At the Point of a Cutlass

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Just right for mischief night, the Newport Historical Society will host a pirate-themed lecture at the 1739 Colony House. Presented by Greg Flemming, author of At the Point of a Cutlass, this talk highlights the adventures of Philip Ashton who was forced into a journey with a crew of pirates.

Based on Ashton’s first-hand account, as well trial records, logbooks and a rare 1725 manuscript, At the Point of a Cutlass pieces together the story of a man thrust into the violent world of a pirate ship and his daring survival and escape.

Taken in a surprise attack near Nova Scotia in June 1722, Ashton was forced to sail across the Atlantic and back with a crew under the command of Edward Low, a man so vicious he tortured victims by slicing off an ear or nose and roasting them over a fire. “A greater monster,” one colonial official wrote, “never infested the seas.”

Ashton barely survived the nine months he sailed with Low’s crew – he was nearly shot in the head at gunpoint, came close to drowning when a ship sank near the coast of Brazil and was almost hanged for secretly plotting a revolt against the pirates. Flemming’s work includes the historic capture and execution of half of Low’s crew in Newport during the summer of 1723, as well as the little-known story of Matthew Perry (no relation to the 19th century Commodore) who, along with other pirate captives, was tried (and acquitted) in Newport in 1726.

Publisher’s Weekly raves, “From battles with warships to the way the pirates split their plunder, Flemming’s focus on individual actors adds a welcome depth to the history of piracy with this engaging and harrowing account of ‘America’s real-life Robinson Crusoe.’” And the Boston Globe states, “Flemming draws on newspaper reports, log books, trial records, and Ashton’s own account to meticulously chronicle Ashton’s maritime odyssey, which took the sailor from the Azores to steamy Caribbean climes.”

At the Point of a Cutlass, published in June 2014 by University Press of New England, will be available for purchase and a book-signing will follow the lecture.