When I was growing up, a family vacation to California enabled me to experience what to this day remains my favorite amusement park ride – Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. I could have waited in line all day with my E ticket (anyone else remember those?) in hand just for the opportunity to go over those two waterfalls in a boat and be transported back to another time. My favorite part was always when we entered what felt like the open ocean and a battle raged between a pirate ship and a fort. The sights and sounds of Disney’s audio-animatronics characters and even the smells are fixed in my memory. When it was over, the first thing I wanted to do is get back in line and do it all over again! The original Pirates of the Caribbean ride was truly a multisensory adventure – well before high tech special effects and the days of Captain Jack Sparrow and the three (soon to be four) blockbuster Disney films. The one thing I could never have imagined back then is that there was a logical reason for me to be drawn to this ride – my first ancestor in America, a Boston sea captain named Benjamin Edwards had experienced it in real life in a fashion that was, unfortunately for he and his crew, anything but enjoyable. This I would discover quite by accident many years later, even after I had written the children’s book One April in Boston which tells the tale of my early Boston ancestors including my sixth great grandfather Captain Benjamin Edwards. One day, while working, I decided to type the name “Benjamin Edwards” and the word “Greyhound” (one of his vessels) into Yahoo search. Much to my amazement, the results included numerous links to information on a battle in the Caribbean between Captain Benjamin Edwards aboard the Greyhound and pirate George Lowther aboard the Happy Delivery on January 10, 1722.
I began to research this incident and found it mentioned in a newspaper called the Boston News-Letter on May 7, 1722 and in Captain Charles Johnson’s book A General History of Pyrates first published in 1724 and still available today. It also appears in the book Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 by George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds published in 1923. It seems that the battle occurred off the coast of Honduras – Captain Edwards had a crew of 14 aboard a ship protected by 6 guns; while the pirate George Lowther had a crew of 90 aboard a ship protected by 16 guns. What became of Captain Benjamin Edwards? The wikipedia entry on pirate George Lowther (as of today’s date) tells us that Captain Edwards and his entire crew were “possibly killed”. To learn what really happened, read on.
Here are accounts of the battle from both of the books mentioned above, containing the original spelling and punctuation:
The following is taken from A General History of Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson, 1724:
The 10th of January, the pyrates came into the Bay (Bay of Honduras) and fell upon a ship of 200 Tuns, called the Greyhound, Benjamin Edwards Commander, belonging to Boston. Lowther hoisted his pyratical Colours and fired a Gun for the Greyhound to bring to, which she refusing, the Happy Delivery (the name of the Pyrate, Lowther’s ship) edg’d down, and gave her a Broadside (the firing of all guns on one side of a ship at the same time), which was returned by Captain Edwards very bravely, and the Engagement held for an hour; but Captain Edwards, finding the Pyrate too strong for him, and fearing the Consequence of too obstinate a Resistance against those lawless Fellows, order’d his Ensign to be struck. The Pyrates’ Boat came aboard, and not only rifled the Ship, but whipp’d, beat, and cut the Men in a cruel Manner, turned them aboard their own Ship, and then set Fire to theirs. (i.e. the crew were brought aboard the Delivery and the Greyhound burnt)
The following is taken from The Pirates of the New England Coast 1630-1730 by George Francis Dow and John Henry Edmonds, 1923:
On the 10th of January 1722, the good ship “Greyhound” of Boston in the Massachusetts Bay, Benjamin Edwards, Commander, was homeward bound. She was loaded with logwood and only one day out from the coast of Honduras where the crew had been worked hard for several weeks loading the many boatloads of heavy, thorny-growthed, blood-red wood. Early in the morning the lookout had sighted a ship headed toward them and while not plantation built she attracted no particular attention until it was seen that her course was slightly changed to conform to that of the “Greyhound,” or rather, it would seem, to intersect the course on which the “Greyhound” was sailing. As the ship drew nearer, a long look through the perspective revealed a heavily-manned vessel of English build and Captain Edwards thought it best to order all hands on deck. Soon the stranger ran up a black flag with a skeleton on it and fired a gun for the “Greyhound” to bring to.
West India waters had been plagued for many years by piratical gentry and the Boston captain had heard many terrifying tales of their barbarous cruelties to masters and seamen but he was a dogged type of man and so at once prepared to defend his ship. The pirate edged down a bit and shortly gave the “Greyhound” a broadside of eight guns which Captain Edwards bravely returned and for nearly an hour the give and take continued at long gunshot without much damage to either vessel. Finding the pirate was more heavily armed than the “Greyhound,” and her decks showing many men, Captain Edwards began to reckon the consequences of too stubborn a resistance, for it seemed likely that eventually he must surrender, barring, of course, lucky chance shot from his guns that might cut down a mast on the pirate ship. At last he ordered his ensign to be struck and hove to. Two boatloads of armed men soon came aboard and searched the ship for anything of value. The loot was not great for the New England logwood ships had little opportunity for trade or barter and the disappointment of the pirate crews was soon spit out on the men. Whenever one came within reach of the cutlass of a pirate he would receive a swinging slash across shoulders or arms, or perhaps, a blow on the head with the flat of the blade that would fell him half-senseless to the deck. By way of diversion two of the unoffending sailors were triced up at the foot of the mainmast and lashed until the blood ran from their backs. Captain Edwards and his men were then ordered into the boats and sent on board the pirate ship and the “Greyhound” was set on fire.
The rogue proved to be the “Happy Delivery,” commanded by Capt. George Lowther and manned by a strange assortment of English sailors and soldiers with a sprinkling of New England men. As soon as the men from the “Greyhound” reached her deck they were given a mug of rum and invited to join the crew. This was habitually done at that time by these outlaws and frequently a nimble sailor would be forced and compelled to serve with the pirates against his will. The first mate of the “Greyhound” was Charles Harris, born in London, England, then about twenty-four years old, and a man who understood navigation. He, with four others, Christopher Atwell, Henry Smith, Joseph Willis and David Lindsay, was forced and Captain Edwards and the rest of his crew, with other captured men, were put on board another logwood vessel and permitted to make the best of their way home.
My ancestor Captain Benjamin Edwards survived his run in with pirates in the Caribbean in 1722 – lucky for me, because if he hadn’t I would never have been born! I mention that when I tell this story to students at the conclusion of my Walking Tours of Historic Boston. Captain Edwards had three children prior to 1722 that all died in infancy. He later went on to father seven more including my fifth great grandfather Dolling Edwards a mastmaker in Boston who was born in 1737. Captain Edwards outlived two of his 3 wives and died in 1751. What became of pirate George Lowther? The answer to that is something straight out of a Disney movie. I’ll let you discover it as Captain Edwards might have himself, by reading this original article from a copy of the June 13, 1724 issue of the London newspaper called the Post Boy.
Today’s post wraps up by returning to my childhood experience at Disneyland. I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Disney in either California or Florida since discovering the information about Captain Edwards but I’m sure that when I do, my favorite ride will take on a whole new meaning! The original ride was modified in 2006 to add elements from the recent Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
To view the trailer from the first of those films, click on the pirate flag at the top of this post!
Below is a bit of Disney nostalgia: two videos on the creation of the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland that truly show the genius of Walt Disney.
Video link: Pirates of the Caribbean The Ride Part 1 (embedded above)
Video link: Pirates of the Caribbean The Ride Part 2
For the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach Colonial American history to grade school students while walking in the footsteps of my early Boston ancestors. During my field trips of Historic Boston, students walk the same streets my Edwards ancestors once strode with well known Bostonians like John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. As a tour guide and a teacher, I find this personal connection to history — and the stories I’m able to convey about it — to be a wonderful way to engage students. What makes it even more interesting for them is that these stories continue well after the tour is over. They come to life in my children’s book One April in Boston, and every student participating in a Boston field trip or any of my school programs receives the downloadable MP3 audio version for free.
Through the tour and the book, students learn that my Edwards ancestors arrived in Boston around 1700. My sixth great grandfather Captain Benjamin Edwards (pictured in this post) was 19 years old and living in the North End of Boston in 1706 – the same year Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street! That year he was married by Cotton Mather according to an entry in the 1708 Edwards Family Bible which still exists today. Benjamin Edwards was a sea captain and I discovered records of his many voyages including a battle with pirates in the Caribbean in 1722. His son Dolling Edwards, my fifth great grandfather, was a mastmaker at a shipyard in the North End and his son Benjamin was a cooper.
My fourth great grandfather, cooper Benjamin Edwards was an orphan by the time he was eight. Ben lived with his Aunt Sarah and his Uncle Alexander Edwards, a cabinetmaker and member of the Sons of Liberty. The family lived a few blocks down the street from the Old North Church and Ben was 10 when the signal lanterns were shown from its steeple and Paul Revere made his Midnight Ride. Toward the end of the Revolution, Ben’s older sister Sally Edwards married silversmith Paul Revere Jr., firstborn son of the famous patriot.
Ben’s son Joseph Edwards, my third great grandfather, was born in 1799. He was my last Edwards ancestor to live in Boston his entire life. Joseph was a paver who set granite paving stones in the city streets. He was also an innkeeper. Joseph lived in the West End not far from Boston Common, where most days you can spot me surrounded by enthusiastic schoolchildren and teachers heading off on my one-of-a-kind walking tour of Historic Boston.
Teachers: If you are interested in integrating family stories or genealogy into your history curriculum, the following genealogy resources will prove very helpful.