Infamous Pirates > Charles Harris

Charles Harris

Chapter Decoration

Background

Charles Harris (?? - 1723) was a famous pirate captain that was initially part of the crew of George Lowther and eventually made captain of his own ship. He later partnered with both Lowther and Edward Low who operated during the Post Spanish Succession Period. He started his career as a legitimate sailor and was first recorded in January of 1722 as the first mate and navigator of the Greyhound which was sailing from British Honduras to the port of Boston with a massive cargo of valuable logwood.

Soon The Greyhound under the command of Benjamin Edwards was intercepted by Lowther who was captaining the Happy Delivery. The two ships engaged for about an hour before the Greyhound gave up to the pirates. When the pirates saw the shipment of logwood they were less than impressed and started to torture the crew. Two of the men were tied to the mainmast and flogged with whips until their backs bled. Other sailors were beaten and eventually everyone was kidnapped aboard the Happy Delivery. Lowther burned the Greyhound and set sail.

However, once aboard the pirate ship Lowther and his crew adopted a different tone. They presented the sailors with a tankard of rum and presented with the pirate code and given the option to join the crew. Charles Harris and four of the other men of the Greyhound signed the articles and all the remaining sailors were set free aboard a previously captured ship.

Becoming a Pirate

Harris was soon a natural at piracy and loved the trade. He rose through the ranks and was soon given captaincy of his own ship by Lowther. For the next thirteen months Harris would work with Lowther and pirate captain Edward Low where they captured ships all throughout the West Indies. The three worked together in concert and eventually developed a reputation for being some of the most ruthless, malicious and violent of all the pirates.

While some members of the Flying Gang such as Blackbeard were rumored to have never killed anyone, Edward Low and associates was responsible for some of the most gruesome and senseless murders of the entire golden age of piracy. They were barbarians and savage in the true sense of the word and displayed a level of cruelty that would make Francois L'Ollonais blush. Low was known to severe the ears, lips and noses of prisoners before mixing them into a stew that he later forced them to eat.

In 1722 after traveling with Lowther and Low, Harris disappears from the record for five months, probably to careen his vessel or stop at a port somewhere. He is next recorded as pirating off the coast of the Province of South Carolina in his sloop called the Ranger. He is later seen partnering again with Low in command of his ship the Fortune and the two worked together to loot and plunder all up the eastern coast of British North America.

Capture & Death

Due to their barbarism and cruelty Edward Low and associates became public enemy number one and pirate hunters were on the prowl for these pirates. One of the pirate hunters looking for them was a Captain Solgard who was in the command of a newly minted British man-o-war named the Greyhound. He was sent out to locate Harris and Low and on 11 July 1723 he finally located them. When the pirates first spotted the man-o-war coming over the horizon they thought they could capture it and began to sail towards it.

As the two ships sailed towards each other they engaged in a prolonged naval battle that lasted from five in the morning until four in the afternoon the next day. During the conflict the Ranger was crippled by cannon fire and was not moving. When Low saw that his pirate ally was crippled in the water he fled away on the Fortune. With their masts all broken Harris could go nowhere so him and his forty-eight crewmen surrendered.

Thirty of the men were sent to the capital of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations named Newport to be tried for piracy and eleven of the crew died from wounds they sustained in the fighting. Harris and seven of the other pirates would be pressed into service and forced to join Solgard as he tracked down Low for the next several weeks. However, Low had managed to escape the grasp of the Royal Navy and Harris was brought back to Newport where he was to stand trial for charges of piracy and murder.

In Newport, Harris and twenty-five of his crew were found guilty of piracy and sentenced to death by hanging. The execution was carried out on 19 July 1723 in the area currently called Long Warf and to this day remains the largest mass execution in the history of Rhode Island. The whole event was a public spectacle with people watching the hanging while having picnics or from their boats in the harbor. After their execution the pirates were buried in an unmarked grave on the north end of what is currently called Goat Island.

Edward Low & Associates

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Crooker, William S. (2004). Bartholomew; Kidd, William; Easton, Peter. "Pirates of the North Atlantic". Halifax: Nimbus Publishing. ISBN 1-55109-513-0.