George Lowther
George Lowther

Captain George Lowther is an English pirate who led at least three famous robbers onto the high road. George Lowther was an English pirate of the first half of the 18th century who actively hunted in the Atlantic and the Caribbean.

Captain George Lowther occupies a noticeable place in the pirate pantheon both because of personal "merit" and because of active "mentoring" activities: it was he who nurtured and led at least three famous robbers to the high road - Edward Lowe, Charles Harris and Francis Spriggs.

At the beginning of 1721, having got a job as a navigator on the 16-gun ship "Gambia Castle" (displacement - 250 tons), which belonged to the Royal African Company, Lowther sailed with the captain Charles Russell from London to the Gambia River. One of the goals of this voyage was the delivery of a detachment of soldiers under the command of Jonah Massey … They arrived at their destination without incident, but when the soldiers were disembarked and placed in the barracks, it turned out that there was no one to take care of their food. The governor of the colony, Colonel Whitney, entrusted this matter to the merchants and factors who assisted him, and they put the garrison on starvation rations. Captain Massey's indignation knew no bounds. “I didn’t come here to be a Guinean slave here,” he said; and added that if the merchants did not improve the supply of him and the soldiers entrusted to him, then he himself would find a way to do it.

“At the same time,” wrote the Russian enlightener in his “Lives of Pirates” Fyodor Karzhavin, - there was a quarrel between the skipper and Lowter [Lowther], which contributed to Lowter's intention; for Lowter noticed that the skipper did not respect him and therefore found a way to sneak into the mercy of the sailors. So when the skipper wanted to punish Lowter, they swore that they would kill the first person who raised a hand against their navigator. But this one was so crafty that he got angry at the act of the sailors, who themselves were angry with him for his indignation."

Gambia map
Gambia map
Gambia map.

Meanwhile, Lowther became friends with Massey and told him about his humiliation by Captain Russell, noting, among other things, that the team took his side. From conversations with the navigator, Massey understood that he was planning to seize the ship. Since merchants and factors did not improve the soldiers' diet, he decided to assist Lowther in the implementation of the planned action.

The skipper, apparently, guessed that a riot was being prepared, and went ashore to consult with the governor. Suspecting that it would be about him, Lowther began to act without delay; in the same boat he sent a courier with a letter to Massey. “I ask you to come aboard, as the time has come to fulfill our plan,” it said.

Lowther, raising the conspirators to their feet, arrested the first navigator and locked him in the hold, and then ordered the sailors to prepare the ship for sailing. Meanwhile, Massey went to the barracks to his soldiers and announced: "For those who wish to return to England, the time has come." After that, he entered the governor's apartment and collected his bedding, clothes and silver. Massey thought that the governor would go with him, but he refused.

“But Massey [Massey] took the governor's son away,” Karzhavin reports, “and put him on a ship; having scattered all the guns in the fortress, we raised the anchor and rode to the sea, but soon ran aground; whereupon Massey returned to the fortress, put the cannons in order as before, and stood there with his garrison as long as the ship ran aground. Meanwhile, Captain Roussel [Russell] approached the ship, but was not allowed to board, although he promised to do his best to please Lowter. On the next tide, the ship stood on free water; then all the guns in the fortress were jammed and thrown from the machines, then the governor's son was released ashore, and they themselves went to sea. Here Lowter gathered everyone on the deck and told them: “It’s stupid, guys, to think about returning to England, because what we have already done is enough to condemn us to execution. And so I ask you to think that you have a reliable ship under your feet, and wouldn't it be better for us to seek our happiness in the open seas, following the example of many others who were before us and found themselves a calm and carefree life! ‛Everyone agreed to this and swore not betray each other."

By order of Lowther, the ship was ripped from bow to stern and renamed Happy Delivery, after which the newly minted gentlemen of fortune - about fifty people - without deviating from the customs of their predecessors, developed their own charter and swore on the Bible stand for each other to the grave.

George Lowther. (Old engraving)
George Lowther. (Old engraving)
George Lowther. (Old engraving)

Lowther and Massey had no definite plans, and after consulting, they decided to visit the traditional cruising area of the Atlantic sea robbers - the Caribbean Sea. June 20, 1721, a week after the signing of the treaty, "Happy Dilivery" on the way to Barbados met with the brigantine "Charles". This ship was assigned to Boston, and its skipper was someone James Douglas … Having robbed the ship, the pirates went to the western tip of the island of Hispaniola. Here they came across a French sloop loaded with wine and brandy. At first, the pirates pretended to be peaceful traders and pretended to be going to buy their goods from the French, but then they plunged the skipper into awe, showing him their true colors. Having laughed at the gullible French, they dragged to their ship thirty barrels of brandy, five barrels of wine, many cuts of Persian calico and about 70 pounds sterling in hard currency. Since all this booty went to Lowther without much difficulty, he, out of "knightly" motives, left the skipper 5 pounds "compensation" for the damage caused.

Power struggles soon erupted between the two leaders. Massey constantly provoked his rival, arranged quarrels on board, and there were cases when sailors and soldiers from opposing camps threw themselves at each other with bared blades. Lowther realized that this atmosphere on the ship threatened them with disaster. It was necessary to separate, and when Massey with ten soldiers wished to transfer to a small prize sloop, he gladly agreed to go to meet them.

“As a result of this, Massey, with ten men on this sloop, went straight to the island of Jamaica,” says Fyodor Karzhavin, “and there he announced with courage to the then Governor Nikolai Love [Sir Nicholas Laws] how he had lagged behind the pirate Lowter; told him everything that had happened before, and how he gave Lowter a helping hand only to save his Majesty's subjects and return with them to England.

Massey was well received and, by virtue of his announcement, was sent aboard the sloop "Geppi" ["Happy"] in search of over Lovter at the height of the island of Sao Domingo [Haiti]. However, not finding him there, he returned to Jamaica, received his certificate and went home As soon as he arrived there, he wrote to the African company the whole story of his trip, referring to his misfortune that he was not accepted on the African shores; However, not having received the desired answer from the company, he went the next day to the chamber of the Lord Chief Justice, inquired if there was a warrant to take Captain Massey into custody for piracy. There is no such order. Then he announced that he himself was that Captain Massey and that in a short time the African Company would ask the Lord Chief Justice to take him into custody; sheriff can em come straight to him at any time. The secretary wrote down his announcement, and soon the mentioned order came out, with which the officer found and took Massey without any trouble. But the trouble is that not a single prosecutor appeared and could not prove that the letter written to the African company was in his hand. Finally, the judge asked him himself whether he wrote this letter or not? Massey confessed that he wrote with his own hand, and then at length announced all the adventures of his journey. Then they sent him to Newgate prison, where, however, he did not sit for long, for he was released on bail. Finally, on the 5th of July 1723, the admiralty court is dressed up in a prison called the Old Bailey [Old Bailey], where Captain Roussel [Russell] appeared with many other witnesses against Massey, who, in order to save them all from unnecessary labors, confessed everything, said more to himself than they knew, all the cases were confirmed for himself, so that he was found guilty, received a death sentence and was executed after three weeks in the Execution Dock [in the Execution Dock]."

Let's return, however, to Captain Lowther. After parting with Massey, he went from the shores of Hispaniola to the east, to the island of Puerto Rico, where he took possession of two ships. One of them belonged to Spanish pirates, and the other was a light three-masted ship from Bristol, captured by the Spaniards on the eve of the meeting with the Happy Dilivery. Learning that the Spaniards encroached on the freedom and property of his compatriots and, moreover, made him a rival, Lowther went into a rage and declared that he would betray the "damned Dons" to cruel death. But, in the end, he limited himself to the burning of both ships, after which the Bristol sailors were recruited into the Happy Dilivery crew, and the Spaniards were left to fend for themselves at sea on a launch.

Edward Lowe. Image from the National Maritime Museum, London
Edward Lowe. Image from the National Maritime Museum, London
Edward Lowe. Image from the National Maritime Museum, London.

After some time, the pirates captured a small sloop assigned to the island of St. Christopher, and, having transferred some of their people to it, set off to some secluded island; there they cracked ships and entertained themselves in the company of Indian women. Having celebrated Christmas, they decided to go to the Gulf of Honduras, but on the way went to fetch water on the island of Grand Cayman, where they were joined by twelve robbers, led by an aspiring gentleman of fortune. Edward Lowe … Lowther was delighted with them, like a drink, and offered to team up with his gang. The proposal was accepted. Lowe and his cronies burned their old sloop and boarded the Happy Dilivery.

On January 10, 1722, pirates stumbled upon the Boston ship Greyhound, commanded by Benjamin Edwards … Approaching him, Lowther fired all his cannons and raised a black flag from the mast. But Captain Edwards was not timid. For two hours, he fought a battle, trying to break away from the pursuit, and, only convinced of the futility of his attempts, he surrendered to the mercy of the victors. Not finding any wealth on board the prize, except for a load of log wood, the pirates hacked to death two sailors, and the rest were transferred to their ship. The Greyhound was burned.

On board the Happy Dilivery, Lowther invited the prisoners to join his mob. They were all given mugs of rum and told how rich they would be if they sold their souls to the devil. The prisoners drank rum, but voluntarily refused to join the pirates. Then the second mate Charles Harris and four more sailors were forcibly recruited.

In a short time, the robbers captured seven more ships in the Gulf of Honduras: two brigantines from Boston (they burned one, the other sank), Captain Eyre's sloop from Connecticut (was burned), a sloop from Jamaica under the command of a skipper Hamilton (took it for themselves), a sloop from Virginia (robbed, but returned to the skipper) and a sloop from Rhode Island with a displacement of 80 to 100 tons (took it for themselves). Captain Lowther placed the Rhode Island sloop under Low's command, and the Jamaica sloop under Harris. With three ships and a tender, the pirates entered the secluded harbor of Mayo (Amatic Bay in Belize), where, after unloading the booty and hiding it in tents, they began to craft the Happy Dilivery; however, at this time they were unexpectedly attacked by Indians who jumped out of the forest. Firing back, the robbers retreated aboard the sloops, from where they looked with annoyance at how the products of their robberies and the un-equipped flagship were being destroyed.

This defeat could not but affect the "moral climate" in the gang. Hungry and angry, they fought almost every day, accusing each other of cowardice. Considering that a riot could begin, and that all the sloops were in poor condition, Lowther left only one afloat, armed with 18 cannons and named "Ranger", and went on it to the Windward Islands. Near the French island of Desirade, he intercepted the skipper's brigantine. Payne, which he robbed and drowned, after which, having replenished the supplies of fresh water on the shore, he headed north. May 28, 1722 at 38 ° N. pirates took possession of the Boston brigantine "Rebecca", returning home from St. Christopher Island; a certain Smith was her skipper. This prize was given to Lowe, who moved to it with 44 other robbers; they left Lowther that night, believing that his "guardianship" could negatively affect their "black banner" business.

Left alone, Lowther decided to change his cruising area and sailed into the waters of North America. Not far from New York, the pirates took three or four fishing boats, and on June 3 they met the ship Mary Gally, heading from the island of Barbados to Boston; they took money and silver from him, fourteen barrels of rum, six barrels of sugar, several boxes of pepper, and six African slaves. In the Chesapeake Bay, pirates boarded a large sloop. That evening, anchored near the coast, they began to beat their drums, celebrating the victory; this was reported by excited residents of the area, who did not close their eyes throughout the night. The appearance of sea robbers frightened merchants and shipowners in all nearby ports, and all voyages were canceled indefinitely.

James Franklin, brother of a famous scientist and politician Benjamin Franklin, in the issue of the Boston newspaper "New England Courant" on August 6, 1722, he placed an interesting message with the following content:

Philadelphia, July 26th.

On Sunday 22nd a little sloop arrived, Jonathan Swain - the skipper, from Cape May, from whom we received a message that the pirate brigantine and the sloop had been cruising near both of our capes for about three weeks … as we already well know, he is much more inclined to trade than to fight."

From this small note, it can be seen that Lowther and his men hunted off the headlands of Virginia for more than a crescent, not in the least hindered by the presence of a patrol ship.

Leaving the Chesapeake Bay, the pirates went to the coast of South Carolina and there they met the ship "Aimee", en route to England under the command of the captain Guotkins … The latter was a brave fellow, and when Lowther, wanting to intimidate him, raised the Jolly Roger on the mast, he directed the bowsprit of his ship directly into the side of the pirate sailing ship. Not expecting such a turn of events, the pirates fled in unison. Not far from the coast, they ran aground in a hurry, and Lowther ordered his thugs to evacuate ashore. Fearing to share the fate of the pirate ship, Guotkins put some of the armed sailors from the Aimee into the longboat and went with them to capture the robbers. The pirates, hiding on the shore, opened furious rifle fire on the launch and mortally wounded the brave Guotkins. This misfortune immediately cooled the ardor of the pursuers; abandoning their attempt to hijack the pirate ship, they turned back, and soon the Aimee was on her way.

The robbers returned to the sloop again. Since there were many killed and wounded among them, Lowther thought it best to take a break and went to one of the islets off the coast of North Carolina. Winter caught them before they could prepare for a new trip to sea. Having wintered on the island, the pirates devoted all their free time to hunting feral cows, pigs and other animals found in the forest. When frosts hit and it became too cold on land, they returned to the sloop and basked in the cockpit by the stove.

In the early spring of 1723, Lowther invited his men to visit the fisheries of Newfoundland. Here they captured the skipper's schooner "Swift" John Hood, from which they took a large supply of provisions and three sailors. Then, taking a few more prizes, they decided to return to the "sugar islands" of the West Indies. On the way there, pirates robbed the skipper's brigantine "John and Elizabeth" Richard Stanneyby recruiting two sailors from her.

In August of the same year, Lowther's gang appeared in the Caribbean. The supplies of provisions on the ship were running low, and it was possible to replenish them only after the capture of the French ship from Martinique.

George Lowther. (Ill. From the book of Charles Johnson
George Lowther. (Ill. From the book of Charles Johnson
George Lowther. (Ill. From Charles Johnson's book "The World History of Robberies and Murders …")

On September 14, pirates spotted the slave ship Princess Gally on the horizon, sailing from the coast of West Africa to the island of Barbados under the command of John Wickstead. The latter added sails and tried to break away, but the overloaded merchant ship turned out to be slower than the robber sloop, which stubbornly pursued him and opened fire from all the guns. At eight o'clock in the evening, the pirates approached the victim, and the chase ended there. The captain of the Princess Gally was ordered to send a lifeboat, into which several armed thugs immediately descended.

The next twenty-four hours were a nightmare for Wickstead and his crew. John Crawford, 25 year old ship's doctor, and second mate Goldsmith Bluers were tortured - lit fuses were inserted between his fingers to force them to reveal the location of the gold. The pirates soon found twenty-four ounces of gold on board the prize. In addition, they took gunpowder, pistols, cannon equipment, two quarter-deck cannons and two swivel cannons to their sloop. Eleven black slaves, worth £ 500, also fell prey to Lowther's gang.

The robbers enlisted two specialists, a ship's carpenter and an assistant surgeon, into their crew by force. Two other sailors joined them of their own free will.

When the bottom of the sloop was overgrown with shells, the pirates, at a general council, decided to cruise their ship on the uninhabited island of Blanco, which lies off the coast of Venezuela. It was early October. Throwing the ship at high tide on the sandy beach of a secluded cove located on the northwestern side of the island, they dismantled it, dragged guns, sails, gear and food to the shore, and then proceeded to clean the bottom. To their misfortune, at that moment the English military sloop "Eagle" sailed past the island, heading from Barbados to the port of Kumana; its commander was Walter Moore … Noticing a suspicious vessel, which some ragamuffins were krengoving on the beach, Captain Moore came closer, wanting to better see who it belonged to. To get strangers to show his flag, he fired a warning shot from a cannon, but received no intelligible answer.

Lowther was desperate. The tide had just begun, and he did not have the slightest opportunity to slip out of the trap into which he had driven himself. Then, using the experience of other pirates, he decided to cheat. A flag with the cross of St. George, however, Captain Moore was not as trusting as expected: his sloop was getting closer to the pirate parking lot every minute.

Lowther had no choice but to join the battle. There was a volley from the cannons installed on the shore, but the pirate battery was immediately suppressed by the response fire from the Igla. Lowther, who was at that time on board the sloop, decided not to risk it and, having got out through the window of the cabin, together with twelve accomplices fled into the forest; the remnants of his army rushed to the same place, having survived after the defeat of the battery.

Waiting for the tide, Captain Moore boarded the pirate sailing ship, brought it out into the clear water and anchored it. Then a search group of twenty-five armed sailors was organized. At night, combing the forest, they captured sixteen robbers, but Captain Lowther was not among them.

When the governor of the Spanish port of Cumana learned from Moore about the battle on the island of Blanco, he equipped a sloop and sent 32 men to comb all the forests on the indicated island. As a result of this operation, about forty robbers were caught; but Captain Lowther managed to escape again. They also did not find three sailors and one cabin boy.

Sixteen people taken prisoner by the sailors "Needle" were taken to the island of St. Christopher, where on March 11, 1724 a meeting of the vice-admiralty court took place. Fourteen robbers were tried for robberies and murders at sea (two others either died of their wounds or were released during the investigation for testifying against their comrades). Eleven people were found guilty, but two of those sentenced were later forgiven. The rest were hanged nine days later.

What happened to George Lowther? According to one document, a few weeks after the events described above, sailors from a ship landed on the island of Blanco. While searching the forest, they found the disfigured corpse of a pirate captain. A discharged pistol was lying next to him, from which it was concluded that he had committed suicide.

Literature and sources:

  1. Karzhavin F. Biographies of pirates / LOII AS USSR, room 238, op. 2, maps. 146, No. 22, 56 p.
  2. Gubarev V. K. George Lowther's Pirate Odyssey // Adventurer. Minsk, 1994, No. 3 (7), pp. 14–17.
  3. Johnson Ch. A General History of the Pyrates, from Their first Rise and Settlement in the Island of Providence, to the present Time. Vol. I.- L.: Printed for, and sold by T. Warner, 1724; Vol. II.- L.: Printed for, and sold by T. Woodward, 1728.
  4. Carse, R. The Age of Piracy; a History. - N. Y.; Toronto: Rinehart & Co., Inc, 1957.
  5. Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates Fiction, Fact & Fancy concerning the Buccaneers & Marooners of the Spanish Main: From the writing & Pictures of Howard Pyle: Compiled by Merle Johnson. - N. Y.; L., 1921.
  6. Konstam A., McBride A. Pirates 1660-1730.-Oxford: Osprey Pub., 1998.
  7. Pringle, P. Jolly Roger. The Story of the Great Age of Piracy, N. Y.: W. W. Norton, 1953.
  8. Rowe Snow, E. Pirates and Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast. - Boston, Mass.: Yankee Pub. Co, 1944.
  9. Skrok, Z. Swiat piratow morskich. - Gdansk: Wydawnictwo Morskie, 1982.

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