Sailors in the early eighteenth century were frequently compelled to careen their ships. To careen a ship is to roll it over on one side in shallow water and clean off the marine growth which has begin to foul along the vessel's bottom. But for Captain George Lowther, an illustrious pirate with an intense, if not somewhat short career, he careened his ship one time too many.
First Mate on the Gambia Castle in 1721, George Lowther became a pirate almost by accident. The Gambia Castle was a slave ship of the Royal Africa Company operating out of London under the command of a certain Charles Russell. Though never having been upon a slave ship before, he soon found himself anchored off the coast of Gambia. The morale upon such vessels was understandably low. Apart from the hateful work itself, a 'slaver' crew would often have to wait for weeks or even months offshore until enough of their 'cargo' could be brought together. These crews had time on their hands and their living conditions, the food, the disease and the weather were, in this case, unbearable.
In addition, Captain Russell was disliked by his crew and George Lowther was respected all the more. When a disagreement finally broke out between Captain and First Mate, the crew stood shortly before a mutiny in George Lowther's support. Captain Russell then made the mistake of leaving his vessel for a short visit ashore and Lowther, elected Captain, ordered his ship, renamed Delivery, to set sail for the Carolinas. Captain George Lowther had chosen to 'go on the account', in other words, to become a pirate. His crew cheered him on, signed the articles of piracy, and went on the account with him. They knew that a return to England would be a death sentence; death by hanging for all of them. This fateful decision now behind them, they now knew that they were in it for good.
After careening his ship upon arrival, he wasted no time in looting and plundering. The crew of the Delivery, which was soon to rename their ship Happy Delivery, pillaged wherever and whenever they could. Their journeys soon took them to the Grand Caymans where they attacked, ransacked and finally destroyed the Greyhound, most likely killing the entire crew aboard, as well. From here it was off to Guatemala, where the Happy Delivery would need yet another careening. And it was here that the crew was assaulted by the natives and would have to abruptly set sail again. The Happy Delivery no longer seaworthy, the men transferred everything they still had aboard the Revenge, their only remaining ship, plundering a small fort for needed supplies in the process.
Yet as fate would have it, however, the Revenge too was in need of urgent repair and Lowther decided to lay low for a time on the small Venezuelan island of Blanquilla. The Blanquilla was small but not well-concealed enough for the Eagle, a pirate hunter, which spotted the Revenge on its side in the shallow waters of the island. The pirates ran, of course, but it was soon clear to all that there was no place to run. The island was simply too small. Lowther, not willing to return to the gallows, used his pistol to fire a bullet into his head. His career as pirate ended abruptly after two short years.
Thomas Tew was born in Rhode Island, and became active as a pirate by 1690. He based his travels in the Red Sea, with bases in Rhode Island and Madagascar. Tew was born into a wealthy family, and used this money to buy a ship to travel to Bermuda, where he arrived carrying gold and cash.
While in Bermuda, Tew was commissioned as a privateer to attack the French, who were sailing near West Africa. Along with another ship commanded by Captain George Drew, Tew set sail with the understanding that any money or property gained from this expedition would be divided among the captains and the Governor of Bermuda.
On the way to West Africa, a storm came up and separated Tew's ship from that of Captain Drew. Tew gathered his crew and convinced them that acting as pirates rather than privateers would be of more benefit to them. The crew agreed and pledged allegiance to "The Pirate of Rhode Island", as Tew came to be known.
They changed their course and headed for the Cape of Good Hope, where they made their first attack on an Arab vessel. They were rewarded with a cargo of gemstones and other precious wares. The crew then headed for Madagascar.
While in Madagascar, Tew met another pirate named Captain Mission. Mission had a settlement there, and Tew enjoyed a lengthy stay with his new comrade. Tew set out on a few expeditions, capturing more ships, slaves, and cargo, before heading out to chart the perimeter of the island of Madagascar.
Tew then headed back to America, to his home in Newport. He sent his ship and crew back to Madagascar, carrying several times their worth in riches, to repay the people who had housed them there. Thus began a sort of pirate trade between America and Madagascar, which continued long after Tew's death. He settled in Newport for a while, before the call of the sea became, once again, too strong for him to resist.
Tew returned to Madagascar, where he was respected and revered as a kind and gentle man, despite his chosen profession. Eventually, however, the life of ease in Madagascar became wrought with friction, as the English and French crew members argued over who their leader was. Tew was named Admiral of the fleet, and made it his mission to bring more people to the island to fortify their settlement. Several expeditions went without any trouble, but then the attacks against the pirates became more frequent. Many ships and crewmen were lost over the next several months.
At this point in time, Tew and Mission agreed to part company, dividing all of their assets between themselves and their men. They each boarded a ship and headed to their homes. Only a short way into the trip, Tew watched, just out of reach to be of any assistance, as Mission's ship was attacked and his friend killed.
Tew himself was killed in 1695, while attempting to board a ship headed by the Great Mogul of India. A single shot hit him in the abdomen, and there are many gory, detailed accounts of his death. When news of his death reached his crew members, they were stricken with terror and immediately surrendered.