Secrets of the Shoals

New England's Pirates and Lost Treasures

A little cluster of seven rocky islands and adjoining reefs, called The Isles of Shoals, is New Hampshire’s only claim to salt water islands. Even that claim is somewhat spoiled, for the state of Maine, which boasts 2,000 offshore islands, cuts right through them. Squatting out there, ten miles off the coast of Portsmouth, they can be seen from the mainland of three states on a clear day. Since fishermen settled there in pre-Pilgrim days, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire have argued over their ownership. "The islanders," writes New Hampshire historian Lyman Rutledge, "many times refused to pay taxes to anyone…Shoalers were always against Massachusetts government,"" he says, "and in 1652, were considered separate from Mass Bay." Still divided, north and south, between Maine and New Hampshire, three of the islands are now connected by breakwaters. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, "the Anglicans were on the north island and the Puritans in the south village." Even with this strong religious division, however, writes Rutledge, "some kept switching islands to get from one jurisdiction to another."

Best known of the Isles’ historians is Celia Thaxter, who was brought up there in the mid-1800′s. "At the time of the first settlement," she writes, "the islands were infested by pirates." John Scribner Jenness, historian of the previous century, writes, "there is strong ground for suspicion, indeed, that the Islanders were generally indulgent and sometimes friendly and serviceable in their intercourse with the numerous pirate ships which visited their harbor." One islander who befriended pirates, and probably was a pirate himself, was Philip Babb. Legend has it that he was one of Captain Kidd’s mates, but he couldn’t have been, for he died at the Isles in 1671. "He is supposed to have been so desperately wicked when alive," writes Celia Thaxter," that there is no rest for him in his grave. His dress is coarse," she says of his spirit, "a striped butcher’s frock, with a leather belt, to which is attached a sheath containing a ghostly knife, sharp and glittering, which is his delight to brandish in the face of terrified humanity." Babb lived on Appledore, the largest of the Isles, half a mile long and almost as wide. His house was on a hill on the south side of the island, near the cove. Here, he dug a large pit with his friend Ambrose Gibbon, in which he supposedly found a large treasure chest. It was too heavy to lift out of the pit, and "smoke came from its lid when they tried to break the lock," writes Oscar Laighton, another Isles historian. There was also the smell of sulphur, which forced them to leave the chest. Obviously, much of Babb’s shady life is cloaked in legend, but all historians agree that Babb did dig a great hole near the cove at Appledore Island. "It was filled in during the great storm of 1851," writes Laighton, and a Coast Guard boathouse was later built over the treasure pit." Babb’s ghost, of course, guards the buried treasure chest, so it seems wiser that modem day treasure hunters concentrate on pirate catches that are known to be buried at the Isles, and are not haunted by a demented butcher.

Pirate Captain Jack Quelch was a butcher of another sort, for his creed was to kill everyone aboard any vessel he captured and looted. Members of his bloodthirsty crew were actually caught in the act of burying gold at the Isles. His piratical career lasted only a year, having begun when he was first officer aboard the privateer CHARLES out of Boston. The 88-ton brigantine CHARLES was commissioned by Governor Joseph Dudley, on July 13, 1703, with the intent to "war, fight, kill, suppress, and destroy any Pyrates, Privateers, or other Subjects and Vassals of Spain or France, and declared enemies of England…." She sailed on her maiden voyage, twelve short miles from Boston to Marblehead, for her commander, Daniel Plowman, found it impossible to recruit enough crewmen at Boston. After Captain Kidd’s experience, few seamen wanted to join pirate hunting expeditions. Even Captain Plowman seemed a bit reluctant. From his anchorage off Marblehead, he wrote to the ship owners in Boston to "give up the enterprise," for the few seamen he was able to hire at Marblehead did not seem to be "honest sailors." One of the owners came to Marblehead to talk to Plowman, but at the Town Landing, he was greeted by CHARLES crewman Anthony Holding, who told him that the "Captain is in his cabin, too sick for visitors." Frustrated, the owner returned to Boston, where he received a second letter from Plowman, admitting that he was "in poor health," and that "a new captain should take Command," but to "do so quickly…and take speedy care in saving what we can…in order to prevent embezzlement." The owner rushed back to Marblehead, but was two hours too late — the CHARLES had sailed.

Off Halfway Rock, the last island passed on the way to sea from Marblehead, Captain Plowman was dragged out of his cabin and thrown overboard. Some of the CHARLES crew later testified that Plowman had died from sickness before he was dropped overboard, but others claimed that he was still alive. Leader of the mutinous crew was Anthony Holding. The crew soon decided that Quelch should be their leader. He accepted the responsibility, ordering the helmsman to steer for the East coast of South America. They took their first prize, a large Portuguese brig, off Brazil. Though she carried twelve cannons, they captured her with little resistance. Cruising the coast, the CHARLES pirates took four more Portuguese brigantines in quick succession, then a shallop, a ship, and two sloops. By March of 1704, they had pirated 17 vessels, and had collected some 200 pounds weight of gold dust, over 200 silver bars, and a quantity of fine gems. Although none of the vessels they pirated were Spanish, Quelch reported that, on the way back to New England, they encountered a Spanish galleon foundering on a West Indian reef "and salvaged much other cargo of silver and gold." On May 20, 1704, Quelch and his crew boldly sailed the CHARLES back into Marblehead Harbor and anchored. In the dead of night, all of them, carrying heavy canvas bags and wooden chests, abandoned ship and dispersed.

There is speculation, even to this day, that the CHARLES anchored at Gosport Harbor at the Isles of Shoals, prior to coming into Marblehead, and that the heavy 200 or more silver bars were buried on the west side of Appledore Island. While building a seawall at Smuttynose Island, Isles of Shoals, in 1816, Sam Haley Jr. uncovered four silver bars in the sand of South Beach, which were thought at the time to be part of Quelch’s buried treasure. Many Marbleheaders believe that much of the treasure was buried only a few hundred feet from their Town Landing. In fact, "Treasure Hunters Day" was celebrated in May of each year in Marblehead, well into the 20th century.

No information on pirate treasure from the CHARLES would have been forthcoming, had not some members of the crew, the day after their arrival frequented Marblehead taverns, spending gold doubloons and nuggets of gold dust for drinks," and whilst in their cups," divulged to tavern wenches, "the great riches of Portuguese cargos they had taken off Brazil." Word quickly reached Boston and the ear of Governor Dudley. Constables were sent out to scour the inns and taverns, favorite ports of call for thirsty pirates, and Captain Jack Quelch was arrested, without resistance, at the Anchor Tavern in Lynn, Massachusetts. Quelch insisted that he was on the way to Boston to inform the owners of the CHARLES that he had arrived home with Spanish treasure. He avoided mentioning the Portuguese vessels he had robbed, for in the tavern he had heard that England had, in his absence, signed a peace treaty with Portugal. He was brought before Paul Dudley, the Governor’s son, who also happened to be the Attorney General of the Colony. When Dudley accused him of piracy, Quelch insisted that Captain Plowman had ordered him to take command before he died, and, by direction of Plowman, he had sailed for Brazil. Quelch almost managed to convince the Attorney General and the owners of the CHARLES that he wasn’t a pirate, but when other members of the crew were rounded up, they contradicted the Captain. Quelch was tossed into Boston Gaol. Of the 42 pirate crewmen aboard the CHARLES, Dudley’s constables captured seven within two days — "carrying on their persons, 45 ounces of gold and gold coins." John Clifford, one of the pirates, agreed to tell the Attorney General everything about their voyage, if he was pardoned. He confessed that after arriving at Marblehead, "a considerable quantity of gold dust and gems was put out from Salem to Cape Anne, with Captain Thomas Larimore in the Larimore Galley, with eleven or more of Captain Quelch’s Company." The Governor called out the militia, and a regiment under Colonel Legg of Marblehead, saddled up and headed for Gloucester, while Major Stephen Sewall and twenty militiamen sailed to Cape Ann from Marblehead. Scuttlebut at Gloucester was that the LARIMORE GALLEY was anchored off shore at Snake Island. At Snake Island, a fisherman informed Major Sewall that the pirates had sailed for the Isles of Shoals only an hour or two before he had arrived off Gloucester.

Sailing the twenty miles to the Isles, and spying the LARIMORE GALLEY anchored off Star Island, Sewall had his men hide in the cabin of his shallop. He pulled alongside the LARIMORE, pretending he was a fisherman. Then, on his signal, his militiamen boarded her, expecting a battle. To their surprise, there were only Tom Larimore and a 14 year old boy aboard the LARIMORE GALLEY. The others were ashore at the Isles, burying their individual shares oftreasure The militiamen rowed ashore and, one by one, subdued seven pirates, some still carrying bags of gold dust. They transported them and their gold, with Captain Larimore, back to Boston Jail. Pirate Matt Primer informed Major Sewall where six more of the CHARLES’ crew were hiding out, in exchange for a pardon, and these pirates were also rounded up by constables at various seaside villages and towns. In all, twenty five of the CHARLES crew, including Quelch, were captured and jailed, but eighteen, including ringleader Anthony Holding, were never caught.

Governor Dudley was the presiding magistrate at the pirates’ trial which lasted from June 13th to June 21st. Three who "turned evidence," were pardoned, 15 who pleaded guilty but were repentent, were shipped off to England for life sentences as soldiers in the British Army, and seven, including Jack Quelch, were "condemned to hang for murder and piracy." On June 30, 1704, they were marched under guard of forty men from the jail to Boston’s Scarlett Wharf where, "in the Charles River, between high and low water, a gallows had been erected." Judge Samuel Sewall, who was at the execution, writes in his diary that, "the river was covered with people in a hundred boats and canoes. When the scaffold was hoisted to a due height, the seven malefactors went up. Ropes were fastened to the gallows; save for Francis King, who was reprieved." Reverend Cotton Mather, when executing pirates, always liked to save one life at the last minute. Mather, then, in a long speech, begged the condemned pirates to repent. Quelch spoke up, "I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of what follows. I am condemned only upon circumstance, but all should take care how they bring money into New England, to be hanged for it." The crowd cheered, and Quelch bowed to them, as if he were on stage When the "scaffold was let to sink," Sewall writes, "there was such a screech from the women present, that my wife heard it sitting in our orchard, and was much surprised, for our house is a full mile from the hanging place."

Quelch and two of the others were cut down next day, their bodies chained and limbs cuffed. They were gibbeted at Nix’s Mate, a small island in Boston Harbor off Winthrop, on display for years as a warning to other seamen who might be tempted into piracy. The others were tumed over to the students of Harvard for biological study and dissection. There was, of course, still the question of the treasure. Governor Dudley and his son had reclaimed 65 pounds of gold dust from captured pirates, most of it from the seven who were caught as they were burying it at the Isles of Shoals. While in jail, Quelch had told Cotton Mather that the Governor was going to hang him because "I wouldn’t share my gold dust with him," the Governor being well aware that the 65 pounds of gold dust captured was only a fraction of what the pirates had brought back from Brazil. Mather called Governor Dudley, "a trecherous man who deals with pirates," and insinuated that some of the confiscated gold dust had "stuck to his fingers." The "silver bars, coins and gems," and the rest of the gold dust, was never uncovered. It is thought to still be buried either at Snake Island off Cape Ann, somewhere near Marblehead Landing or, (since Sewall caught some of them burying it there) at Star Island, on the Isles of Shoals.

One who didn’t heed the message of Quelch’s rotting body, gibbeted in Boston Harbor, was Sandy Gordon, a crewman aboard Captain John Herring’s British ship PORPOISE. Captain Herring had his teenaged daughter aboard the PORPOISE. In the summer of 1714, during a long Atlantic cruise, Sandy Gordon was discovered by the Captain in an uncompromising position with young Martha, in her cabin. Sandy’s punishment was 72 lashes of the whip, which almost killed him. When his wounds had healed a few weeks later, Sandy sought revenge, and persuaded part of the PORPOISE crew to mutiny. Seizing the ship, Sandy and ten men killed all crewmen who remained loyal to the Captain, then he strapped Martha’s father to the mast and gave him 72 lashes of the whip, which did kill the Captain. After taking three English merchant vessels off the coast of Scotland, Captain Sandy Gordon refused to share the little treasure they confiscated from these vessels with his mutinous crew, so they mutinied again, and this time Sandy was the victim. They didn’t kill their short-lived commander, but put him ashore on an island off Scotland with Martha Herring. The crew then sailed away in the PORPOISE.

Living in a fisherman’s shanty for many months, Sandy and Martha one day spotted a fleet of four ships offshore They were pirate vessels. When the pirates came ashore to the island for water, Sandy talked to them, and was invited aboard their flagship to talk to the Commadore of the fleet. Here he met and joined forces with a man already infamous as "The Terror of the Sea," a six foot six inch giant, sporting a two-foot beard, with pistols and a cutlass tucked into his wide waist-belt. It was Ed Teach, alias Blackbeard. Blackbeard apparently got a kick out of Sandy’s plight of being marooned by the PORPOISE crew, so he allowed Sandy to join him. Sailing the Atlantic, the pirate fleet captured a French brig and a Spanish galleon containing over $1,000,000 in gold and silver, on its way to the King of Spain. The French brig was renamed the FLYING SCOT by Blackbeard, and given to Sandy Gordon to command, as a reward for his bravado in the fight with the French and Spaniards. The pirate vessels were now so filled with treasure that Blackbeard decided to head for the nearest landfall to rid themselves of some of it — the nearest landfall, a port where pirates were welcomed, was New Hampshire’s Isles of Shoals.

Again, as with Philip Babb, the story of Blackbeard and Sandy Gordon at the Isles, has been mixed with legend over the last 270 years. It is said that there was a great ceremony and celebration at Star Island when Sandy Gordon married Martha Herring, and that same day, Blackbeard married a girl he had aboard his 40-gun ship QUEEN ANNE’S REVENGE. Blackbeard never took marriage seriously however, for during his lifetime he had 14 wives, and never went to sea without a bevy of concubines. When he was killed in 1718, 40 children claimed him as their father. Sandy and Martha did take their marriage vows seriously and settled at White Island, one of the Isles, but their honeymoon was brief The English Navy had been searching the Atlantic for the PORPOISE mutineers for over a year. A man-of-war came to the Isles shortly after Sandy and Martha set uphousekeeping on White Island. Blackbeard, after staying at Star Island for over a month, wisely set sail and left the Isles, but Gordon in the FLYING SCOT, went out to battle the naval warship. Two well-directed broadsides and the FLYING SCOT sank like a rock, with Sandy Gordon, in his favorite bright red uniform, going down with her. Supposedly, only two of the pirate crew survived the sftiving, and they were picked up by the man- of-war crew and hanged at the yardarm that very day. The only member of the pirate band left at the Isles was Martha Herring Gordon, who died there in 1735. Celia Thaxter writes, "Teach’s comrade, Captain Scott(Gordonj brought this lovely lady hither. They buried immense treasure on the islands; that of Scott(Gordon) was buried on an island apartfrom the rest…The maiden was carried to the island where her pirate lover’s treasure was hidden, and made to swear with horrible rites, that until his return, if it were not till the day of judgement, she would guard it from search of all mortals. So, there she paces still…She laments like a Banshee before the tempest, wailing through the gorges at Appledore."

Blackbeard and his men, forced to quickly depart the Isles and never return, "buried their treasure on Smuttynose and Londoner Islands," wrote one Isles historian. Londoner Island is now called Lunging Island. "Blackbeard’s treasure is buried at the landing side of the beach facing the Star Island Hotel, halfway across the halfmoon stretch of beach," writes another historian, and a third says Blackbeard’s treasure is hidden, "just below the waterline on the beach east of the breakwater at Smuttynose." Blackbeard himself, however, was quoted as saying, "Nobody but the devil and myself knows where my treasure is."

Blackbeard sailed to Rhode Island and Connecticut, stopping at Providence and New London. At the latter port, it is said that he and his men took a long trek, with some of their treasure, up the Nipmuck Trail and entered Providence, supposedly burying their treasure along the way, near the border of the two Colonies, possibly at Hampton or Brooklyn, Connecticut. A man named Cady of Hampton reported in 1938, that one of Ed Teach’s descendants, a Barny Reynolds, came to Hampton and uncovered part of the treasure. According to Mr. Cady, Reynolds had a map, "which he inherited from Blackbeard."

From New England, Blackbeard returned to his base of operations at Bath, North Carolina. After taking some forty vessels off America’s East Coast, Governor Spotswood of Virginia offered 100 pounds for the "apprehending and killing of Edward Teach, commonly called Blackbeard." In November of 1718, two British naval sloops under the command of Lieutenant Maynard, and with the help of former pirate Basil Hand, cornered Blackbeard and his crew off the Carolina coast. Blackbeard and 22 men fought furiously, boarding the British sloops and fighting the sailors in hand-to-hand combat. Most of the pirates, including the wild and wooly pirate commander, were killed — Blackbeard received five musketballs in the head and some twenty stab wounds. Finally, Maynard sliced his throat. Blackbeard’s head was delivered to the Governor on a pole.

Early in his career, Blackbeard served under Captain Benjamin Hornigold, a noted Caribbean pirate, as did one Sam "Black" Bellamy. Blackbeard and Black Bellamy left Hornigold, for the latter refused to attack or loot English vessels. Bellamy, commanding a fleet of three pirate vessels, including his flagship, the English galley WHYDAH, were off the New England coast in April of 1717, when a wild storm drove the WHYDAH ashore on Cape Cod. Bellamy along with some 100 pirates went down with their ship — only two crewmen climbed the sand cliffs to safety. The MARY ANN, a prize of the WHYDAH, grounded off Chatham, Massachusetts in the storm, and seven of Bellamy’s pirates tried to escape capture by walking to Rhode lsland. They were caught by the Cape Cod Sheriff and escorted to Boston Gaol. At the time, Blackbeard threatened to attack Boston with some 500 pirates to free Bellamy’s men, but he never put his plan into action. As a result, the pirates were hanged, with only one being reprieved at the last minute by Cotton Mather.

One of Bellamy’s pirate ships escaped the storm, however, and according to the testimonies of Ralph Merry and Samuel Roberts, on May 16, 1717, these 19 pirates attacked their sloop FISHER "a few leagues off Cape Cod," and took them prisoners." They took another sloop off Gloucester, then sailed on to Monhegan Island, Maine. John Newman of Gloucester later reported that the pirates had "several chests, trunks, and bale goods aboard their sloop." From Monhegan, they moved on to Matinicus Island, south of Rockland, Maine and pirated three more vessels, "a Shallop belonging to Stephen Minot of Boston…and two Shallops from Marblehead." The pirates then released their prisoners and headed for the Isles of Shoals, where nothing more was heard of them.

Blackbeard and Black Bellamy weren’t as wise as their old commander Ben Hornigold. He got to enjoy his treasure. Hornigold surrendered himself to the Governor of Bermuda, under the King’s Proclamation of September 5, 1717, which offered a pardon to all pirates, and unlike his pirate pals, he lived happily ever after. Two other pirate leaders with ties to the Isles of Shoals, who didn’t take advantage of the King’s Pardon, were Ned Low and William Fly. Although the King and Parliament hoped to rid the seas of buccaneers with the 1717 Proclamation, pirate terrorism off the coast of New England increased dramatically in the following ten years.

Many have searched for Ned Low’s treasure at the Isles, supposedly buried at either Duck Island or Smuttynose, and also, said to be buried at Pond Island, one of the Harpswell Isles in Casco Bay, Maine. After attacking the Spanish galleon DON PEDRO DEL MONTCLOVA, and confiscating "kettles of silver bars and a chest of gold and jewels," reported one of his crew, Low rowed ashore from his pirate ship and deposited this great treasure in a marshy fresh water pond at Pond Island, Maine. Apparently, while dumping the treasure, the pirates got into an argument and then a sword fight. Two pirates were killed, and Ned Low, often referred to as "a psycopathic killer," left the bodies in the pond with the treasure. According to Orr and Bailey Islanders, "the water turned bad after Low’s visit." The marshy pond is dried up today, but at the north end of Pond Island Cove, someone might some day dig up Low’s gold, silver and jewels.

Low was killed, "set adrift to die of thirst," by his own crew a few weeks after his Pond Island deposit, mainly because his men just couldn’t stand him any longer. He started his career at Grand Cayman lsland in the West Indies, when he met up with pirate George Lowther. Lowther, an Englishman, had led a mutiny at Gambia and took over the ship HAPPY DELIVERY, which he sailed to the West Indies to take up pirating. The first ship that he and his crew attacked was the brigantine CHARLES of Boston, bound for Barbados. Succeeding, he took six more vessels off Hispaniola, then went to Cayman, a favorite food and water stop for pirates. Low, with 13 men who had recently mutinied, also was at Cayman "for water and turtles." Lowther invited Low to join forces and they headed for New England to raise havoc during the Summer of 1722.

Low forced capable seamen into piracy from all the ships he boarded. Those who refused to join him were beaten up — some were killed. Three fishermen whom he captured off the Isles of Shoals, later reported that Low said he would hang them, "unless ye jump up and down and curse the name of Doctor Cotton Mather." On June 15th, at Port Roseway, Nova Scotia, Low and his men captured 14 vessels in that one day. Among the seamen captured was 19 year old Philip Ashton of Marblehead. "Captain Low asked me to be a pirate," Ashton later reported, "but I told him ‘No.’" He threatened to shoot me, but I refused their drink as well as their proposals, so the pirate captain put me in chains below." Ashton writes that, "some of the prisoners were allowed to leave at the Isles of Shoals," but he was kept in chains, as Low’s little fleet continued to pirate vessels off New England. "I was beaten and whipped," says Ashton, "and I begged Low on my knees to let me go, but he said ‘No’…and I was taken to the West Indies."

Back in their winter retreat, the pirate crew with Ashton aboard, anchored off a jungle island near Honduras, and Ashton was allowed to go ashore for water — he ran and hid in the jungle until the pirate ship left the island five days later. Eating "figs, coconuts, papayas, turtles, snakes, lizards, crabs, and birds," Ashton survived on Roatan Island for 16 months, until the brigantine DIAMOND of Salem, Captain Dove commanding, came to the island for water and Ashton was rescued. In the meantime, Captain Lowther, in the HAPPY DELIVERY, was attacked by the armed sloop EAGLE at Blanco Island near Tortuga. Lowther was careening his ship and his cannons weren’t set. The EAGLE blasted the pirates with broadsides, and they fled into the surrounding jungle. The EAGLE crew pursued them, capturing 20 pirates and saving seven forced men. Lowther himself was found in the jungle four days later — he had committed suicide. All but six of the pirates were hanged, and the forced men, like Philip Ashton, were returned to their homes. Ned Low, however, avoided the confrontation with the EAGLE. He and his men were happily and successfully pirating ships, including the rich galleon MONTCOVA, aboard which Low slaughtered 53 Spaniards. His own crew then decided to get rid of him — that was the end of Ned Low.

Another "ferocious brute of unequalled cruelty," who also had a fondness for the Isles of Shoals, was William Fly. Like Ned Low, he seemed to have a dual personality, kind to a seaman one moment, torturing or slicing his throat the next. His career beginning two years after Low’s ended, in 1726, and began and ended much like Low’s did. A mutiny aboard the slave ship Elizabeth of England was led by the boatswain, Bill Fly. The captain of the ELIZABETH, John Green, while being thrown overboard far at sea, "grabbed for the lines, but pirate Tom Winthrop cut off his hands." Then the first mate Jenkins was thrown into the sea and Fly became the ELIZABETH’s pirate commander. He changed the ship’s name to FAME’S REVENGE. Off the Carolina coast, Fly and his crew took four vessels, one being the RACHEL from Ireland, with 50 immigrants aboard. Fly robbed them all of their life savings, and from each of his prizes, forced crewmen to join his pirate crew.

The FAME’S REVENGE then sailed for Martha’s Vineyard and on to Cape Ann, where they captured the ship James. The James was converted into a pirate vessel, and with most of the pirate crew aboard her, began attacking fishing vessels off the Isles of Shoals. As Cotton Mather reveals in his book, "The Vial Poured Out Upon The Sea," Captain Fly "wanted all the fishing schooners." Watching his men in the James loot the schooners, as he stood on the deck of FAME’S REVENGE Fly made the mistake of allowing two forced men aboard his ship to watch the piracy through his spyglass. The two men grabbed Fly and held him, while "Atkinson the navigator, who Fly previously threatened to kill, with two others, got a gun aft on the quarterdeck, and made Fly surrender." There were twelve forced men, including Atkinson, aboard the FAME’S REVENGE and they took over the ship, sailing straight for Boston. The JAMES crew tried to catch them, but couldn’t. The JAMES then sailed for the Isles of Shoals, and like many previous pirate crews, they disbanded there — these lucky pirates aboard the JAMES were never captured.

Fly and three of his men were jailed and stood trial at the old Boston Statehouse on July 4,1726. His career had lasted only 35 days. William Fly, who had whipped one Captain Fulker of the sloop JOHN & HANNAH, "until blood filled his shoes," carried a newly plucked rose with him to the gallows, laughing and joking with the great crowd that had gathered. According to Cotton Mather, Fly said to the obviously nervous hangman, "you don’t know your own trade, and then he helped the hangman tie the knot." The Boston News-Letter reported that, "Fly advised Masters of vessels not to be severe and barbarous to their men, which might be a reason why so many turned pirates…." Fly and his crewmen Samuel Cole and Henry Greenville were hanged, but pirate George Condick was reprieved the last minute by Mather.

"Their bodies were carried in a boat to a small island called Nick’s Mate, about two leagues from the Town," reports the Boston News-Letter, "where the above said Fly was hung up in irons, as a spectacle for the warning of others, especially seafaring men; the other two were buried there." Legend has it that this island, once covering some 13 acres in Boston Harbor, suddenly sank to a size of one quarter acre when an accused pirate was hanged there in 1698. His name is lost to history, but he swore he was innocent, and to prove his innocence, the island would sink after his hanging — which it did. He had been the first mate aboard a Captain Nix’s vessel, and thus the name — Nix’s Mate Island. It used to be called Bird lsland. A 32-foot high concrete pyrarnid, supported by l6-foot square walls, topped with a beacon, is all that remains of Nix’s Mate Island today.

Another pirate gibbeted at Nix’s Mate was William Phillips, who was also captured off the Isles of Shoals, two years before William Fly. He was a typical pirate type, one-legged and full of curses. William Phillips was a crewman aboard Commander John Philip’s pirate ship, which captured 34 New England fishing sloops and schooners in 1723. The following May, however, Phillips and Philip, made the mistake of pirating the little sloop SQUIRREL out of Gloucester, Andrew Haraden, commander. Haraden testified in Boston that, "the day after I was taken, pirate crewman John Filmore, declared his mind to me, to rise upon the Pyrates in order to subdue them….Edward Cheesman (a pirate), upon the rising, threw John Nutt, the Master of the Pyrates overboard, and John Filmore struck Burrell, the boatswain, on the head with a broad axe, while I and the others dispatched Captain Philip and the others…Philip and Burrell’s heads were brought into Boston in pickle" — Haraden had chopped their heads off and preserved them in vinegar. Pirate John Nutt, who drowned, had been one of Blackbeard’s crewmen. Because of their help in the uprising, pirates Cheesman and Filmore were found not guilty of piracy, as were 10 of the others who helped Haraden capture the pirate ship. Four, including William Phillips, were found guilty, and three were hanged. Haraden’s grandson, Jon Haraden, became the greatest privateersman in America during the Revolutionary War, and pirate John Filmore’s great grandson became the 13th President of the United States — Millard Fillmore.

Two pirates who used the Isles of Shoals as a base of operation were the Walls, a man and wife team. Rachel Wall was a Beacon Hill maid in Boston, and her husband George was a fisherman who served as a sailor aboard a privateer during the Revolution. Stealing a sloop at Essex, with a pirate crew of four men, the Walls moved to Appledore Island, pretending to be a fishing family. Indeed, they did fish now and then, but using an old trick of Ned Low’s, they induced vessels to come to them while at sea, by flying a distress flag, During the Summers of 1781 and 82, they took twelve vessels, robbing, then murdering the crews, and sinking the ships. With the distress flag flying, Rachel would stand by the mast, waving on the captains and crews intent on saving her. She would scream for help until they came alongside, and then they were bludgeoned and stabbed by George and his pals. In all, some 24 men were murdered, and over $6,000 collected in cash. Plus, the pirates gained money from the supplies these would-be rescue ships were carrying, which they confiscated and later sold at Boston and Portsmouth. The missing ships and crewmen were considered lost at sea in storms, and the pirates were never caught. In September of 1782, however, with distress flag flying, the Walls’ vessel encountered a hurricane. George Wall and one of the crewmen were washed overboard and Rachel, with the three other pirates, had to really be rescued.

Rachel Wall retired from the sea and went back to being a maid for the wealthy Brahmins of Beacon Hill. As a hobby, she continued robbing by visiting the vessels at dockside in Boston Harbor and taking money and trinkets from any unlocked cabins. In September, 1789, at age 29, she was caught red-handed in a cabin, and aboard the ship, constables found a dead sailor. Rachel was accused of murdering the seaman in his bunk, which, to her dying day, she swore she didn’t do. Nonetheless, she was tried and convicted, and sentenced to hang on Boston Common on October 8, 1789. Before the noose was placed around her neck, she confessed to being a pirate. Yet, she was not hanged for piracy, but for a murder she didn’t commit — Rachel was the last woman to be executed in the state of Massachusetts, and the last known pirate to work out of the Isles of Shoals.

N.B. Images loaned to ISAUU, courtesy L-V Collection. All rights reserved.

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