Edward "Ned" Low (also spelled Lowe or Loe) was an English criminal, sailor and pirate. He took up piracy sometime around 1722 and was very successful, plundering dozens if not hundreds of ships. He was known for his cruelty to his prisoners and was greatly feared on both sides of the Atlantic. There are conflicting versions of his final fate, but he did cease pirate activities in 1724 or 1725 and was probably captured and hanged by the French on Martinique.
Early Life of Edward Low
Low was born in Westminster probably sometime around 1690. As a youth he was a thief, gambler and a thug. He was a strong, physical young man and would often beat up other boys for their money. Later, as a gambler, he would cheat brazenly: if anyone called him on it, he would fight them, usually winning. When he was a teenager he went to sea and worked for a few years in a rigging house (where they made and repaired ships' ropes and rigging) in Boston.
Low Turns Pirate
Tiring of life on land, Low signed on board a small vessel which was headed to the bay of Honduras to cut logwood. Such missions were risky, as the Spanish coastal patrol would attack them if they were sighted. One day, after a long day's work cutting logwood and loading it, the captain ordered Low and the other men to make one more trip, so as to fill the ship faster and get out of there. Low became enraged and fired a musket at the captain. He missed, but killed another sailor. Low was marooned and the captain took the opportunity to rid himself of a dozen or so other malcontents as well. The marooned men soon captured a small boat and went pirate.
Association with Lowther
The new pirates went to Grand Cayman Island where they met a pirate force under the command of George Lowther on board the ship Happy Delivery. Lowther was in need of men and offered to let Low and his men join. They did happily, and Low was made lieutenant. Within a couple of weeks, the Happy Delivery had taken a big prize: the 200 ton ship Greyhound out of Boston, which they burned. They took several other ships in the Bay of Honduras in the next few weeks, and Low was promoted to captain of a captured sloop which was outfitted with eighteen cannons. It was a quick rise for Low, who had been a junior officer on board the logwood ship only weeks before.
Low Strikes out on His Own
Not long after, as the pirates refitted their ships on an isolated beach, they were attacked by a large group of angry natives. The men had been resting on shore, and although they were able to escape, they lost much of their loot and the Happy Delivery was burned. Setting out in the remaining ships, they resumed piracy once more with great success, capturing many merchant and trading vessels. In May of 1722, Low and Lowther decided to part ways: there is nothing to suggest that their parting was anything but friendly. Low was then in charge of a Brigantine with two cannons and four swivel guns, and there were some 44 men serving under him.
A Successful Pirate
Over the next two years or so, Low became one of the most successful and feared pirates in the world. He and his men captured and robbed dozens of vessels over a wide area, ranging from the western coast of Africa to Brazil and north to the southeastern United States. His flag, which was well-known and feared, consisted of a red skeleton on a black background.
Low was a clever pirate who would use brute force only when necessary. His ships collected a variety of flags and he would often approach targets while flying the flag of Spain, England or whatever other nation they thought their prey might be from. Once close, they would run up the Jolly Roger and begin firing, which was usually enough to demoralize the other ship into surrendering. Low preferred to use a small fleet of two to four pirate ships to better outmaneuver his victims.
He could also use the threat of force: on more than one occasion, when in need of supplies, he sent messengers to coastal towns threatening an attack if they were not given food, water or whatever else he wanted. In some cases, he had hostages which he would threaten. More often than not, the threat of force or murder worked and Low was able to get his provisions without firing a shot. Low usually returned any hostages unharmed, probably reasoning that his tactics would not work in the future if he did not.