I like to look out at the Atlantic and try to magically conjure up the ghosts of those who travelled these waters before me. While I spend much of such time in search of spirits belonging to courageous, hard-working fishing families, I sometimes think about the lying, thieving sleazebags who came to this island intending to amass fortunes on the backs of innocent people - some shameful merchants for example, and appalling politicians. But once upon a time, there was an even more ruthless kind of criminal who used and abused these waters – pirates!
Pirates like Peter Easton who, four hundred years ago, pillaged from Newfoundland to the Caribbean. But it was not always Easton’s way to be so fierce. In fact, he had served for England’s Navy. But when the King disbanded the Navy, Easton became a murderous bandit, eventually acquiring a fleet of forty vessels before the King finally assembled a posse to put an end to Easton’s violence.
Realizing his life along The English Channel was over, Easton gathered his ten top ships and, sponsored by a powerful English family named Killegrews, set up shop in Harbour Grace where he was free to plunder without interference from officials. Where he was free to steal money from Grand Banks fishing vessels, and seize those that didn’t comply. But his most lucrative looting came at the expense of the Spaniards, on his trips to the Caribbean.
Upon returning from one of his journeys south, Easton discovered his Harbour Grace fort had been captured by the Basques and the French. A bloody battle ensued in which Easton took back his belongings.
Later, after kidnapping England’s top sea captain, Easton demanded a ‘pardon’ in exchange for the captain’s safe return – a trade that the King eventually agreed to. Easton then used this period of safe sailing to move his fort to Ferryland where, upon securing this Atlantic stronghold, he found pirating even easier.
Then he loaded two million pounds of gold onboard his boats, and headed to the Azores Islands. It was in the Azores that Easton’s wealth grew considerably after stealing a Spanish treasure ship, and connecting with corrupt leaders who wanted to work with him in dishonest ways that allowed them all to acquire mass fortunes. Eventually settling in Italy, Easton retired as one of the world’s wealthiest men.
So sometimes I picture the ugly Easton at the helm of the stolen ‘San Sebastien’ (I don’t care how handsome Easton was – he was an ugly human being). I picture him and his fleet of ships loaded with all the gunpowder and weaponry that dirty money can buy, approaching a tiny fishing vessel belonging to men whose only wish was to safely return to England with enough to feed their families.
These are some of the ghosts I try to magically conjure up – the spirits of those courageous, hard-working fishermen who were faced with such a sad, cruel, predicament. Men who really had no choice but to give Easton everything they had, knowing that even when they did give up all, it was possible they would still be killed for reasons of buccaneer convenience.
But I don’t imagine I could conjure up Peter Easton’s ghost, or those of his crew or the Killegrews, because I suspect their spirits are drifting without direction in the bottomless depths of the Bay of Despair. And I think their souls have sunk into the hottest parts of Hell.