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Capt. Spriggs and His Crew

SPriggs sailed with Low for a pretty while, and I believe came away from Lowther, along with him; he was Quarter-Master to the Company, and consequently had a great Share in all the Barbarities committed by that execrable Gang, till the Time they parted; which was about Christmas last, when Low took a Ship of 12 Guns on the Coast of Guiney, called the Delight, (formerly the Squirrel Man of War,) commanded by Captain Hunt. Spriggs took Possession of the Ship with eighteen Men, left Low in the Night, and came to the West-Indies. This Separation was occasioned by a Quarrel with Low, concerning a Piece of Justice Spriggs would have executed upon one of the Crew, for killing a Man in cold Blood, as they call it, one insisting that he should be hang’d, and the other that he should not.

A Day or two after they parted, Spriggs was chose Captain by the rest, and a black Ensign was made, which they called Jolly Roger, with the same Device that Captain Low carried, viz. a white Skeliton in the Middle of it, with a Dart in one Hand striking a bleeding Heart, and in the other, an Hour-Glass; when this was finished and hoisted, they fired all their Guns to salute their Captain and themselves, and then looked out for Prey.

In their Voyage to the West-Indies, these Pyrates took a Portuguese Bark, wherein they got valuable Plunder, but not contented with that alone, they said they would have a little Game with the Men, and so ordered them a Sweat, more for the Brutes Diversion, than the poor Men’s Healths; which Operation is performed after this Manner; they stick up lighted Candles circularly round the Mizon-Mast, between Decks, within which the Patients one at a Time enter; without the Candles, the Pyrates post themselves, as many as can stand, forming another Circle, and armed with Pen-Knives, Tucks, Forks, Compasses, &c. and as he runs round and round, the Musick playing at the same Time, they prick him with those Instuments; this usually lasts for 10 or 12 Minutes, which is as long as the miserable Man can support himself. When the Sweating was over, they gave the Portuguese their Boat with a small Quantity of Provisions, and set their Vessel on Fire.

Near the Island of St. Lucia, they took a Sloop belonging to Barbadoes, which they plundered, and then burnt, forcing some of the Men to sign their Articles, the others they beat and cut in a barbarous Manner, because they refused to take on with the Crew, and then sent them away in the Boat, who all got safe afterwards to Barbadoes.

The next was a Martinico Man, which they served as bad as they had done the others, but did not burn their Ship. Some Days afterwards in running down to Leeward, they took one Captain Hawkins, coming from Jamaica, loaden chiefly with Logwood; they took out of her, Stores, Arms, Ammunition, and several other Things, as they thought fit, and what they did not want they threw over-board or destroy’d; they cut the Cables to pieces, knocked down the Cabins, broke all the Windows, and in short took all the Pains in the World to be Mischievous. They took by Force, out of her, Mr. Burridge and Mr. Stephens, the two Mates, and some other Hands; and after detaining the Ship from the 22d of March, to the 29th, they let her go. On the 27th they took a Rhode Island Sloop, Captain Pike, and all his Men were obliged to go aboard the Pyrate; but the Mate being a grave sober Man, and not inclinable to stay, they told him, he should have his Discharge, and that it should be immediately writ on his Back; whereupon he was sentenced to receive ten Lashes from every Man in the Ship, which was rigorously put in Execution.

The next Day Mr. Burridge, Captain Hawkins’s Mate, sign’d their Articles, which was so agreeable to them (he being a good Artist and Sailor) that they gave three Huzza’s, fir’d all the Guns in the Ship, and appointed him Master: The Day was spent in boysterous Mirth, roaring and drinking of Healths, among which was, by Mistake, that of King George the II. for you must know, now and then the Gentry are provok’d to sudden Fits of Loyalty, by the Expectation of an Act of Grace: It seems Captain Pike had heard at Jamaica that the King was dead, so the Pyrates immediately hoisted their Ensign Half-Mast (the Death Signal) and proclaim’d his Royal Highness, saying, They doubted not but there would be a general Pardon in a twelve Month, which they would embrace and come in upon, but damn ’em if they should be excepted out of it, they would murder every Englishman that should fall into their Hands.

The second of April, they spy’d a Sail, and gave her Chace till 12 o’Clock at Night, the Pyrates believed her to be a Spaniard, when they came close up to her, they discharged a Broadside, with small and great Shot, which was follow’d by another, but the Ship making a lamentable Cry for Quarters, they ceas’d firing, and ordered the Captain to come aboard, which he did, but how disappointed the Rogues were when they found ’twas their old Friend Captain Hawkins, whom they had sent away three Days before, worth not one Penny? This was such a Baulk to them, that they resolved he should suffer for falling in their Way, tho’ it was so contrary to his own Inclinations: About 15 of them surrounded the poor Man with sharp Cutlashes, and fell upon him, whereby he was soon laid flat on the Deck; at that Instant Burridge flew amongst the thickest of the Villains, and begg’d earnestly for his Life, upon whose Request ’twas granted. They were now most of ’em drunk, as is usual at this Time of Night, so they unanimously agreed to make a Bonfire of Hawkins’s Ship, which was immediately done, and in half an Hour she was all of a Blaze.

After this, they wanted a little more Diversion, and so Captain Hawkins was sent for down to the Cabin to Supper; what should the Provision be, but a Dish of Candles, which he was forced to eat, having a naked Sword and a Pistol held to his Breast all the while; when this was over, they buffeted him about for some Time, and sent him forward amongst the other Prisoners, who had been treated with the same Delicacies.

Two Days afterwards, they anchor’d at a little uninhabited Island, call’d Rattan, near the Bay of Honduras, and put ashore Captain Hawkins, and several other Men, (one of them his Passenger) who dy’d there of the Hardships he underwent. They gave them Powder and Ball, and a Musquet, with which they were to shift as they could, sailing away the next Day for other Adventures.

Captain Hawkins, and his unfortunate Companions, staid 19 Days upon this Island, supplying themselves with both Fish and Fowl, such as they were, at which Time came two Men in a Canoe, that had been left upon another marroon Island near Benacca, who carry’d the Company at several Times thither, it being more convenient in having a good Well of fresh Water, and Plenty of Fish, &c. Twelve Days afterwards they spy’d a Sloop off at Sea, which, upon their making a great Smoke, stood in, and took them off; she was the Merriam, Captain Jones, lately escaped out of the Bay of Honduras, from being taken by the Spaniards.

At an Island to the Westward, the Pyrates clean’d their Ship, and sail’d towards the Island of St. Christophers, to wait for one Captain Moor, who commanded the Eagle Sloop, when she took Lowther’s upon the Careen, at Blanco; Spriggs resolved to put him to Death, whenever he took him, for falling upon his Friend and Brother, but instead of Moor, he found a French Man of War from Martinico upon the Coast, which Spriggs not thinking fit to contend with, run away with all the Sail he could make, the French Man crowded after him, and was very likely to speak with Mr. Spriggs, when unfortunately his Main-Top-Mast came by the Board, which obliged him to give over the Chace.

Spriggs then stood to the Northward, towards Burmudas, or the Summer Isles, and took a Scooner belonging to Boston; he took out all the Men and sunk the Vessel, and had the Impudence to tell the Master, that he designed to encrease his Company on the Banks of Newfoundland, and then would sail for the Coast of New-England in quest of Captain Solgard, who attack’d and took their Consort Charles Harris, Spriggs being then in Low’s Sloop, who very fairly run for it. The Pyrate ask’d the Master if he knew Captain Solgard, who answering No; he ask’d another the same Question, and then a third, who said he knew him very well, upon which Spriggs ordered him to be sweated, which was done in the Manner before describ’d.

Instead of going to Newfoundland as the Pyrates threat’ned, they came back to the Islands, and to Windward of St. Christophers, on the 4th of June last, took a Sloop, Nicholas Trot Master, belonging to St. Eustatia, and wanting a little Diversion, they hoisted the Men as high as the Main and Fore Tops, and let them run down amain, enough to break all the Bones in their Skins, and after they had pretty well crippled them by this cruel Usage, and whipp’d them about the Deck, they gave Trot his Sloop, and let him go, keeping back only 2 of his Men, besides the Plunder of the Vessel.

Within two or three Days they took a Ship coming from Rhode-Island to St. Christophers, loaden with Provisions and some Horses; the Pyrates mounted the Horses and rid them about the Deck backwards and forwards a full Gallop, like Madmen at New-Market, cursing, swearing, and hallowing, at such a Rate, that made the poor Creatures wild, and at length, two or three of them throwing their Riders, they fell upon the Ship’s Crew, and whipp’d, and cut, and beat them in a barbarous Manner, telling them, it was for bringing Horses without Boots and Spurs, for want of which they were not able to ride them.

This is the last Account we have had of Captain Spriggs, I shall only add the two following Relations, and conclude.

A Brigantine belonging to Bristol, one Mr. Rowry Master, had been trading at Gambia, in Africa, and falling as low as Cape Mount, to finish the slaving of the Vessel, he had, by a Misfortune usual at that Part of the Coast, his Mate, Surgeon, and two more of his Men, Panyarr’d by the Negroes. The Remainder of his Company, which was not above 5 or 6 in Number, took this Opportunity, and seiz’d the Vessel in the Road, making the Master Prisoner.

You will think it prodigious impudent that so small a Number should undertake to proceed a pyrating, especially when neither of them had sufficient Skill in Navigation: Yet this they did, leaving those People, their Ship-Mates abovemention’d, to the Mercy of the barbarous Natives, and sail’d away down the Coast, making them a black Flag, which they merrily said, would be as good as 50 Men more, i. e. would carry as much Terror; and that they did not doubt of soon increasing their Crew, to put them in an enterprizing Capacity; but their vain Projection was soon happily frustrated, and after this Manner.

The Master whose Life they had preserved, (perhaps only for supplying their own Unskillfulness in Navigation,) advised them, that since contrary to their Expectations, they had met with no Ship between Cape Mount, and the Bite of Calabar, to proceed to the Island of St. Thomas’s, where they might recruit with Provisions and Water, and sell off the Slaves (about 70 of them) which they perceived would be a useless Lumber, and incommodious to their Design. They arrived there in August 1721, and one Evening, while Part of them were on Shore, applying for this Purpose to the Governor, and the other Part carelesly from the Deck, Mr. Rowry stepp’d into the Boat belonging to the Vessel, and pushed off, very suddenly: They heard the Noise it made, and soon were upon Deck again, but having no other Boat to pursue, nor a Musket, ready to fire, he got safe on Shore, and ran to the Governor with his Complaint, who immediately imprisoned those already there, and sent a Launch off to take the rest out of the Ship.

The Swallow arrived at St. Thomas’s the Beginning of October following, where, on Mr. Rowry’s Remonstrance, Application was made to the Portuguese Governor of that Island, for a Surrendery of these five English Prisoners then in the Castle; but he not only peremptorily excused himself from it, as a Matter out of his Power, without particular Direction from the Court of Portugal; but withal insinuated, that they had only taken Refuge there from the Hardships and Severity they had met with from their Master. The manner of Denial, and the avaritious Temper of the Gentleman, which I had Occasion to be acquainted with, makes it very suspicious, that he proposed considerable Gains to himself; for if Mr. Rowry had not made such an Escape to him, the Slaves had been his for little or nothing, as a Bribe to silence his Suspicions, which any Man, less acute than he, must have had from the awkward and unskilful Carriage of such Merchants. But enough of this; perhaps he is not the only Governor abroad that finds an Interest in countenancing these Fellows.

Daniel Defoe