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George Lowther


George Lowther

Nothing is known about George Lowther's life before he became Second Mate on the Gambia Castle, a British slave ship commanded by Captain Charles Russell. In 1721 the Gambia Castle was charged with delivering a contingent of soldiers to garrison a small castle on the Gambian coast. After the soldiers disembarked, Russell decided to wait offshore until he had acquired enough slaves to make the return trip to England profitable. With nothing to do and disease beginning to take its toll, the ship's crew, led by Lowther, began revolting against Russell. Meanwhile, the soldiers, led by John Massey, had found conditions at the garrison unbearable and returned to the ship. Despite deplorable conditions both aboard ship and on land, Captain Russell still refused to leave until his hold was loaded with slaves. One night, while Russell was ashore, Lowther and Massey convinced the soldiers and crew to seize the ship.

Once Lowther, Massey, and their comrades sailed away from the African coast they knew returning to England was impossible, so they decided to become pirates. They renamed the ship Delivery, made Lowther its Captain, and drew up a code that included punishments for cowardice, fighting on board the ship, and cheating, as well as rules on how to divide duties and loot. Almost every pirate band of the day had its own "code of ethics," but the one drawn up by Lowther and his crew is one of the very few to survive, in writing, to this day. The Delivery then sailed for the Caribbean, where it quickly began seizing ships and their cargoes.

Despite a string of early successes, the crew of the Discovery soon found its loyalties divided between Lowther and Massey. A foot soldier by training, Massey found it difficult to engage in battle on the water, as did many of his men. In June of 1721, Massey tried to convince Lowther to land and attack French settlements, but Lowther refused. The crew took sides, and it looked for a while like the pirates might fight it out on the ship, but then they spied and captured a small ship. This solved the problem, as Massey and his men were given the ship. Massey subsequently sailed to Jamaica, where he turned himself in to the governor and pleaded for mercy, offering to go and hunt Lowther down. Instead, he was tried and hanged for piracy.

After the split with Massey, Lowther and his remaining men resumed their piracy, terrorizing ships off of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Honduras. Sometime around Christmas of 1721, the Discovery met up with a ship of pirates led by Edward Low. Low and his crew decided to join the Discovery, with Low as Lieutenant, and soon they had acquired a small fleet. Sometime in early 1722, Lowther was forced to abandon the Discovery and transfer his flag to the Ranger, a captured sloop with 10 cannon and 8 swivel guns.

Lowther's pirate fleet was off the North American coast when, on May 28, 1722, he and Low decided to part company, with the men splitting the crew of 88 men between them. Lowther and his men easily plundered several small ships off the American coast, before coming upon the Amy off the coast of South Carolina. Instead of surrendering, the Amy fired its cannon at the pirates. Several of the Ranger's crewmen were injured and killed, and the Ranger was seriously damaged. Lowther and his remaining crew managed to get the Ranger to the coast of North Carolina, where they spent the winter making repairs (exactly where is unknown).

The Ranger resumed its "mission" in the spring of 1723, first off of Newfoundland and then in the Caribbean. By October the ship was in need of maintenance, so Lowther sailed it into a secluded cove on Blanquilla, an uninhabited island about 180 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela. While the Ranger was careened, it was spotted by the Eagle, a well-armed merchant ship. Assuming (correctly) that the careened ship was a pirate, the Eagle attacked. The pirates scattered, hiding in the trees and brush. Nine of the pirates were eventually caught, but Lowther, three men from his crew, and a cabin boy escaped capture. Sometime later it was reported that Lowther's body had been found on the island, and that he had apparently shot himself in the head rather than allow himself to be captured and tried as a pirate.

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This page was last updated on 03/16/2018.