Captain George Lowther's Pirate Code Articles
Who was George Lowther?
Captain George Lowther pirated the seas from 1721 to 1723. In 1721, before becoming a captain, he sailed as first mate under captain Charles Russel on a slave ship named Gambia Castle. Lowther and his crewmates became frustrated after being docked awaiting a cargo of slaves on the coast of Gambia in Africa. Many of the men aboard the ship suffered from dysentery, malaria, and scurvy. After several months waiting, they secretly boarded the ship, leaving the captain on shore.
Once they escaped, the crew elected Lowther as their new captain. Wanting a more profitable and free life, they decided to venture the seas as pirates. With a new mission, the ship was renamed Delivery. As was custom for pirates, they wrote up a new list of rules, referred to as the Articles or Code of Conduct. George Lowther's articles have been priceless for historians, as they are one of the few documents from pirates that are still around today.
Lowther was a very active and "successful" pirate terrorizing the Caribbeans and Grand Cayman Islands. His days as a pirate ended when they decided to dock in order to repair the ship. While on the shore of Blanquilla Island, currently part of Venezuela, they were spotted by a merchant ship causing George and his crew to scatter. Lowther was never accounted for; although many historians suspect he may have shot himself to avoid imprisonment by his captors.
The Pirate Code Articles as set by George Lowther (reworded with modern language)
- The Captain is to have two full Shares. The master gets one and a half share; the doctor, gunner, mate, and boatswain receive one and a quarter share.
- If a person is found guilty of any unlawful weapon, of striking or abusing another shall receive the punishment that the Captain or majority finds fit.
- Any person who is found to be guilty of cowardice during a moment of engagement shall receive the punishment that the Captain or majority feels is appropriate.
- If a person is found in possession of gold, jewels, silver, etc. Originally found on board of any prize (ship they have plundered) that is in the value of more than a piece of eight and does not hand over to the Quarter-Master within 24 hours, they shall suffer from a punishment set by the Captain or majority.
- A person that is found guilty of gaming or defrauding another up to a shilling, will sustain a punishment that the Captain or majority finds fit.
- If a person loses a limb during an engagement (battle) then they will receive one hundred and fifty pounds sterling and will be allowed to remain with the Company as long as he finds fit.
- Good quarters will be given when called for.
- The man who sees a sail first, will receive the best pistol or small-arm on board.
What is a Pirate Code?
The code of conduct, which is notoriously known as the Pirate Code or Rules of the Sea, was a necessary document that captains wrote in order to rule their crew. Many movies and books will mock the pirate code showing pirates who do not honor the code, but the truth is that it was used and often followed better than on board non-pirate ships. Many chose the pirate life because they wanted to be treated better than they were when they had previously worked on naval and merchant ships. Many were tired of being abused by their harsh commanders.
All pirates in order to join the crew had to "go on the account," which meant they signed the articles and declared membership and loyalty to a particular group of pirates. This contract was binding and if betrayed was punished harshly.
What Do Pirate Codes Say?
Pirate codes declared many rules that the captain wanted to establish while aboard their ship. First and foremost it declared who was voted Captain. Piracy usually was more democratic than most other ships, and the crew often voted on who should be in charge. They also often decided together what the punishment would be of a wayward pirate. Some of the rules set forth included:
- No gambling (They did not want there to be fighting on deck; therefore, asked that any gambling be done while on land.)
- There was to be no hiding any gains you may have found from captain or crew, some even requested no secrets be kept from the crew. Keeping secrets was often punished by marooning.
- The rules surrounding the consumption of alcohol, to prevent drunken displays that would cause strife among the crew.
- Many captains requested that no women or boys were to be on the ship. Some felt women were bad luck to the crew. Others may have wanted to keep the romance off the deck.
- No fighting to occur on deck, all quarrels were to end on shore.
- Some would even request no smoking on board without a cap to the pipe and even carrying of candles, in fear of setting fires.
- Rules were set upon how much each crew-mate should receive after a plunder.
- They would also have a set compensation for loss of limbs, some would even set value based on what limb was lost. The surgeon on board may even make "prosthetic limbs" out of wood found on board, which would make the pirate more comfortable while on the ship. This is why pirates are often viewed as having a hook hand or peg leg.
- Members on board are allowed their own provisions such as clothes and a place to sleep.
- Rules were set forth stating how and who gets to decide on a punishment if there are any rule breakers.
- Punishments included marooning and lashing. Walking the plank was more folklore and most likely not actually ever used.
- Strict adherence regarding upkeep of weaponry was expected, to prevent loss of life during a battle.
- Parlay was a real code that temporarily protected someone on an enemy ship until the audience of the enemy captain was present.
As rules in any type of life, these were meant for the protection of all those on board. Very few Pirate Codes have been found, fortunately historians were lucky enough to still have Captain Lowther's original articles.
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© 2013 Angela Michelle Schultz