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The Pirate Code of Captain George Lowther

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The Pirate Code of Captain George Lowther

George Lowther

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George Lowther (?-1723) was an English pirate who worked off the coast of Africa, the Caribbean and the Atlantic Coast of Central and North America in 1721-1723. Lowther was second mate aboard the Man of War Guinea Castle in 1721 when is sailed from England to Africa to resupply a fortress there with men, arms and supplies. Lowther fell out with the captain of the Guinea Castle, but he was popular with the sailors and soldiers on board, most of who readily joined him when he mutinied in May of 1721.

Once he had convinced most of the sailors and soldiers to join him "on the account," Lowther drew up a set of articles: a "pirate code" if you will. This was a common practice at the time among pirate vessels, as it clearly spelled out duties, rewards and regulations that everyone must follow. All of the pirates agreed to the code, and soon they were in business.

Most of the pirate codes have been lost to history: only a handful survive, including Lowther's. Lowther's survives because he was active around the same time that Captain Charles Johnson wrote his famous book A General History of the Pyrates. Lowther's gang was known to Johnson, and he transcribed their articles into his book.

Lowther went on to a fairly long (two years) career as a pirate, in which he took dozens of vessels all over the Atlantic. He worked together for a time with Edward Low, who would go on to a distinguished piracy career, and who would model his own articles on those of Lowther. Lowther's career came to an end in October of 1723 when he was marooned on a deserted island: he reportedly was found later, having shot himself.

Lowther's articles show that officers were to be rewarded with more loot than the regular men, but not by much: a double share for the captain, a share and a half for the quartermaster, and other officers to get a share and a quarter. This was typical for pirate ships, which were much more democratic than navy or merchant vessels. The code also forbids fighting on board the ship (fighting on shore was allowed and even encouraged as a way to settle disputes) and left punishments for cheating, cowardice and keeping loot to oneself to the Captain and majority of the ship. Punishments were harsh, and could include death, marooning, lashes or other penalties.

Here is Lowther's Code, as set down by Captain Johnson:

  • The Captain is to have two full Shares; the Master is to have one share and a half; the Doctor, Mate, Gunner & Boatswain, one Share and a quarter.
  • He that shall be found Guilty of taking up any unlawful Weapon on Board the Privateer, or any Prize, by us taken, so as to strike or abuse one another, in any regard, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority of the Company shall think fit.
  • He that shall be found Guilty of Cowardice, in the Time of Engagement, shall suffer what punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.
  • If any Gold, Jewels, Silver, &c. be found on Board of any Prizes, to the value of a Piece of Eight ; & the Finder do not deliver it to the Quarter-Master, in the Space of 24 Hours, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.
  • He that is found Guilty of Gaming, or Defrauding another to the Value of a Shilling, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority of the Company shall think fit.
  • He that shall have the Misfortune to lose a Limb, in time of Engagement, shall have the sum of one hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling, and remain with the Company as long as he shall think fit.
  • Good Quarters will be given when called for.
  • He that sees a Sail first, shall have the best Pistol, or Small-Arm, on Board her.

Source:

Defoe, Daniel (Captain Charles Johnson). A General History of the Pyrates. Edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1972/1999.

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