Edward England was an unusual pirate who refused to torture captives and always observed the pirate code. Sadly, he paid dearly for his clemency.
England, whose real name was Edward Seagar, made his living as a privateer until a sloop, on which he was a mate, was captured by a pirate captain named Christopher Winter while on his way to Nassau.
By the time Winter reached his destination, England had realized that the pirate life was for him.
A pirate raid on Cuba
Edward England’s first foray in his new guise took place in 1716, when he joined other pirate captains in an assault on a guardhouse on Cuba which had 350,000 pieces of eight in store.
This splendid treasure represented the residue of millions of silver pieces which had been dredged up from the sea bed at a site where a fleet of Spanish galleons had sunk in a storm in the Gulf of Florida two years earlier.
The Spaniards had done all the hard work, using diving equipment to fish up the sunken silver which they intended to transport to Havana. The pirate captains decided to remove it before it could follow the rest of the silver to the less easily assailable fort at Havana.
The pirates came to the guardhouse in force, bringing with them a fleet of five ships. The Cuban guard fled, leaving the pirates to seize the treasure and carry it off to Jamaica. Edward England was declared an outlaw for his part in this exploit and made Nassau his headquarters until the arrival of the pirate hunter Woodes Rogers in 1718 forced him to leave and make for the coast of west Africa.
Edward England in west Africa
One of the first prizes England captured in his new hunting ground was a ship based in Bristol named the Cadogan. The Cadogan’s captain, a man named Skinner, was only too well known to England’s crew. They had encountered him before and when they told their captain that this same Skinner had maltreated them, he set aside, for once, his preference for mercy. This was not only for the sake of his men but for his own.
By this time, England knew enough about pirates and pirating to realise that if he failed to avenge the sufferings of his crew, he could easily face a mutiny or worse. This was why England ordered Skinner to be tortured, then killed, as long overdue punishment.
Proceeding down the west African coast, Edward England and his crew captured a ship called the Pearl, exchanged it for his sloop and altered its name to the Royal James. England’s next prizes were nine ships, three of which were plundered.
Four others, probably unfit for pirate purposes, were burned and the others were refitted as pirate vessels under the new names of Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Flying King. Afterwards. England exchanged the King James for a large Dutch ship, which was one of his next acquisitions, and renamed it the Fancy.
Into the Indian Ocean
Next. having rounded the Cape of Good Hope, Edward England sailed into the Indian Ocean and arrived at the island of Madagascar off the southeast coast of Africa. On August 8,1720, at Johanna, an island close to Madagascar, the Fancy and another of England’s vessels sailed into the bay to be confronted by three trading ships belonging to the British East India Company.
Realizing that the newcomers were pirates – England’s ships were flying the black flag which indicated that no quarter would be given – the captains of two Company vessels made a hasty escape. That left the Cassandra, under Captain James Macrae, to fight the pirates alone.
The Battle of Johanna Island
Macrae decided to take them on, and a tremendous battle ensued. It lasted several hours and went on even after both the Cassandra and the Fancy ran aground.
At length, unable to save his ship from the pirates’ gunfire, Captain Macrae and the survivors of his crew managed to escape and head for the shore. Meanwhile the Fancy had been almost totally destroyed, and ninety of its crew had been killed.
England had no intention of letting Macrae and his men get away: he came after them, but they managed to elude him for some days until, starving and desperate, they gave themselves up.
Edward England bans torture
England’s brutal first mate John Taylor wanted to torture and kill Macrae in revenge for the ninety pirates lost in the battle. But England refused to allow it. After hours of argument, England got his way and Taylor agreed to take the Cassandra as compensation.
But Edward England was about to pay for his clemency. His crew were furious that their captain had allowed mercy to get in the way of what they considered their right to exact revenge on James Macrae. Like John Taylor, the pirates wanted blood for the losses they had suffered.
Marooned on Mauritius
The pirates accordingly removed England from his command and chose John Taylor in his place. Edward England and two crewmen who remained loyal to him were marooned on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.
Later, John Taylor claimed one of the greatest pirate treasure ever seized. Off the island of Bourbon
near Madagascar, Taylor captured the Portuguese East Indiaman, the Nossa Senhora do Cabo. This prize of all prizes contained more than $1,628,600 enough to yield $8,143 for each of the 200-man crew, and 8,400 small diamonds, or 42 per man.
The death of Edward England
In the meantime, Edward England and his two companions were not without resources. They managed to make a small craft out of scraps of wood and sailed it back to Madagascar. But this was the last effort Edward England was able to make.
Reportedly, he survived for a time by begging food from Madagascan natives. Either this failed to sustain him or he fell foul of one of the many fevers that proliferated on the island, but he died shortly after arriving back on Madagascar, the most merciful of pirates but in the end, a victim of his own generosity.