Captain Benjamin Edwards Battles Pirates in the Caribbean

One day about ten years ago, I decided to type the name “Benjamin Edwards” (my sixth-great-grandfather, a Boston sea captain) and the word “Greyhound” (one of his vessels) into Yahoo search. Much to my amazement, the results included numerous links to information on a battle in the Caribbean between Captain Benjamin Edwards aboard the Greyhound and pirate George Lowther aboard the Happy Delivery on January 10, 1722. I began to research this incident and found it mentioned in a newspaper called the Boston News-Letter on May 7, 1722 and in Captain Charles Johnson’s book A General History of Pyrates first published in 1724 and still available today. It also appears in the book The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 by George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds published in 1923. It seems that the battle occurred off the coast of Honduras – Captain Edwards had a crew of 14 aboard a ship protected by 6 guns; while the pirate George Lowther had a crew of 90 aboard a ship protected by 16 guns. What became of Captain Benjamin Edwards? The wikipedia entry on pirate George Lowther (as of today’s date) tells us that Captain Edwards and his entire crew were “possibly killed.” To learn what really happened, read on.

Here are accounts of the battle from both of the books mentioned above, containing the original spelling and punctuation.

The following is taken from A General History of Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, 1724:

The 10th of January, the pyrates came into the Bay (Bay of Honduras) and fell upon a ship of 200 Tuns, called the Greyhound, Benjamin Edwards Commander, belonging to Boston. Lowther hoisted his pyratical Colours and fired a Gun for the Greyhound to bring to, which she refusing, the Happy Delivery (the name of the Pyrate, Lowther’s ship) edg’d down, and gave her a Broadside (the firing of all guns on one side of a ship at the same time), which was returned by Captain Edwards very bravely, and the Engagement held for an hour; but Captain Edwards, finding the Pyrate too strong for him, and fearing the Consequence of too obstinate a Resistance against those lawless Fellows, order’d his Ensign to be struck. The Pyrates’ Boat came aboard, and not only rifled the Ship, but whipp’d, beat, and cut the Men in a cruel Manner, turned them aboard their own Ship, and then set Fire to theirs. (i.e. the crew were brought aboard the Delivery and the Greyhound burnt.)

The following is taken from The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 by George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds, 1923:

On the 10th of January 1722, the good ship “Greyhound” of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay, Benjamin Edwards, Commander, was homeward bound. She was loaded with logwood and only one day out from the coast of Honduras where the crew had been worked hard for several weeks loading the many boatloads of heavy, thorny-growthed, blood-red wood. Early in the morning the lookout had sighted a ship headed toward them and while not plantation built she attracted no particular attention until it was seen that her course was slightly changed to conform to that of the “Greyhound,” or rather, it would seem, to intersect the course on which the “Greyhound” was sailing. As the ship drew nearer, a long look through the perspective revealed a heavily-manned vessel of English build and Captain Edwards thought it best to order all hands on deck. Soon the stranger ran up a black flag with a skeleton on it and fired a gun for the “Greyhound” to bring to. West India waters had been plagued for many years by piratical gentry and the Boston captain had heard many terrifying tales of their barbarous cruelties to masters and seamen but he was a dogged type of man and so at once prepared to defend his ship. The pirate edged down a bit and shortly gave the “Greyhound” a broadside of eight guns which Captain Edwards bravely returned and for nearly an hour the give and take continued at long gunshot without much damage to either vessel. Finding the pirate was more heavily armed than the “Greyhound,” and her decks showing many men, Captain Edwards began to reckon the consequences of too stubborn a resistance, for it seemed likely that eventually he must surrender, barring, of course, lucky chance shot from his guns that might cut down a mast on the pirate ship. At last he ordered his ensign to be struck and hove to.

Two boatloads of armed men soon came aboard and searched the ship for anything of value. The loot was not great for the New England logwood ships had little opportunity for trade or barter and the disappointment of the pirate crews was soon spit out on the men. Whenever one came within reach of the cutlass of a pirate he would receive a swinging slash across shoulders or arms, or perhaps, a blow on the head with the flat of the blade that would fell him half-senseless to the deck. By way of diversion two of the unoffending sailors were triced up at the foot of the mainmast and lashed until the blood ran from their backs. Captain Edwards and his men were then ordered into the boats and sent on board the pirate ship and the “Greyhound” was set on fire. The rogue proved to be the “Happy Delivery,” commanded by Capt. George Lowther and manned by a strange assortment of English sailors and soldiers with a sprinkling of New England men. As soon as the men from the “Greyhound” reached her deck they were given a mug of rum and invited to join the crew. This was habitually done at that time by these outlaws and frequently a nimble sailor would be forced and compelled to serve with the pirates against his will.

The first mate of the “Greyhound” was Charles Harris, born in London, England, then about twenty-four years old, and a man who understood navigation. He, with four others, Christopher Atwell, Henry Smith, Joseph Willis and David Lindsay, was forced and Captain Edwards and the rest of his crew, with other captured men, were put on board another logwood vessel and permitted to make the best of their way home. My ancestor Captain Benjamin Edwards survived his run in with pirates in the Caribbean in 1722 – lucky for me, because if he hadn’t I would never have been born! I mention that when I tell this story to participants at the conclusion of my walking tour of Historic Boston. Captain Edwards had three children prior to 1722 that all died in infancy. He later went on to father seven more including my fifth-great-grandfather Dolling Edwards a mastmaker in Boston who was born in 1737. Captain Edwards outlived two of his 3 wives and died in 1751.

What became of pirate George Lowther? In October 1723, while cleaning his hull on the remote Blanquilla island (currently part of Venezuela) he was spotted by the well-armed merchant ship Eagle. Lowther’s ship and some of its crew were captured while the infamous pirate and other members of the crew escaped on the island. Pirate George Lowther later shot himself on the deserted island and was found dead with a pistol burst by his side.