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FC 93 At the Point of a Cutlass with Greg Flemming

This week on Fieldstone Common our featured guest is Gregory N. Flemming, the author of the book At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton. This book tells the fantastic story of a fisherman’s capture by a notorious pirate and his risky and dramatic escape.

Bio – Gregory N. Flemming

Gregory Flemming spent more than three years researching At the Point of a Cutlass, which tells for the first time the complete story of Marblehead fisherman Philip Ashton and the horrific pirates who captured him.

At the Point of a Cutlass with Greg Flemming on Fieldstone Common
photo: Laura Kallin Kaye

When researching and writing At the Point of a Cutlass, Greg explored many of the key locations in Ashton’s odyssey, from the remote Nova Scotia harbor where Ashton was captured at gunpoint to the Caribbean island of Roatan, forty miles off the coast of Honduras, where Ashton escaped. Much of Roatan’s hilly terrain remains, even today, unpopulated and heavily forested — the eastern part of the island, where Ashton was marooned and lived, is still accessible only by boat.

The book draws not only on Ashton’s own first-person account of his experiences, but also a wealth of other materials, including hundreds of colonial newspaper reports, trial records, and the hand-written logbooks and correspondence from the British warships that patrolled the Bay of Honduras and fought with Edward Low’s pirate crew.

Greg is a former journalist with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A New England native, he is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire. He lives with his family in New England. You can learn more about Greg at gregflemming.com.

Book Summary

Based on a rare manuscript from 1725, At the Point of a Cutlass uncovers the amazing voyage of Philip Ashton — a nineteen-year old fisherman who was captured by pirates, escaped on an uninhabited Caribbean island, and then miraculously arrived back home three years later to tell his incredible story.

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.

Like many forced men, Ashton thought constantly about escaping. In March of 1723, he saw his chance when Low’s crew anchored at the secluded island of Roatan, at the western edge of the Caribbean. Ashton fled into the thick, overgrown woods and, for more than a year, had to claw out a living on the remote strip of land, completely alone and with practically nothing to sustain him. The opportunity to escape came so unexpectedly that Ashton ran off without a gun, a knife, or even a pair of shoes on his feet. Yet the resilient young castaway — who has been called America’s real-life Robinson Crusoe — was able to find food, build a crude shelter, and even survive a debilitating fever brought on by the cool winter rains before he was rescued by a band of men sailing near the island. Based on Ashton’s own first-hand account, as well trial records, logbooks, and a wealth of other archival evidence, At the Point of a Cutlass pieces together the unforgettable story of a man thrust into the violent world of a pirate ship and his daring survival and escape.

Publication Info  At the Point of a Cutlass with Greg Flemming on Fieldstone Common

Title: At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton

Publisher: ForeEdge, An Imprint of University Press of New England (2014)

Hard cover; 241 pages with end notes, a bibliography, an index, and some photos and illustrations.

At the Point of a Cutlass is available for purchase from Amazon.com and other booksellers.

The Interview

In this interview Greg Flemming and I talk a lot about pirates! Philip Ashton, a fisherman from Marblehead, Massachusetts was taken captive for nine months by the notorious pirate Edward Low. We dive into a discussion about pirate culture, what it means to be a pirate and what life was like on board the ship. We also talk about the resources and challenges of researching in the early 18th century. This is a really fascinating tale you won’t want to miss!

Links mentioned during the interview:

Prize Winner

One copy of At the Point of a Cutlass is given out to the Fieldstone Common audience courtesy of ForeEdge.

The winner is:

  • To be announced next week

Congratulations to our winner and thanks to  ForeEdge for their generosity in donating the book!

Make sure you qualify to win the giveaway next week by signing up for the Bonus List! Once you sign up your are in the running each week!

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Question: What’s that’s new stuff in the Fieldstone Common title (FC 93)?

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  1. Being life-long sailors on Lake Michigan, we are always drawn to nautical themes in our reading. This historically real story about pirates (vs. all the fictional pirate stories) sounds so interesting that I believe my non-reading husband would enjoy it as much as I would! I’ll be recommending the book (and this interview) even before reading it to all my boating friends and can’t wait to read it!

  2. I am looking forward to reading Greg Flemming’s book. One of my ancestors was on a privateer during the American Revolution and came from Gloucester. Two more were probably were mariners. I want to learn more about this history. I am also looking forward to hearing Greg Flemming’s speak at the fall meeting of my genealogy society chapter meeting.

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