The Foul Five

Who was a servant? Sadistic? Successful? Here are five nasty participants in a pirate-eat-pirate world.

Compiled by Danielle Conolly

Posted July 21, 2010

5. Henry Morgan (c. 1635–1688)

Born in Wales, Morgan arrived in Jamaica in 1655. Although he originally sailed with another pirate captain, Christopher Myngs, Morgan is most famous for the Battle of Panama, which largely occurred on land. It was a major success for Morgan, displaying his skill as a commander. His career as an outlaw ended in 1672 and a warrant was issued for his arrest. But Morgan had powerful friends in government and was never arrested, instead becoming a deputy official in the colonial government.

4. Bartholomew Roberts (pirate from 1719–1722)

Also Welsh, Roberts was serving aboard a slave ship when it was captured by pirates, and subsequently elected captain of the ship when its previous captain was killed. Beginning in Brazil, Roberts’ path of plunder went as far north as Newfoundland. Reputed to be ruthless, Roberts shot deserters and sometimes tortured prisoners into revealing their valuables. He once ordered the deaths of 80 slaves, burning their ship when its captain didn’t pay ransom, and he hanged the governor of Martinique from the yardarm of his own ship. Roberts was also one of the most successful pirates, capturing more than 200 ships in his career.

3. John David Nau, ‘L’Olonnais’ (c.1635–1668)

Nau arrived in the West Indies from France as an indentured servant in the 1650s. By 1660, he had joined a group of outlaws in what is now Haiti. Known for being sadistic, Nau hacked prisoners to death and tortured others to get them to reveal where their valuables were. One rumor says he even cut out and ate the heart of a victim. Eventually, Nau and his band were slaughtered by a group of indigenous island residents while looking for food on the Gulf of Darien.

2. Thomas Anstis

No specific dates are available for when Anstis began piracy, but by 1721 he had broken away from his former captain, Bartholomew Roberts, and struck out on his own, attacking ships off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Both Anstis and his crew were renowned for an “above-average” lust for violence. A survivor of their attack on the Irish vessel Irwin, taken off the coast of Martinique, reported that 21 crew members had raped a female passenger successively, then broken her back and flung her into the sea. Anstis was killed by discontented members of his own crew, who then gave up piracy.

1. ‘Loathsome’ Ned (Edward) Low (c. 1690–c. 1724)

From England, Low arrived in New England and started a family, working as a ship rigger. But his business failed, and his wife and son died. Low subsequently became one of the most brutal pirates, known for hacking and disembowelling prisoners. When the captain of the Nostre Signora de Victoria sank a fortune in gold rather than have it captured, Low ordered the man’s lips cut off and cooked in front of him, then had him killed along with all 32 crewmembers. Nursing a grudge, Low cut up the nose and ears of any captain from New England. The most common story of his death says his crew mutinied and abandoned him, and he was found guilty and hanged after a quick trial.

All artwork files were donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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