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THE ADVENTURE OF PHILIP ASHTON OF MARBLEHEAD
Philip Ashton and a number of other Marbleheaders were fishing near Cape Sable in June of the year 1722 when a strange-looking brigantine was seen to be approaching, which at first was supposed to be a West Indiaman. The new-comer anchored near the fishing fleet, and in a short time a boat-load of her men approached Ashton’s vessel, and, suddenly drawing their cutlasses and pistols from beneath their clothing, demanded that the crew of the vessel surrender. There was nothing for them to do except to submit to the ruffians, who turned out to be no other than the well-known pirate Ned Low and his gang of buccaneers. Low presently summoned Ashton to come before him and asked him to sign articles of agreement to ship with him as one of the band, to which suggestion he received a prompt refusal. The pirate then held a pistol to the Marbleheader’s temples and asked if he were a married man. He and his comrades were so frightened that most of them answered that they were single. It turned out to be just the wrong thing to say because Low was supposed never to impress a married man into his service.
Ashton steadily refused to join the pirate crew and was therefore subjected to the most brutal treatment, the vessel in the mean time starting off on her long voyage. As the unfortunate man wrote in his diary, the pirate ship was “a veritable hell afloat.” Many vessels were captured and plundered, until Low finally decided to visit Roaton Harbour in the Bay of Honduras, in order to get a supply of drinking water. This was Ashton’s opportunity. He asked to be allowed to go ashore and help fill the water-casks, and to his delight his request was granted, as the pirates could not believe any one would want to run away on such a desolate island. The prisoner at first worked very hard, when suddenly he bounded off into the undergrowth and hid as best he could from his pursuers. He could hear them yelling to him, and he could even distinguish the words of one of them, — “The dog is lost in the woods and can’t find his way out.” Finally they became discouraged and left him to his fate, alone on a deserted island, and without clothes, food, knife, gun or even means with which to make a fire. He lived on grapes, figs and plums, and managed to build for himself a rude hut. For nine months he lived without seeing a human being until one day an Englishman, who had fled from the Spanish settlements in fear of his life, landed on the island. For three days Ashton enjoyed the companionship of this stranger, then most unfortunately the new-comer was drowned by the capsizing of his canoe. Several months later he found another canoe stranded on the shore, which enabled him to make short excursions to the surrounding islands, upon one of which he discovered some Spaniards who shot at him. Some time after this adventure Ashton saw some canoes approaching, and to his delight a party of men, who had been driven by the Spaniards from the Bay of Honduras, landed. All lived together very peacefully until his old enemies, the pirates, descended upon them. Ashton and several of his friends succeeded in escaping, but the rest were captured and taken aboard the same vessel in which he had once been a prisoner. Two or three months now passed until one day when the castaways went over to the Island of Bonacco and while they were here a gale compelled several vessels to stand in towards them. One of the ships luckily turned out to be a Salem brigantine, and to Ashton’s joy be sailed off in her, arriving home on the first of May, 1725, after an absence of almost three years.
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