Morbid Curiosity


Easton, Peter “The Pirate Admiral”: Pirate/Marquis – Perhaps the richest buccaneer in the Golden Age of Piracy and for several years in the early seventeenth century, his headquarters was a tiny village in Newfoundland.

Easton was from a prominent English family that had produced a bishop, and he was sponsored early in his career by John Killigrew, the first governor of Pendennis Castle on the Cornish coast of England, outside Falmouth. The Killigrews were called by some the “robber barons of Land’s End,” and helped Easton assemble a private armada of forty ships.

The British Crown granted him a letter of marque, which meant he could aid in the British war effort against Spain by plundering Spanish galleons. Other state-sponsored privateers included Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. With Easton, they helped defeat the Spanish Armada in 1604 and make Great Britain the most powerful nation on the sea.

The end of the Spanish War brought drastic cuts in funding for the British navy. Easton found himself in Newfoundland with many former English officers who now had no income. An oath of blood brotherhood was sworn by the sailors, including Easton, who set their sights on potential plunder on the Spanish Main of the Caribbean, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and in the English Channel.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence offered the attractions of valuable cargoes of fish and the salt needed to preserve them. Far more importantly for Easton, however, was the skilled manpower which the Canadian coast offered for his fleet. For the outport men, the hope of riches at sea through sailing with a successful skipper like Easton was clearly better than the grind of working in the fisheries, which meant eighteen-hour days that barely paid enough for them to survive. When he wasn’t satisfied with the level of volunteering for his crews, Easton simply “shanghaied” sailors into his ranks.

Easton’s first appearance off the Newfoundland coast was in 1602 and, by 1610, he was the most powerful pirate in the western hemisphere, with a fleet of forty ships and thousands of crewmen. He shifted his attentions back toward England, setting up a stronghold near Bristol at the mouth of the Avon River. From there, he could hold up all the traffic in the English Channel, extracting tribute for safe passage. Bristol merchants pushed the Lord Admiral, the Earl of Nottingham, to get rid of him. When offered a pardon to go straight, Easton sniffed that he would not “bow to the orders of one king, when he himself was, in a way, a king as well.”

Not wanting a battle with the British navy, Easton returned to Newfoundland, where Canada’s first English colony was founded in 1610 at Cuper’s Cove on the northern shores of the Avalon Peninsula. It wasn’t long before they were visited by Easton, who demanded “protection money” in the form of livestock. John Guy, founder of the first English colony in Newfoundland, recorded in his diary that Easton returned to the island in 1610 and 1612 with his fleet.

His ship, the Happy Adventure , flew the flag of St. George rather than the Jolly Roger, and he rarely had to attack ships. They simply respected his force and let him board without a struggle, in exchange for their lives.

Easton carried himself as a ruler, not as a bandit. He used a captured cannon to fortify Harbour Grace Bay, and built a fort just east of Caplin Cove. His headquarters were across the bay from Harbour Grace on Kelly’s Island.

In 1611, Easton was returning to Harbour Grace aboard the great Spanish galleon St. Sabastian with plunder from the Spanish Main when he was attacked by five Biscayan and French pirate ships. Easton sank the St. Malo , the largest of his attackers’ ships, by forcing it onto Eastern Rock, which from that time on became known as Easton’s Rock.

Between 1612 and 1614, the Pirate Admiral effectively ruled northeastern Newfoundland and, in one raid, he captured thirty English, Portuguese, and Jersey Island ships in St. John’s harbour. More importantly, he scooped up Sir Richard Whitbourne, the sheriff who had been dispatched from England to arrest him and bring justice to Newfoundland. Whitbourne was from a lower social class in England, and likely felt obligated to listen to Easton, even if he happened to be a pirate.

Sir Richard later wrote that he was held on a ship by Easton for eleven weeks. Some people captured by pirates were tortured unmercifully, but Sir Richard was feted in an effort to convince him to become Easton’s first lieutenant. Sir Richard refused, but did agree to go to England to support a petition for pardon, so that Easton could spend his days living in splendour on his loot.

In 1612, Easton shifted his base of operations to the more secure area of nearby Ferryland on the southeast coast of the Avalon Peninsula, after deciding that Harbour Grace was too vulnerable to sea attack, should the Crown decide to send a fleet against him. He settled in what was locally called the “Great House” on Fox Hill. From there he commanded his armada of forty ships from a fortress that was virtually unassailable, sheltered by Isle au Bois.

Once secure, he gave England an ultimatum: He could either continue to rule the high seas or he could get a pardon and settle quietly in England. The government of England buckled and wrote out the pardon, but for reasons unknown, it never arrived.

Gaston spent two more years in Ferryland, waiting in his palatial home on Fox Hill, and keeping some of his fleet in nearby Aquaforte. His sources in the English court were excellent, and he heard that the Crown had dispatched Henry Mainwaring to capture him.

Now, Easton set sail for the Azores to attack Spanish treasure ships, then sailed off for the Barbary Coast, where in 1614 he captured fourteen ships full of riches. He joined forces with the King of Algiers, fighting against Spain.

Finally ready to retire, he set sail for the pirate kingdom of Savoy – at Ville Franche, near Monaco. There he lived in luxury until his natural death at an advanced age. Captain John Smith, who colonized Virginia, noted in 1629 that Easton lived his final years with the title Marquis of Savoy.

The federal government has erected a monument for Easton at Harbour Grace, with a bronze plaque that reads,

Peter Easton ‘The Pirate Admiral’ fortified this site in 1610 and made Newfoundland his base until 1614. He defeated a French squadron at Harbour Grace in 1611, recruited five thousand fishermen from this colony into his crews, and raided foreign shipping as far as the Caribbean. In 1614 he intercepted the Spanish fleet at the Azores, captured three treasure ships, and divided an immense fortune among his crews. He was twice pardoned and invited home by James I , but retired instead to southern France where he became Marquis of Savoy and lived in great splendor.

His surname remains a proud one on the island, adopted by many who sailed under him.

See also: Charles Bellamy, Eric Cobham, Cupids, High Island, Edward Jordan, Captain Kidd, Mogul Mackenzie, Henry Mainwaring, Sheila Na Geira, Samuel Nelson, John Phillips, Gilbert Pike, Pirates, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts .

Ellis Family: Early Toronto Brothel-Keepers – In 1802, Stephen Ellis and his wife, identified only as Mrs. Ellis, became the first recorded case of what might be considered organized crime in the town of York, which later became Toronto.

The couple was charged with running a brothel. Stephen was acquitted, but his wife was sentenced to the stocks and six months in jail. Despite her sad example, and Toronto’s strict Protestant roots, vice marched on, especially prostitution and grog houses.

In 1831, Catholic journalist and Progressive Reformer Francis Collins railed in his Canadian Freeman about brothels.

More shameless debauchery was never exhibited in Sodom and Gomorrah, than is carried on in this town at present. Houses of infamy are scattered thro’ every corner of the town – and one of them had the hardihood to commence operations next door to our office, in a house under the control of a Police magistrate! So besotted are some would-be gentlemen, that they crowded to it at noon-day and in open day on the Sabbath.

Emond, Richard “Crow”: Biker War Casualty – Other bikers in Montreal were keeping a low profile in September 1995, for the streets were hot with drive-by shootings and bombings.

That wasn’t the way Emond, president of the Hells Angels’ Trois-Rivières chapter, did things. As he walked alone across a Montreal parking lot with neither a handgun nor bulletproof vest, someone pumped six bullets into his back.

His funeral in Trois-Rivières was fit for a statesman. He was buried in his biker garb, which included his “Filthy Few” patch, noting he had killed for the gang. His coffin, draped with the gang flag, was borne into the church, as “The Sound of Silence” was played by fellow biker Claude Berger, a trumpeter with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra.

Before Emond’s murder, a total of twenty-two people had been killed in the biker war, but most of them were associates or hangers-on of the Hells Angels or their archrivals, the Rock Machine. Emond was the first full-fledged member of the Hells Angels to die in the battle for control of drug turf and, with his death, violence escalated enormously.

See also: Hells Angels, Nomads, Rock Machine .

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