Infamous Pirates > Edward Low

Edward Low

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Background

Edward Low (1690 – 1724), also known as Ned or Lowe or Loe was an infamous English pirate that operated in the closing days of the Golden Age of Piracy he was born around 1690 into the crushing poverty in Westminster, London. From an early age Low was known to be combative and illiterate. He was always ready to cheat and picked up thievery, gambling and pickpocketing. He was responsible for starting the careers of Francis Spriggs and also known for partnering alongside George Lowther for a while.

Edward Low - Edward Low (A History of Pyrates 1724)

Capt Edward Low in ye Hurricane which He and All the Crew had Like to Perish'd - J Nicholls & James Basire

In fact Charles Johnson notes his whole family was involved in robbery. Low's younger brother Richard was a petty criminal who was eventually hung in 1707 for breaking into a house in Stepney. As Low grew older he turned from petty crimes to full on burglary. Eventually he grew tired of England and went to try his hand in the New World in 1710.

Low traveled around for three to four years before eventually settling in Boston in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. It seems Low settled down for a while and on 12 August 12 1714 he got married to Eliza Marble at the First Church of Boston. They first had a son who died as a baby and a daughter born in the winter of 1719. Low's daughter survived, however Eliza died in childbirth.

The death of his wife would often haunt Low throughout the rest of his life. In fact he was noted for not forcing men that were married to join his crew and he always regretted the daughter he had to leave behind to become a pirate. He also made sure women were never harmed among his ship and would be returned to a settlement safely.

Edward Low - Edward Low (1888 Pirates of the Spanish Main Trading Card)

Edward Low - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

At first he tried to find honest work as a rigger and in early 1722 he joined a crew of twelve headed on a sloop for Honduras. There they planned to purchase a shipment of wood that they would travel to sell in Boston. Low was initially employed to load and carry the logs off the ship. One day when Low returned to the ship he was told he could not have a ration and he should be satisfied with some rum.

Low suppressing years of pent up anger, guilty, grieving pulled out his loaded musket and shot at the captain. However due to the inaccuracy of flintlock weapons the bullet missed and struck another pirate through the throat, killing him instantly. After their failed mutiny Low and his loyal crew including Francis Spriggs were forced to leave the ship. Stealing another ship and killing another man in the process, Low and his crew turned full on pirate including making his infamous pirate flag depicted below.

Edward Low - Edward Low Pirate Flag

Edward Low Pirate Flag

Two years later he began his pirating career off the coast of the Eastern Seaboard of North America, the Azores Islands and the Caribbean. Spriggs became Low's quartermaster at this time. Low is rumored to have said:

"To go in her, make a black Flag and declare War against all the World."

Edward Low sure did go to war against the world. Edward Low was known for commanding a small fleet of ships in his prime. While he only operated for a few years Low was efficient, ruthless and cruel. He captured over one hundred ships and sunk most of them to the bottom of the sea in the process. Low's reputation for ruthlessness and viciousness with his torture methods seems rivaled only by Francois L’Ollonais in the buccaneering era.

Pirate Captain Career

Edward Low and his crew including Francis Spriggs took their newfound pirate ship and went to town on the major shipping lane between Boston and New York City. Within a few days they captured a ship headed out of Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations and crippled the mast so it could not warn others of the pirate ambush that lie in wait. Low then captured a few unarmed merchantmen near Port Rosemary.

Low and his crew next headed south to the Cayman Islands where he joined pirate George Lowther as his lieutenant. Lowther captained a 100-ton sloop with eight cannons and 10 swivel guns. When the ship got destroyed by natives Lowther and his crew transferred to another sloop called the Ranger. Lowther expanded his crew through out of work and outlaw sailors.

After Lowther, Low, Spriggs and the rest of the crew captured a large 6-gun brigantine named Rebecca, Low was given captaincy on May 28th, 1722. He made Francis Spriggs his quartermaster and parted ways with Lowther on good terms. Now with a crew of 44, Low was a pirate captain in his own right.

Edward Low - Edward Low Shoots a Man

Edward Low Shoots a Man - A General History of Pyrates (1725)

In June of 1722 Low and his crew blockaded and plundered thirteen fishing vessels anchored in Port Roseway in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. Despite being outnumbered by the ships, Low raised his Jolly Roger and said there would be no quarter to anyone who resisted. The fishermen gave up quickly and Low and his crew robbed all the ships. Low chose the largest 80-ton schooner in the harbor and named it The Fancy. He equipped it with 10 cannons and made it his flagship. In an extreme act of brutality, Low burnt and sank all of the ships in this fleet and abandoned his previous ship the Rebecca.

However Low did not just steal the cargo, he also conscripted many fisherman to become pirates. The Boston News Letter on 9 July 1722 published an account of those held captive be Low later to get free. One of the fisherman Philip Ashton escaped from Low's crew in May of 1723 on Roatán Island in the Bay of Honduras off the coast of British Honduras. Ashton describes his experience as involving being beaten, whipped, kept in chains and threatened with death because he refused to sign Edward Lows pirate code.

Edward Low - Cruelties Practiced By Edward Low

Cruelties Practiced By Edward Low

Ashton describes the scenario aboard the ship as:

Of all the pyratical crews that were ever heard of, none of the English name came up to this, in barbarity. Their mirth and their anger had much the same effect, for both were usually gratified with the cries and groans of their prisoners; so that they almost as often murdered a man from the excess of good humour, as out of passion and resentment; and the unfortunate could never be assured of safety from them, for danger lurked in their very smiles."

—Philip Ashton on his time with Low's crew

Low quickly developed a reputation for torture with the prisoners he captured. He even taught Spriggs a technique where a victims hands were tied together with rope between their fingers. The rope was then set on fire which would burn the victims flesh right down to the bone.

Another time Low captured an English ship carrying two Portuguese passengers. Low and the crew hoisted them up to the yard arm of the mast and dropped them to the deck several times until they died.

“The Pyrates [were] waiting there for them, took them and Plundered them; they cut and whiped some and others they burnt with Matches between their Fingers to the bone to make them confess where their Money was, they took to the value of a Thousand Pistoles from Passengers and others, they then let them go, but coming on the Coast off of the Capes of Virginia, they were again chased by the same Pyrates who first took them, they did not trouble them again but wished them well Home, they saw at the same time his Consort, a Sloop of eight Guns, with a Ship and a Sloop which were supposed to be Prizes, they were Commanded by one Edward LOW. The Pyrates gave us an account of his taking the Bay of Hondoras from the Spaniards, which had surprised the English and taking them, and putting all the Spaniards to the Sword Excepting two boys, as also burning The King George, and a Snow belonging to New York, and sunk one of the New England Ships, and cut off one the Masters Ears and slit his Nose, all this they confessed themselves. ”

— The American Weekly Mercury, 6 June–13, 1723

Recovered Pirate Articles

Edward Lows pirate code is extremely rare as it along with George Lowther's copy which is very similar are the only remaining pieces of authentic evidence to corroborate the pirate code known to exist. There are three copies that have been recovered from the later years of the Golden Age of Piracy and they provide real insight into pirate culture at the time. The articles were as follows.

I. The Captain is to have two full Shares; the [quarter] Master is to have one Share and one Half; The Doctor, Mate, Gunner and Boatswain, one Share and one Quarter.

II. He that shall be found guilty of taking up any Unlawfull Weapon on Board the Privateer or any other prize by us taken, so as to Strike or Abuse one another in any regard, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and the Majoirty of the Company shall see fit.

III. He that shall be found Guilty of Cowardice in the time of Ingagements, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and the Majority of the Company shall think fit.

IV. If any Gold, Jewels, Silver, etc. be found on Board of any Prize or Prizes to the value of a Piece of Eight, & the finder do not deliver it to the Quarter Master in the space of 24 hours he shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and the Majority of the Company shall think fit.

V. He that is found Guilty of Gaming, or Defrauding one another to the value of a Ryal of Plate, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and the Majority of the Company shall think fit.

VI. He that shall have the Misfortune to loose a Limb in time of Engagement, shall have the Sum of Six hundred pieces of Eight, and remain aboard as long as he shall think fit.

VII. Good Quarters to be given when Craved.

VIII. He that sees a Sail first, shall have the best Pistol or Small Arm aboard of her.

IX. He that shall be guilty of Drunkenness in time of Engagement shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority of the Company shall think fit.

X. No Snaping of Guns in the Hould.

The Azores & Warships

Low mostly adopted the tactics of earlier 18th century pirates. He would fly fake colors and deceive an unsuspecting ship. However his cockiness almost got the best of him as he approached a full loaded man of war off the coast of Newfoundland and nearly managed to get away from it. It was during this time that pirates started to move outside areas of the Caribbean and explore some of the lesser defended British territories.

Edward Low - Azores Islands Map (1584)

Azores Islands Map (1584)

Next Low and his crew decided to sail to Conception Bay and captured a few ships aground Grand Banks which is southeast of Newfoundland. Next he went to the Portuguese island of the Azores and captured a warship which he armed and outfitted as his flagship. He named it Rose Pink. After capturing a few ships with his new flagship, Low and his crew moved onto the Canary Islands and eventually back to Portuguese Brazil.

Caribbean

However, instead of heading towards Brazil, Low and his crew decided to go to the West Indies. At this point Low was beginning to call himself 'Commodore'. While he commanded a fleet of two ships, Low's hubris was going to get the best of him. About 120 miles off the coast of Surinam, Low ordered the fleet to careen the two vessels Rose Pink and Fancy, a possible homage to Henry Every". Careening was the process of cleaning seaweed, barnacles and other sea gunk off the bottom of a ship. It was a lengthy process and involved tipping the ship on its side.

Due to his inexperience as a sailor, Low ended up capsizing his flagship vessel because he ordered too many men to work on it along with leaving the port holes open. The ship ended up filling up with water and sinking. Two men died in the process along with nearly all of their food, water, ammunition, weapons and a bunch of treasure. This was a massive loss to Low and soon Low captured another ship but his men were forced to ration their food and water.

Low and his crew aboard the new sloop set a course for Trinidad Province and the island of Tobago but instead ended up near French owned Grenada. Low hid much of his crew below deck and sent a few men ashore to get food and water. A French ship was sent to check out Lows ship and during the process the crew seized the ship after coming out of hiding. Quickly renaming the sloop the Ranger, Low gave the schooner Squirrel to quartermaster Francis Spriggs. Spriggs ended up renaming the boat Delight. One night after a disagreement over how Spriggs should govern his boat, he and the crew sailed away in the night to start their own pirate career.

After Spriggs departure Low captured a few more sloops, keeping one and naming it the Fortune. According to a trial for Low's crew on July 10th, 1723, Low stripped all of the wealth off the boat before beating a sailor named John Welland and cutting his ear off with his cutlass. This just goes to showcase Lows brutal savagery as the total haul was only in excess of £150.

After capturing the Fortune, Low next captured a Portuguese ship named the Nostra Signiora de Victoria on January 25th, 1723. The Portuguese ship was carrying a massive bag of 11,000 gold moidores, worth around £15,000, and instead of seeing the treasure fall into the pirates hands he threw it into the sea. This was not a good idea for that Portuguese captain.

Edward Low - Captain of the Portuguese Ship Cutting Bag of Moidores

Portuguese Cutting Bag of Moidores - The Pirates Own Book (1837)

Low was already known for his cruelty at this point however, in his rage he slashed off the captains lips, broiled them in water and forced him to eat them. He then murdered he whole crew including the captain. Lows own crew was becoming scared of the maniacal captain at this point.

Soon Low captured many ships around the Caribbean, adding Unity to his small fleet. The new ship was destroyed soon with an encounter with a man of war named the Mermaid however Low and his crew managed to escape. Eventually the British Empire placed a bounty on him and Low fled the Caribbean.

Next Low and his crew went back to the Azores and teamed up with a pirate named Charles Harris. At this point the authorities were taking special consideration for Low and when he began really terrorizing the Azores they stepped up military defenses and he was forced to flee for the Carolinas and the Eastern Seaboard of British North America.

Capture of the Fancy

As Edward Low's reputation for cruelty and violence grew, so did the British incentive to find him and kill him. Eventually on June 10th, 1723, Edward Low and the crew encountered the British man-of-war, the HMS Greyhound. The Greyhound was commissioned solely to find and capture Low under the command of a man named Peter Solgard. Low managed to escape after suffering devastating losses with the Fancy and nearly £150,000 in gold. Low left Harris and the Ranger to deal with the ship and fled back to the Azores.

The Greyhound managed to defeat the crews of the Ranger and captured twenty five of the pirates. They were tried between July 10th and 12th, with Captain Solgard presenting evidence and giving his personal account. The twenty five crew were hung for piracy near Newport, the capital of Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations on July 19th, 1723. Captain Harris was sent back to England to be hung at Execution Dock. Captain Solgard was rewarded handsomely for his capture of the crew including the 'keys to the city' along with a pure gold snuffbox.

Edward Low meanwhile was still captaining the Fancy and captured a whaling ship. His frustration had reached its peak with the loss of his crew and his friend Harris so he brutally tortured the captain of the ship before shooting him in the head. He then sent the crew adrift with no food or water and intended to let them starve to death. However they managed to reach Nantucket to account their story.

Next Low captured a fishing boat off the coast of North America and decapitated the ships captain and sent the crew ashore. After Low captured two more ships off the coast of Rhode Island his actions became so savage that his crew refused to carry out his orders. Low seems to be practiced the cruelty only known of the buccaneering era at this point. After this he captured a 22 cannon French ship and a merchant from the Colony and Dominion of Virginia named the Merry Christmas in late June of 1723.

Infamous Pirates - Edward Low Presenting Pistol and Drink

Edward Low Presenting Pistol and Drink - Pirates Own Book (1837)

During this time Low captured Captain Graves of Virginia. Low took a bowl of punch with one hand and offered it to the captain. The captain was still upset over his unfortunate circumstances so he refused. Low picked up a pistol with his other hand and told him he could have one or the other. The captain took the punch.

With his rebuilt fleet of three ships, Low rejoined with George Lowther in July of 1723 and the two captured the Delight off the coast of Guinea in West Africa. Command of the ship was given to Francis Spriggs and mounted with 14 cannons. Low also upgraded his ship to 34 cannons at this point as well. During the middle of the night Lowther and Spriggs left Low once again, leaving Low to plunder the coast of Africa by his lonesome. His eventual fate is very uncertain after this point.

Fate

No one really knows what ever really happened to Edward Low. Captain Charles Johnson in his primary source book A General History of Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates suggests that Low and the Fancy were last near spotted near the Canary Islands and the western coast of Africa. There is also another rumor that Low was sailing for Portuguese Brazil and another report suggests his ship went down in a storm with all the crew dead. These were common rumors for the time for every pirate that just seemed to disappear. The truth is no one really knows what the ones who survived did. They had hundreds of millions of dollars in todays currency, however most were marked men.

Following with this, some suggest he lived out the rest of his days in Brazil. Others say he was mutinied after he murdered a sleeping crew member and set adrift in a small boat. He was later picked up by French authorities, recognized and hung on the island of Martinique in 1724. There is not much record from Martinique in this period so it is hard to say what really happened. Overall no one knows what happened to Edward Low, his fate remains mysterious and it is hard to say with any certainty what could have happened to him.

Due to his cruelty and status he could have been captured or hung, given to the authorities in exchange for a pardon who then quietly hung him. However, that seems unlikely because the authorities would have loved to flaunt their catch. If Low was mutinied then maybe he did just go live out his days on an island somewhere. The possibilities are endless for this vicious and barbaric pirate, leaving us to await any archaeological evidence to reveal more.

Many famous authors had much to say about Low and his legacy. According to Howard Pyle in his 1880 Book of Pirates he stated;

"No one stood higher in the trade than [Low], and no one mounted to more lofty altitudes of bloodthirsty and unscrupulous wickedness. 'Tis strange that so little has been written and sung of this man of might, for he was as worthy of story and of song as was Blackbeard."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his book The Green Flag he stated Low was;

"Savage and desperate [capable of] amazing and grotesque brutality"

However, following his death Low has been featured on stamps, such as in the Cayman Islands in 1975 and on currency such as the gold-leaf one hundred dollar bill in Antigua and Barbuda which featured Low and his brigantine the Rebecca. While he is one of the lesser known pirates in popular culture, this makes him no less notorious and famous for those in the know.

Edward Low & Associates

Sources

Primary Sources

Johnson, C. (1724). A General History of the Pyrates (2nd Edition, Volume I). London, Great Britain: T. Warner.

Johnson, C. (1724). General History of the Pyrates (2nd Edition Volume I) - Chapter XIII, Of Captain Low and his Crew. London, Great Britain: T. Warner.

Secondary Sources

Stockton, F. (1867) Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts. New York: Grosset and Dunlap (Macmillan).

Johnson, C., & Fraser, C. L. (1922). Pirates..the Lives and Adventures of Sundry Notorious Pirates. New York: R.M. McBride and Company.