The Pirates Own Book:
Authentic Narratives of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers

THE LIFE OF CAPTAIN LEWIS


Captain Lewis was at an early age associated with pirates. We first find him a boy in company with the pirate Banister, who was hanged at the yard arm of a man-of-war, in sight of Port Royal, Jamaica. This Lewis and another boy were taken with him, and brought into the island hanging by the middle at the mizen peak. He had a great aptitude for languages, and spoke perfectly well that of the Mosquil Indians, French, Spanish, and English. I mention our own, because it is doubted whether he was French or English, for we cannot trace him back to his origin. He sailed out of Jamaica till he was a lusty lad, and was then taken by the Spaniards at the Havana, where he tarried some time; but at length he and six more ran away with a small canoe, and surprised a Spanish periagua, out of which two men joined them, so that they were now nine in company. With this periagua they surprised a turtling sloop, and forced some of the hands to take on with them; the others they sent away in the periagua.

He played at this small game, surprising and taking coasters and turtlers, till with forced men and volunteers he made up a company of 40 men. With these he took a large pink built ship, bound from Jamaica to the bay of Campeachy, and after her, several others bound to the same place; and having intelligence that there lay in the bay a fine Bermuda built brigantine of 10 guns, commanded by Captain Tucker, he sent the captain of the pink to him with a letter, the purport of which was, that he wanted such a brigantine, and if he would part with her, he would pay him 10,000 pieces of eight; if he refused this, he would take care to lie in his way, for he was resolved, either by fair or foul means to have the vessel. Captain Tucker, having read the letter, sent for the masters of vessels then lying in the bay, and told them, after he had shown the letter, that if they would make him up 54 men, (for there were about ten Bermuda sloops,) he would go out and fight the pirates. They said no, they would not hazard their men, they depended on their sailing, and every one must take care of himself as well as he could.
 

The Pirate Banister, hanging at the Yard Arm

The Pirate Banister, hanging at the Yard Arm.

However, they all put to sea together, and spied a sail under the land, which had a breeze while they lay becalmed. Some said he was a turtler; others, the pirate, and so it proved; for it was honest Captain Lewis, who putting out his oars, got in among them. Some of the sloops had four guns, some two, some none. Joseph Dill had two, which he brought on one side, and fired smartly at the pirate, but unfortunately one of them split, and killed three men. Tucker called to all the sloops to send him men, and he would fight Lewis, but to no purpose; nobody came on board him. In the mean while a breeze sprung up, and Tucker, trimming his sails, left them, who all fell a prey to the pirate; into whom, however, he fired a broadside at going off. One sloop, whose master I will not name, was a very good sailer, and was going off; but Lewis firing a shot, brought her to, and he lay by till all the sloops were visited and secured. Then Lewis sent on board him, and ordered the master into his sloop. As soon as he was on board, he asked the reason of his lying by, and betraying the trust his owners had reposed in him, which was doing like a knave and coward, and he would punish him accordingly; for, said he, you might have got off, being so much a better sailer than my vessel. After this speech, he fell upon him with a rope's end, and then snatching up his cane, drove him about the decks without mercy. The master, thinking to pacify him, told him he had been out trading in that sloop several months, and had on board a good quantity of money, which was hid, and which, if he would send on board a black belonging to the owners, he would discover to him. This had not the desired effect, but one quite contrary; for Lewis told him he was a rascal and villain for this discovery, and he would pay him for betraying his owners, and redoubled his strokes. However, he sent and took the money and negro, who was an able sailor. He took out of his prizes what he had occasion for, forty able negro sailors, and a white carpenter. The largest sloop, which was about ninety tons, he took for his own use, and mounted her with 12 guns. His crew was now about eighty men, whites and blacks.
The Master Caned by Captain Lewis

The Master Caned by Captain Lewis.

After these captures, he cruised in the Gulf of Florida, laying in wait for the West India homeward bound ships that took the leeward passage, several of which, falling into his hands, were plundered by him, and released. From hence he went to the coast of Carolina, where he cleaned his sloop, and a great many men whom he had forced, ran away from him. However, the natives traded with him for rum and sugar, and brought him all he wanted, without the government's having any knowledge of him, for he had got into a very private creek; though he was very much on his guard, that he might not be surprised from the shore.

From Carolina he cruised on the coast of Virginia, where he took and plundered several merchantmen, and forced several men, and then returned to the coast of Carolina, where he did abundance of mischief. As he had now an abundance of French on board, who had entered with him, and Lewis, hearing the English had a design to maroon them, he secured the men he suspected, and put them in a boat, with all the other English, ten leagues from shore, with only ten pieces of beef, and sent them away, keeping none but French and negroes. These men, it is supposed, all perished in the sea.

From the coast of Carolina he shaped his course for the banks of Newfoundland, where he overhauled several fishing vessels, and then went into Trinity Harbor in Conception Bay, where there lay several merchantmen, and seized a 24 gun galley, called the Herman. The commander, Captain Beal, told Lewis, if he would send his quarter master ashore he would furnish him with necessaries. He being sent ashore, a council was held among the masters, the consequence of which was, the seizing the quarter master, whom they carried to Captain Woodes Rogers. He chained him to a sheet anchor which was ashore, and planted guns at the point, to prevent the pirate getting out, but to little purpose; for the people at one of these points firing too soon, Lewis quitted the ship, and, by the help of oars and the favor of the night, got out in his sloop, though she received many shot in her hull. The last shot that was fired at the pirate did him considerable damage.

He lay off and on the harbor, swearing he would have his quarter master, and intercepted two fishing shallops, on board of one of which was the captain of the galley's brother. He detained them, and sent word, if his quarter master did not immediately come off, he would put all his prisoners to death. He was sent on board without hesitation. Lewis and the crew inquired how he had been used, and he answered, very civilly. "It's well," said the pirate, "for had you been ill treated, I would have put all these rascals to the sword." They were dismissed, and the captain's brother going over the side, the quarter master stopped him, saying, he must drink the gentlemen's health ashore, particularly Captain Rogers' and, whispering him in the ear, told him, if they had known of his being chained all night, he would have been cut in pieces, with all his men. After this poor man and his shallop's company were gone, the quarter master told the usage he had met with, which enraged Lewis, and made him reproach his quarter master, whose answer was, that he did not think it just the innocent should suffer for the guilty.

The masters of the merchantmen sent to Capt. Tudor Trevor, who lay at St. John's in the Sheerness man-of-war. He immediately got under sail, and missed the pirate but four hours. She kept along the coast and made several prizes, French and English, and put into a harbor where a French ship lay making fish. She was built at the latter end of the war, for a privateer, was an excellent sailer, and mounted 24 guns. The commander hailed him: the pirate answered, from Jamaica with rum and sugar. The Frenchman bid him go about his business; that a pirate sloop was on the coast, and he might be the rogue; if he did not immediately sheer off, he would fire a broadside into him. He went off and lay a fortnight out at sea, so far as not to be descried from shore, with resolution to have the ship. The Frenchman being on his guard, in the meanwhile raised a battery on the shore, which commanded the harbor. After a fortnight, when he was thought to be gone off, he returned, and took two of the fishing shallops belonging to the Frenchman, and manning them with pirates, they went in. One shallop attacked the battery; the other surprised, boarded and carried the ship, just as the morning star appeared, for which reason he gave her that name. In the engagement the owner's son was killed, who made the voyage out of curiosity only. The ship being taken, seven guns were fired, which was the signal, and the sloop came down and lay alongside the ship. The captain told him he supposed he only wanted his liquor; but Lewis made answer he wanted his ship, and accordingly hoisted all his ammunition and provision into her. When the Frenchman saw they would have his ship, he told her trim, and Lewis gave him the sloop; and excepting what he took for provision, all the fish he had made. Several of the French took on with him, who, with others, English and French, had by force or voluntarily, made him up 200 men.

From Newfoundland he steered for the coast of Guinea, where he took a great many ships, English, Dutch and Portuguese. Among these ships was one belonging to Carolina, commanded by Capt. Smith. While he was in chase of this vessel a circumstance occurred, which made his men believe he dealt with the devil; his fore and main top-mast being carried away, he, Lewis, running up the shrouds to the maintop, tore off a handful of hair, and throwing it into the air used this expression, good devil, take this till I come. And it was observed, that he came afterwards faster up with the chase than before the loss of his top-masts.

Captain Lewis giving a lock of his hair to the Devil

Captain Lewis giving a lock of his hair to the Devil.

Smith being taken, Lewis used him very civilly, and gave him as much or more in value than he took from him, and let him go, saying, he would come to Carolina when he had made money on the coast, and would rely on his friendship.

They kept some time on the coast, when they quarrelled among themselves, the French and English, of which the former were more numerous, and they resolved to part. The French therefore chose a large sloop newly taken, thinking the ship's bottom, which was not sheathed, damaged by the worms. According to this agreement they took on board what ammunition and provision they thought fit out of the ship, and put off, choosing one Le Barre captain. As it blew hard, and the decks were encumbered, they came to an anchor under the coast, to stow away their ammunition, goods, &c. Lewis told his men they were a parcel of rogues, and he would make them refund; accordingly he run alongside, his guns being all loaded and new primed, and ordered him to cut away his mast or he would sink him. Le Barre was obliged to obey. Then he ordered them all ashore. They begged the liberty of carrying their arms, goods, &c. with them, but he allowed them only their small arms and cartridge boxes. Then he brought the sloop alongside, put every thing on board the ship, and sunk the sloop.

Le Barre and the rest begged to be taken on board. However, though he denied them, he suffered Le Barre and some few to come, with whom he and his men drank plentifully. The negroes on board Lewis told him the French had a plot against him. He answered, he could not withstand his destiny; for the devil told him in the great cabin he should be murdered that night.

In the dead of the night, the rest of the French came on board in canoes, got into the cabin and killed Lewis. They fell on the crew; but, after an hour and a half's dispute, the French were beaten off, and the quarter master, John Cornelius, an Irishman, succeeded Lewis.

--"He was the mildest manner'd man,
That ever scuttled ship or cut a throat;
With such true breeding of a gentleman,
You never could discern his real thought.
Pity he loved an adventurous life's variety,
He was so great a loss to good society."


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