Cruel and Unusual
More than a few pirates took great pleasure in inflicting various tortures on their unfortunate captives as well as each other. While there are exceptions, by their very nature pirates seem to have had an inherent propensity toward cruelty; there are several rogues whose sadistic methods and behavior are horrific by any standard.
Perhaps at the top of the rogues' gallery is Jean David Nau, otherwise known as Francois L'Ollonais, whose behavior was over-the-top psychotic even among pirate ranks (see Chapter 7). Known as the Flail of the Spaniards, L'Ollonais committed unspeakable acts of torture during the late 1600s, but while his actions were despicable, he wasn't the only depraved pirate to make the history books.
Lowdown Dirty Rogue
Edward Low (also known as Ned Lowe or Loe) terrorized parts of the Caribbean, the Azores, and the North American coastline during the 1720s. He was born in Westminster, London, and it's often surmised that his tumultuous childhood as a pickpocket and thief launched his career as one of the most sadistic pirates on record. Like most pirates, there are various accounts of Low's early years. Wholly lacking in education, Low is said to have ended up in Boston with his brother, possibly escaping his homeland after having murdered his father.
Edward Low, Pedro Gilbert, and Benito de Soto were a few madmen who exceeded the boundaries of common torture. In many cases, the viciousness and actions a pirate crew inflicted upon their victims often had much to do with the particular situation, a crew's temperament, and, ultimately, a pirate ship's captain. This was definitely the case for Edward Low.
While in Boston, Low acquired work as a ship rigger, but he eventually fell out with his employer and ended up joining a crew headed for the Gulf of Honduras with a cargo of logwood. It wasn't long before Low made a failed attempt at murdering the ship's captain. He and several other men were either set adrift or escaped, after which they quickly captured another vessel and began their piratical careers. Low was highly prolific, seizing many vessels in waters from the Azores to the New England coast. In less than two years, he captured an impressive 140 vessels, and with each capture his minions grew, whether by force or desertion from his plundered ships. The
With a Vengeance
Low's maniacal behavior and his lust for torture were disturbing not only to his unfortunate victims, but even to his crews, who bore witness to his cruel practices. It's said that Low inflicted all manner of torture on captured prisoners. In many instances, a prisoner's flesh was cut off and he was made to eat it. On another occasion, the captain of a captured vessel had his ears cut off, sprinkled with salt, and then fed to him. During a particularly violent skirmish, a captured Portuguese ship's captain tossed his booty overboard to prevent Low from liberating it. As a result the poor soul endured the most inhuman of acts — Low cut off the man's lips and forced him to watch as they were cooked. Adding to his sadistic reputation was Low's appearance. It is said that he was horribly scarred around the mouth as a result of a wound that was badly stitched up.
At times during his career, Low sailed with Captain Charles Harris and his ship, the
Where did the phrase dead men tell no tales come from?
Charles Gibbs was an American-born privateer turned pirate who by his own admission was said to have murdered close to 400 individuals. When he was hanged in 1831 in New York, it is alleged that his final dastardly statement was: “No mercy did we ever show, for dead men tell no tales.”
Two Peas in a Pod
Not unlike modern-day murderers, pirates had a flair for the dramatic. The only difference is that they often performed their horrific crimes in front of an audience. Don Pedro Gilbert (or Gibert) was such a man. An American pirate active in the 1830s, Gilbert is often listed as the last pirate to commit acts of piracy in the Atlantic. Aboard his ship
Benito (or Bonito) de Soto was yet another unconscionable rogue who took pride in his murderous endeavors. A Portuguese pirate, de Soto devised and carried out a brutal mutiny on the
Once de Soto's crew were done with their prey, the victims were locked in the hold and the ship left to sink. It's said that the survivors were able to escape and ultimately repair the ship, but de Soto was long gone. He continued his murderous rampage until the