and putting all but one of her crew aboard another vessel, Low released the six promised prizes. As for the man left behind on the banker, Low refused to release the French ship’s cook. He was “a greazy Fellow, [who] would fry well.” (Defoe, 323) To that end, the pirates secured him to the mainmast and set the French ship afire. The cook burned to death to the delight of the pirates.
Another vicious assault was inflicted on those aboard a galley called Wright, which was taken around 20 August, after Captain Carter initially resisted. Those who had dared to defend themselves suffered deep, disfiguring cuts. The worst treatment was reserved for two Portuguese friars, whom the pirates “triced up at each Arm of the Fore-Yard, but let them down again before they were quite dead, and this they repeated several Times out of Sport.” (Defoe, 324) A third Portuguese passenger, who possessed a mournful expression, drew the attention of one of Low’s men. Not liking what he saw, the pirate “gave [the man] one Blow across his Belly with his Cutlash, that cut out his Bowels,” killing him. (Defoe, 324)
Elsewhere on the Wright, another pirate lashed out against a second prisoner with his cutlass. The blade instead sliced upward “under [Low’s] Jaw, which laid the Teeth bare.” (Defoe, 324) Summoned to attend the captain’s wound, the surgeon closed the disfiguring gash. For some unknown reason, his work displeased Low, who verbally railed against his handiwork. The surgeon “struck Low such a Blow with his Fist, that broke out all the Stitches, and then bid him sew up his Chops himself, and be damned.” (Defoe, 324) The possibly tipsy surgeon beat a hasty retreat; “Low made a very pitiful Figure for some Time after.” (Defoe, 324)
Once finished torturing their prisoners and shredding sails and rigging, the pirates returned to their respective vessels and set sail for Madeira (Portugal). The galley drifted away.
On reaching their destination, the pirates took one man from a fishing boat and told the remaining occupants to bring water. If they failed to deliver, the prisoner would hang from the yard arm. The pirates received their water and released the man. He and his comrades were also given gifts of plundered clothes to prove that sometimes pirates treated their captives generously.
The next seizures occurred near Boa Vista in the Cape Verde islands. Captain Goulding of the Liverpool Merchant lost 300 gallons of brandy, sundry dry goods and provisions, a mast, and cables to the pirates, who also forced six men to join their company. Captain Andrew Scott of the King Sagamore was badly wounded in the attack on his ship. The pirates stripped him of his clothing and landed him on the shore of Boa Vista, before burning his vessel. Two Portuguese sloops were searched and various, but unknown, items taken. These vessels were permitted to continue their journeys to Brazil and Curaçao.
The pirates also detained Captain James Pease’s sloop on Wednesday, 5 September, intending to use her as a tender. Here, Low made a mistake when he sent aboard a prize crew. Most of these men had been forced into a life of piracy and, when an opportunity presented itself, they parted company with Low to go to England. Lacking enough fresh water and supplies, they first stopped at São Miguel (Azores). Two went ashore to explain who they were and acquire what was needed for the journey. Those in charge doubted their story and arrested the men. They also sent others out to take control of the tender. The entire crew were kept under lock and key for months, but at least Nicholas Merritt, one of the Marblehead men taken at Port Roseway, made it home because his narrative was included in a tract published by the Reverend John Barnard in the summer of 1725.
After the tender disappeared, Low and his men went to São Nicolau (Cape Verde) to take on fresh water. He lost at least seven men, who went hunting ashore. One of these was Lawrence Fabins, another of the forced fishermen from Marblehead. When they failed to return, Low assumed they, too, had escaped. Thinking it time to change their hunting grounds, the pirates headed west for Brazil. Eleven weeks later, they were approaching the Brazilian coast when a hurricane struck.
[I]t brought shrieking winds and huge, swelling seas that tossed the schooner and the pink like tiny twigs in a rolling tub of water. . . . Low’s crew, which was in danger of running aground . . . [took] in the sails, turn[ed] directly into the oncoming winds, and [rode] out the storm.Philip Ashton, who was still with the pirates, “could not even make out the tall, cliff-like waves until the moment they appeared towering directly in front of the ship.” (Flemming, 55) Terrorized by the storm, the pirates feared they would die.
For five days the crew held onto anything they could reach and waited for the sudden crack or jolt that would indicate the ship’s hull had smashed against rock. The vessels tipped sharply as they climbed one tall wave after another. After cresting atop a wave, the vessels rushed precipitously down the other side into a deep trench. (Flemming, 55)
[S]uch mighty hectors as they were in a clear sky and a fair gale, yet a fierce [wind] and a boisterous sea sunk their spirits to a cowardly dejection, and they evidently feared the Almighty – whom before they defied – lest He was come to torment them before their expected time. (Ashton, 274)6The storm finally moved on and the pirates headed for Îles du Salut, three islands off French Guiana (Guyane).7 The pink needed to careen her hull, and so preparations were made to clear her deck. Some men went aloft, including Ashton, to secure the ropes that would allow those ashore to heave her onto her side. As they pulled on the lines, Rose
tipped too far over into the water. One side of the pink’s cabin slipped underwater, and a rush of seawater started pouring into the vessel through the open portholes. Weighted down by water, the pink started rolling even further over onto its side. Low, who was still aboard the ship and inside the cabin, was able to escape immediately. But the ship’s doctor . . . was trapped. . . . Seeing this, Low turned back and reaching through one of the stern-facing portholes of the cabin, was able to grab the doctor by his shoulder and pull him free. (Flemming, 57)Once the masts were horizontal, rather than vertical, Ashton scurried across the mainmast and, along with other members of the crew, “quickly scrambled up onto the pink’s exposed hull and clung to the wet, slippery planks.” (Flemming, 57) When she started to partially right herself, they clambered back onto the masts. The shore pirates rowed out to the half-sunken Rose to pick up those who still lived, except for Ashton. Even though he could not swim, his only option was to jump. He managed to reach “the ship’s buoy . . . and clung to it” to keep from drowning. (Flemming, 57) After continued pleas, his friend Joseph Libby – one of the forced Marblehead men, who eventually joined the pirates – rescued him.
With the loss of Rose and two pirates, Low and his men – now numbering between 90 and 100 – crammed on to Fancy. Already low on supplies after their voyage from the far side of the Atlantic, rationing permitted each pirate “a single cup of water a day.” (Flemming, 58) Two weeks later, they arrived at Grenada. Initially, the French allowed Low to stay and secure more water, but something altered their thinking. A four-gun sloop approached the next day. At seventy tons, she was larger than Low’s schooner, but with only about one third as many men as he had, the pirates acquired the sloop. Low took command, and Fancy’s captaincy was given to his quartermaster, Francis Farrington Spriggs.8 Sailing in consort together, the pirates headed toward Saint Croix.
At this point Low’s cruel abuse of his captives – as well as that of at least some of his men – edged up several notches. They next seized seven or eight sloops, as well as the Nostra Signiora de Victoria, a Portuguese ship. Low was certain money was aboard this vessel, but her crew denied this. Thus began the torture, specifics of which never appeared in print. Suffice to say whatever it involved convinced several to confess that 11,000 moidores had been hidden aboard, but during the chase, their captain had affixed the bag in which they were held to a rope suspended outside the stern gallery windows. When Low and his men boarded, the captain cut the rope and the treasure sank to the bottom of the sea.
Low flew into a rage and “swore a thousand Oaths.” (Defoe, 326) The Portuguese captain must pay for such an outrage as this. Several pirates bound him to the mast, where Low “slashed off the poor man’s lips with his cutlass and had them broiled before the galley fire and then compelled the Portuguese mate to eat them while hot from the fire. Captain and crew were then murdered, thirty-two persons in all.” (Dow, 201)
The snow Unity was captured on 25 January 1723. One man was flogged because he had once served on a warship, and two men – Richard Owen and Frederick Van der Scure – were forced to join the pirates, who kept the snow as well. Another prize yielded wine. They also plundered cargo from two sloops – one heading to New York, the other to Curaçao – and the pink Stanhope, which the pirates set afire because her master, at least, was from Boston and Low abhorred New Englanders.
His next stop was off the coast of St. Croix, where he snared two French sloops. He ordered four Frenchmen into one of these boats, gave them some money, and told them to cross the twelve leagues of sea separating St. Croix from Saint Thomas. Once on that island, they were to purchase a doctor’s chest of medicine and return as quickly as possible. If they failed either to acquire the chest or come back, the prisoners would be slain and the other sloop would be torched. The four Frenchman succeeded in completing their mission within twenty-four hours, and Low released both boats and their crews.
The pirates were next found cruising between Cartagena (Colombia) and Portobelo (Panama), where they spotted HMS Mermaid and a large slave ship known as a guineaman. Low gave chase, but as soon as he saw Mermaid’s gun ports, he realized she was a warship. Before beating a hasty retreat, he ordered most of his captives aboard Unity and released her. Then Low and Spriggs set sail in different directions. Mermaid gave chase and Philip Ashton, who was aboard Spriggs’ schooner when the other captives were released, later wrote:
I was in great terror as ever I had been yet, for I concluded we should be taken, and I could expect no other but to die for [the] company’s sake. (Ashton, 278)Mermaid gained on Low and Spriggs to “within gunshot range, trailing by only several hundred yards.” (Flemming, 65) One pirate recognized where they were and, knowing of shallow shoals, advised Low to head there. Spriggs sailed down the coast toward Colombia, where he found a safe cove in which to hide. Mermaid’s captain pursued Low and, unfamiliar with the danger beneath his hull, ran aground. The pirate sloop got away.
Not knowing where Low was, Spriggs and his men stopped at Utila, an island off the Honduran coast. There they decided to go to New England. Five weeks after parting from Low and having seen no sign of their comrades during that time, Spriggs weighed anchor. Shortly thereafter they spotted a large sloop with “close to a hundred men aboard” approaching. She fired one shot, which struck Fancy; rather than fight, Spriggs tried to get away. That’s when the sloop hoisted their Jolly Roger. Realizing she belonged to pirates and recognizing her black flag, Spriggs and his men rejoiced. Low had finally found them. According to Ashton,
hideous was the noisy joy among the piratical crew on all sides, accompanied by firing and carousing, at the finding their old master and companions . . . . (Ashton, 279)From there, the pirates sailed to nearby Roatan, an uninhabited island off Honduras, and put into Port Royal, “a deep, three-mile-wide harbor that is almost completely closed off by the reef, several long stretches of sandbars, and half a dozen small islands and cays.” (Flemming, 68) In other words, the perfect shelter for Low to careen his boat’s hull and for the pirates to delight in drunken revelry.
The ninth of March in 1723, was a Saturday, and a longboat loaded with empty water casks was heading ashore. Ashton requested to assist them, and Spriggs agreed. At one point during the collection of fresh water, Ashton sauntered along the beach, each step taking him farther from the pirates. When the cooper noticed, Ashton explained that he wanted to gather coconuts. He stepped into the forest and soon lost sight of the pirates. Knowing they couldn’t see him either, he “betook myself to my heels, and ran as fast as the thickness of the bushes and my naked feet would let me.” (Ashton, 282) Nine months had passed since Low forced him to accompany the pirates. He didn’t bother to watch to see if his abductors were searching for him. When he finally emerged from the dense undergrowth, they were gone and he was alone on the island. He would finally reach his home in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1725.
Low next headed to the Bay of Honduras, arriving around the middle of March 1723. On the way in, the pirates encountered another sloop sailing away from the logwood camp.
The Pyrates had hoisted up Spanish Colours, and continued them till they drew near the Sloop, then they hauled them down, hoisted their black Flag, fired a Broadside and boarded her. This Sloop was a Spaniard of six Guns and 70 Men, that came into the Bay that Morning, and meeting there with five English Sloops and a Pink, made Prizes of them all, plundered them, and brought the Masters of the Vessels away Prisoners, for the Ransom of the Logwood . . . The Spaniards made no Resistance, so that the English Pyrates soon became their Masters, and fell to rifling; but finding the above-mentioned People in the Hold, and several English Goods, they consulted Low . . . and without examining any further, the Resolution pass’d to kill all the Company; and the Pyrates, without any Ceremony, fell Pell-Mell to Execution with their Swords, Cutlashes, Pole-Axes and Pistols, cutting, slashing and shooting the poor Spaniards at a sad Rate. Some of the miserable Creatures jump’d down into the Hold, but could not avoid the Massacre; they met Death every where . . . . (Defoe, 326-327)The surviving Spaniards jumped overboard. Low’s men pursued them in a canoe.
[S]everal of the . . . Men were knock’d in the Head in the Water . . . however, about 12 of them did reach the Shore, but in a miserable Condition, being very much wounded . . . . (Defoe, 327)Of those twelve men, only one Spaniard’s fate is known. After the pirates came ashore and “were at their Sports and Pastimes,” this man came out and begged for quarter. One pirate seized “hold of him” and promised to “give him good Quarters presently, and made the poor Spaniard kneel down . . . then taking his Fusil, put the Muzzle of it into his Mouth, and fired down his Throat.” (Defoe, 327)
The pirates appropriated the Spanish plunder and released the six imprisoned English masters back to their vessels. The pink’s carpenter joined the pirates against his will. The rest of the English vessels were permitted to leave, but warned that Jamaica should not be their intended next stop. If they failed to heed this caution and the Royal Navy came in pursuit of the pirates, Low promised he would have no qualms in killing each and every one of the masters when next they met.
Low’s next dastardly deed was printed in the 6 June 1723 issue of the American Weekly Mercury, although the attack actually occurred earlier. William, a sloop, had set sail from Jamaica on 30 April in a convoy of five other vessels. As they rounded “the West end of Cuba, off of Cape San Antonia,” the pirates captured all but the William. (Dow, 206) The sloop’s narrow escape was illusory, for the pirates were laying in wait for her when she emerged from her hiding place the next day. After plundering the sloop, Low and his men “cut and whiped some and others they burnt with Matches between their Fingers to the bone to make them confess where their Money was. They took to the value of a Thousand Pistoles from Passengers and others.” (Dow, 206) The news story ended with the report that Low was now “supposedly to be cruising off of Sandy Hook or thereabouts.” (Dow, 206)
Toward the end of May Low was in South Carolina waters. He now commanded Fortune, a sloop, and Charles Harris was captain of Sprigg’s sloop Ranger. On the twenty-fifth, two days earlier, they had captured three ships and a brigantine. Shortly before that they also took a New England ship, whose captain “lost one of his ears, had his nose split up and was cut in several places about his body.” (Dow, 207) Another captain also received gashes in early June; when he arrived in Philadelphia a week and a half later, he brought news that Low claimed to have “recently taken sixteen sail of vessels but seemed to be in a great hurry to be gone.” (Dow, 207)
To be continued . . .
1. Elizabeth grew to adulthood and wed James Burt on 7 December 1739 in Boston.
2. The reason for Low’s dismissal is unknown. Dow and Edmonds mention his “cock-sure disposition and [that he] frequently engaged in disputes and quarrels.” (Dow, 142) Other historians suggest that he may have become despondent following Eliza’s death. Whatever the case, he was sacked.
3. The heart of the logwood tree was prized for the dye it produced. Many English buccaneers, including William Dampier, harvested the logs, but it was a dangerous endeavor. The land where the trees grew was claimed by Spain, and the Guarda Costa often patrolled the region seeking the interlopers, many of whom were pirates, who dared to steal from them.
4. The five from the Greyhound who went with the pirates were Christopher Atwell, Charles Harris, Henry Smith, Joseph Willis, and David Lindsay.
5. According to Textiles in America by Florence Montgomery (W.W. North, 2007), cantaloon was a fine woolen bedcover made in Catalina. Later, the term also applied to French and English worsteds.
6. A hector is an old slang term for a bully.
7. The three islands comprising the Îles du Salut (Salvation Islands in English) are Royale, Saint-Joseph, and Diable. The last was the site of France’s notorious penal colony Bagne de Cayenne, better known by the prisoners’ nickname for it, Devil’s Island. Alfred Dreyfus was imprisoned here after being wrongly accused of treason. One of only two successful escape attempts was recounted in the film and book entitled Papillion.
8. Charles Harris, who had been captain of the Fancy, disappears for a time, and the historical record doesn't mention him until 27 May 1723. It's possible that when Low resumed command of the Fancy, Harris was demoted or went away for a time. On gaining the French sloop, Low or his men selected Spriggs as her captain.
For additional information, I recommend the following resources:
Ashton, Philip. “He Repeated the Snapping of His Pistol at My Head” in Captured by Pirates: 22 Firsthand Accounts of Murder & Mayhem on the High Seas edited by John Richard Stephens. Fern Canyon, 1996, 260-291.
Botting, Douglas. The Pirates. Time-Life Books, 1978.
Bradford, Andrew. “The American Weekly Mercury No. 184 (20 June – 27 June 1723)” in The American Weekly Mercury vol. IV 1722-1723. The Colonial Society of Pennsylvania, 1907, 70.
Burg, B. R. “The Buccaneer Community” in Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader edited by C. R. Pennell. New York University, 2001, 211-243.
Burl, Aubrey. Black Barty: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean. Sutton, 1997.
Caretakers Paranormal. “A Pirate’s Treasure,” Nova Scotia Ghost Stories, Folklore and Legends (December 2016).
Defoe, Daniel. A General History of the Pyrates edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Dover, 1999.
Dolin, Eric Jay. Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America’s Most Notorious Pirates. Liveright, 2018.
Dow, George Francis, and John Henry Edmonds. The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730. Dover, 1996.
Earle, Peter. The Pirate Wars. Thomas Dunn, 2003.
Flemming, Gregory N. At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton. ForeEdge, 2014.
Flemming, Greg. Cruise of the Pirate Edward Low 1722-1724 [map and timeline].
Hanna, Mark G. Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740. University of North Carolina, 2015.
Konstam, Angus. Piracy: The Complete History. Osprey, 2008.
Lewis, Brenda Ralph. The Pirate Code: From Honorable Thieves to Modern-Day Villains. Lyons, 2008.
Marley, David F. Pirates of the Americas v. 2: 1686-1725. ABC-CLIO, 2010, 690-693.
Mist’s Weekly Journal (19 March 1726), London.
Pirates in Their Words: Eye-witness Accounts of the ‘Golden Age’ of Piracy, 1690-1720 edited by E. T. Fox. Fox Historical, 2014.
The Pirates Own Book, or Authentic Narratives of the Lives, Exploits, and Executions of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers. Francis Blake, 1855.
Pringle, Patrick. Jolly Roger: The Story of the Great Age. Dover, 2001.
Rediker, Marcus. “The Seaman as Pirate: Plunder and Social Banditry at Sea” in Bandits at Sea: A Pirates Reader edited by C. R. Pennell. New York University, 2001, 139-168.
Roberts, George. “I Waited to Have My Doom Determined” in Captured by Pirates: 22 Firsthand Accounts of Murder & Mayhem on the High Seas edited by John Richard Stephens. Fern Canyon, 1996, 186-243.
Roberts, George. The Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts. A. Bettesworth and J. Osborn, 1726.
Rogozenski, Jan. Pirates! Brigands, Buccaneers, & Privateers in Fact, Fiction, & Legend. Facts on File, 1995.
Seitz, Don C. Under the Black Flag: Exploits of the Most Notorious Pirates. Dover, 2002.
Selinger, Gail. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pirates. Alpha, 2006.
Selinger, Gail. Pirates of New England: Ruthless Raiders and Rotten Renegades. Globe Pequot, 2017.
Seybolt, Robert Francis, Jonathan Barlow, and Nicholas Simons. “Captured by Pirates: Two Diaries of 1724-1725,” The New England Quarterly 2:4 (Oct., 1929), 658-669.
Sherry, Frank. Raiders and Rebels: The Golden Age of Piracy. HarperCollins, 2009.
Smith, Roger C. The Maritime Heritage of the Cayman Islands. University Press of Florida, 2000.
Snow, Edward Rowe. Pirates & Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast. Commonwealth Editions, 2004.
“Tryals of Thirty-Six Persons for Piracy” in British Piracy in the Golden Age: History & Interpretation, 1660-1730 edited by Joel H. Baer. Pickering & Chatto, 2007.
Whymper, F. The Sea: Its Stirring Story of Adventure, Peril, & Heroism. Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co., 1870, vol. 3, 70-71.
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