The Lowest of the Low; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Daily Mail (London), February 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Lowest of the Low; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS


Byline: Charles Legge

QUESTION

What is the story of Edward Low, New England's 'most feared pirate'?

EDWARD LOW was one of the most notorious pirates operating in the era known as the 'golden age' of piracy.

Born in Westminster, London, around 1690, he was a thief from a young age. His brother, Richard, was hanged at Tyburn in 1707 for burglary and other crimes. Low travelled to America around 1710 and settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where he married an Eliza Marble on August 12, 1714. She died in 1719, giving birth to their daughter, Elizabeth.

Low abandoned his daughter and started work on logging ships. Refused food by his captain one day, he responded by taking up a loaded musket and firing at the captain, but he missed and shot another sailor in the throat.

Low then led a 12-man gang in the capture of a small sloop off the coast of Rhode Island, killing one man in the process. He headed south and began working for established pirate George Lowther in the waters around the Cayman Islands.

Following several successful raids, on May 28, 1722, Lowther captured the large six-gun brigantine Rebecca and gave it to Low as a parting gift. Low travelled back north and began harrying the fishing fleet off New England and Newfoundland, capturing an 80-ton schooner which he fitted with ten guns and crewed with 50 men, renaming it the Fancy. This became his main vessel.

Low continued to raid right up the coast of North America, down to the Caribbean and as far south as Brazil, garnering a reputation for wilful cruelty. He perpetrated a technique in which a victim's hands were tied together with rope between their fingers. The rope was then set on fire, burning the victim's flesh to the bone.

Low's chief tactic was to hoist false colours to get near his prey. On January 25, 1723, he captured the Portuguese ship the Nostra Signiora de Victoria which was carrying a bag of 11,000 gold moidores. Rather than see this treasure fall into pirate hands, the Portugese captain threw it into the sea. In a rage, Low slashed off the captain's lips, broiled them in water and forced him to eat them.

As Edward Low's reputation for cruelty and violence grew, so did British determination to stop him. On June 10, 1723, Low and his crew encountered the British man-of-war HMS Greyhound, specifically commissioned under the command of Peter Solgard, to find and capture Low. Low managed to escape but only after suffering devastating losses aboard the Fancy and nearly PS150,000-worth of gold.

No one knows what happened to him after that. Captain Charles Johnson's 1724 book A General History Of Pyrates suggests that Low and the Fancy were seen near the Canary Islands and the western coast of Africa. Others claim he continued sailing with the crew of his last surviving ship, Merry Christmas, until he died in a storm near the Brazilian coast. Still others claim he was marooned by his crew on a lonely island after killing one of his subordinates in his sleep.

Jacob Proudfoot, Kent.

QUESTION The late Christopher Hitchens quoted the rhyme: 'We are the pure and chosen few/And all the rest are damned / There's room enough in hell for you, / We don't want heaven crammed.' What are its origins?

THIS is something of a mystery. Hitchens didn't seem to know; in his book God Is Not Great he describes it as an 'old plebian satire against other sects, from Jehovah's Witnesses to Plymouth Brethren who dare to claim they are of the elect'.

In a TV debate he rather disingenuously said that it was 'well put in a rhyme from an exclusive brethren sect'.

The lines are most often attributed to author of Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) when he was Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin (1713-1745). While it could certainly have come from the pen of the great satirist, there is no documentary evidence of this. …

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