"Red Legs" Greaves
As pirates go, Red Legs Greaves was not only a successful one but also a
lucky one. He managed to survive his life as a pirate and live to ripe old
What makes this even the more remarkable was how his life began. Greaves was
born in Barbados, the son of Scottish slaves. Anyone familiar with the movie
"Captain Blood" recalls the scene at the beginning of the movie where
several men are tried for treason and eventually sold into slavery. This was
a common practice in England and was the case of the parents of Greaves.
Apparently Greaves' father was the on the wrong side of the Civil war when
Cromwell came to power, as were many people in Scotland and Ireland.
A short time after the elder Greaves arrived in Barbaboes as a slave, young
Greaves was born and while the new son had nothing to do with the Civil War
in England, he paid for the sins of his father and was a slave from the
moment of birth. At first, life as a slave was at least tolerable becuase
Greaves had a kind master. But his life took a turn for the worse after his
parents as well as his master died and the orphaned boy was sold to another
master who delighted in beating the young man.
While still in his teens, Greaves decided his only hope for survival was to
run away and one night he swam across Carlisle Bay in attempt to find his
freedom. After making his escape, Greaves stowed away aboard a ship hoping
to sail off to a safe harbor. Unfortunately the ship belonged to a notorious
pirate known as Captain Hawkins. Hawkins was known throughout the Caribbean
as an unusually cruel captain, who found joy in torturing his captives and
mistreating women. He rarely offered quarter to ships he attacked and was
feared by even his own crew. The only reason his crew remained loyal to him
was because he had a knack for finding rish prizes.
Once Hawkins found Greaves stowed away on his ship he gave him the option of
signing the ship's Articles, no doubt offering the articles on a platter
along with a pistol. It is uncertan if Greaves would have signed the
Articles without threat but once driven to the calling of piracy, Greaves
became very efficient, and quickly rose to eminence.
Despite his success, Greaves' childhood as a slave led him to hate Captain
Hawkins. Greaves refused to kill for no reason and would not partake in
torturing prisoners. It didn't take long for the two men with distinctly
different moral codes to come to blows. While it is said that the two men
had a duel over the issue, it is more likely Hawkins attacked Greaves for
not following his orders and bloody fight ensued. In the end, Greaves
managed to kill Hawkins and the crew which had lived in fear of the cruel
Hawkins immediately elected Young Greaves the new Captain.
Greaves in turn drew up a new set of Ship's Articles which were more to his
liking, which gave stiff penalties for maltreatment of prisoners and women
and a willigness to offer quarter. Much to the delight of Greaves and his
crew, what followed was a period of the highest piratical success. As his
reputation spread thoughout the Caribbean "Red Leg" Greaves became known for
his humanity and morality. He never tortured his prisoners, nor ever robbed
the poor, nor maltreated women.
His greatest success of all was his capture of the Island of Margarita, off
the coast of Venezuela. On this occasion, after capturing the Spanish Fleet,
he turned the guns of their warships against the forts, which he then
stormed, and was rewarded by a huge booty of pearls and gold. And as was
true to his form, he didn't sack the town, or rape and torture the Sapniards,
he just took the money and ran.
Having made off with enough money to last a life time, Greaves retired to
the respectable life of a planter in the Island of Nevis. The story would
end at this point but unfortunately for Greaves, one of his former victims
happened to cross his path and turned him in for the bounty on his head.As
was typical of the time he was quickly tried and found guilty and sentenced
to be hanged in chains. (Moral or not, he was a pirate!) He was cast into a
dungeon to await execution, when the great earthquake came which destroyed
and submerged the town in 1680, and one of the few survivors was Greaves.
Greaves was rescued by a whaling ship and in turn he joined the crew and
served remarkably well. Later he would turn pirate hunter and received a
pardon for his earlier crimes after assisting in the capturing a gang of
pirates that habe been ravaging the whaling fleets.
After Greaves became a legally free and pardoned man he once again retired
to a plantation becoming well known for being a charitable and kindly man
who gave generously to many public institutions. Greaves died of old age,
universally respected and missed by all in his community.
Greaves got his nickname "Red Legs" from his heritage. The kilt wearing
Scots were known for going bare legged in any weather and this lifestyle led
to "red legs" in the Caribbean sun. Red Legs was a common nickname for the
Scots and the Irish.
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