Famous New England Pirates!
an exhibit at the Kingsport Maritime Museum
PHILIP ASHTON. In June of 1722, Ashton, a nineteen year old Innsmouth fisherman was forced to join the pirate company of Ned Low off the coast of Nova Scotia. Beaten, whipped, kept in chains, and threatened with death many times, Ashton still refused to sign the articles and become a pirate. In March of 1723 he managed to get ashore on the island of Roatan in the Bay of Honduras where he hid in a dense jungle until the pirate ship sailed away. For the next sixteen months, Ashton survived by eating crabs, fish, and seabird eggs until the “Diamond”, a ship from Kingsport, stopped at the island for water and rescued him. Ashton arrived home in May of 1725.
DIXIE BULL. In June 1623, Dixie Bull was trading for furs in Penobscott Bay, Maine, when a roving company of French pirates seized all of his provisions, leaving him destitute. He persuaded other fishermen, traders and seamen to join him in plundering trading vessels and attacking trading posts along the New England coast – thus becoming New England’s first pirate. The authorities sent five vessels on an expedition against Bull, but he was nowhere to be found. Bull disappeared from the New England area in 1633. Some claimed that he had joined the French; others maintained that he had returned to his native England. According to a popular poem of the 1600’s, Dixie Bull was killed in a sword fight.
BLACK SAM BELLAMY. Not much is known about the early years of Sam Bellamy. Having heard of the wreck of a Spanish treasure ship in the West Indies, Bellamy left Cape Cod to search for the treasure. Unsuccessful at treasure hunting, he joined a pirate crew and within a year commanded his own vessel. After looting some forty Spanish ships, Bellamy came upon the English galley “Whydah” sailing home from Jamaica with a rich cargo of goods including much silver and gold. After a three days’ chase, Bellamy took the “Whydah” without a fight. With the “Whydah” as his flagship, Bellamy sailed north. In April of 1717, off of Cape Cod near Wellfleet, the “Whydah” ran into a nor’easter. The storm forced the ship onto the shore where it was smashed to pieces killing Bellamy and over 100 of his crew. Recently the wreck of the “Whydah” along with much of its treasure was discovered by Barry Clifford in the shallow waters off of Wellfleet.
NED LOW. Described as a “maniac and a brute” by his own men, Ned Low was a Boston ship rigger who turned to piracy. He earned a reputation for extreme cruelty. After capturing a Nantucket whaler, Low made her commander eat his own sliced off ears, sprinkled with salt, before he killed him. When he captured the Spanish galleon “Montcova”, he personally slaughtered fifty-three officers and made one Spaniard eat the heart of another before killing him. His own crew finally set him adrift in an open boat without provisions. Two days later a French ship rescued him, but upon discovering who he was, the French gave him a short trail and hanged him.
THOMAS TEW. Rhode Island born Thomas Tew was a licensed privateersman, but everyone knew that he was actually a pirate. In the Red Sea he successfully plundered Arabian and Indian cargoes. Governor Thomas Fletcher of New York described Tew as “… a very pleasant man who tells wonderful stories …” And Fletcher was eventually fired by the king for being too friendly with the Pirate Tew. In June of 1695, Tew was shot and killed while boarding a prize ship owned by the Great Mogul of India.
REGINALD CUMANI. Red Beard Cumani was an Albanian aristocrat who funded a small fleet of frigates between 1695 and 1724. His most famous ship was the Desire, and its captain Thomas Cavendish. Cumani was a slave runner who turned his slave fleet into a privateering fleet when the slave trade dried up in New England. His family adopted legitimate merchant interests that continue today.
WILLIAM KIDD. America’s most famous pirate, William Kidd was a wealthy man. He was a privateersman hired by Lord Bellomont, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, to seek out and capture Blackbeard. Failing to capture Blackbeard, Kidd became a pirate himself – although he denied being one until his dying day. Returning to Boston in 1699, Kidd was arrested and shipped to London for trial. He was sentenced to be hanged at Execution Dock in London on May 23, 1701. On the first attempt, the rope broke, but the Sheriff’s men dragged him back to the gallows and hanged him successfully the second time. Kidd’s body was painted with tar, wrapped in chains and placed in an iron cage on the river bank. For almost twenty years, his body remained gibbeted as an example to other would-be-pirates.
WILLIAM FLY. A boatswain aboard a slave ship, William Fly led a mutiny, killed the captain, renamed the ship “Fame’s Revenge”, and became a pirate chief. Known for his cursing rages and inhuman brutality, Fly often whipped his captives for up to one hundred lashes. He pirated many vessels along the New England coast. Finally captured off of the coast of Newburyport, Fly was bought to Boston for execution. Fly went to his execution with a nosegay in his hand and reproached the hangman for not knowing his craft as Fly fixed the noose around his neck with his own two hands. Fly was gibbeted at Nix’s Mate island in Boston Harbor. His pirate career had lasted only one month.
JOE BRODISH. Attacking and capturing Spanish ships, Joe Brodish made a fortune for himself and his pirate crew. Returning to New England, he was recognized and arrested. After Brodish escaped from the Boston jail twice, it was discovered that the jail keeper was his uncle. Brodish was shipped off to England and hanged.
EDWARD TEACH – BLACKBEARD. Although Ocracoke Inlet in North Carolina was his base of operations, Blackbeard (Edward Teach) terrorized the New England coast. Teach’s beard was the talk of two continents. Jet black, it completely covered his face, even growing around his eyes and giving him a fierce appearance. He never took marriage seriously and during his lifetime he had fourteen wives and fathered forty children. In 1691, he and a sizeable crew landed at Lunging Island in the Isles of Shoals off Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There he buried a large treasure of silver bars which has never been discovered.
JACK QUELCH. Chosen commander of the “Charles” after its captain had been dumped overboard at Half Way Rock outside of Salem Harbor, Jack Quelch led the crew in pirate raids off of the coast of South America. Upon returning to Marblehead, Quelch and many of his crew were arrested. He was hanged in Boston in 1704.
THOMAS VEAL. One of four pirates to seek refuge in the Lynn Woods, Thomas Veal avoided capture by hiding in Dungeon Rock. Pirate Veal reportedly stashed his treasure in the cave there.
RACHEL WALL. Rachel Wall was a Beacon Hill maid, and her husband, George, was a Boston Fisherman. After stealing a ship at Essex, they began pirating off of the Isle of Shoals. Pretending to be in distress, Rachel would stand out at the mast and cry for help. When the rescuers arrived, George and his men would kill them, rob them of all valuables, and sink their ship. In 1782, George Wall drowned in a storm. Rachel was rescued. She returned to Boston where she continued to steal from the cabins of ships docked in Boston Harbor. She was accused and convicted of murdering a sailor – a crime that she denied. At her hanging on October 8, 1789, she confessed to being a pirate. She is the only known woman pirate of New England.