, Salem, MA


June 13, 2014

Book Notes: New book tells of Marblehead sailor abducted by pirates

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies could just as easily have been named “Pirates of New England.”

That’s because pirates were as common up here during the 18th century as they were around the islands down South, Gregory Flemming points out in his new book.

“They were all over the place,” Flemming said. “Piracy was a real and constant threat up and down New England.”

The extent of that menace is part of the larger story in Flemming’s “At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton,” which was published this month.

Hear an interview with author Gregory Flemming

The book focuses on Ashton, who was born in Marblehead and worked on a fishing schooner, but points out that his story wasn’t unique.

“He was captured on June 15, 1722, off the coast of Nova Scotia, where the guys used to go cod fishing,” Flemming said. “He sailed with the pirates until March of 1723.

“There were hundreds of young men like him, and I talk about many of them in the book.”

Ashton managed to escape on the island of Roatan, 40 miles from Honduras, when he went ashore with pirates to search for water.

“He was on the island for two years, much of which time he was alone,” Flemming said. “He returned to Marblehead — caught passage on a ship going back to Salem — and arrived back in May 1725.”

Flemming visited Roatan and used a map made 20 years after Ashton had been there, to search for the same water sources the pirates were seeking.

“I wanted to see where they might have gone ashore,” he said. “That part of Roatan where he went is still very much today like it was 300 years ago. It’s still wild and inaccessible.”

Flemming had not realized before doing his research that Edward Low, the pirate who abducted 19-year-old Ashton, “was truly one of the worst of his era.”

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