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Peter Easton

During the reign of Elizabeth I, England was known for the skill and bravery of her privateers who traveled the world looking for bounty. They acted under a "Letter of Marquee" from the queen, but they commanded their own fleets. Men such as Drake, Raleigh, and Hawkins are famous for their contribution to world history. Through their skills they helped to defeat Spain and to make Great Britain the most powerful nation on the sea.

One of these privateers was Captain Peter Easton, who was commissioned by the Queen of England in 1602 to take three British Warships to Newfoundland to enforce a British peace among the lawless fishermen of many nations, who were living along the hundreds of miles of coastline. It was during this journey that he met and rescued Princess Sheila.

When James I came to the throne in 1603 and the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1604, the war with Spain ended suddenly. James I decreased the size and power of the English navy, so Easton and the members of his crew were stranded in Newfoundland without pay and they began to talk about organizing pirate crews. Most of the English officers and men took an oath of blood brotherhood along with Captain Easton. They took over the vessels which they had formerly sailed as British warships and they set out for the Spanish Main to plunder shipping and communities along the coast.

By 1610 the British referred to Easton as a "Notorious Pirate". He had become the most powerful pirate in the Western Hemisphere. He was very wealthy and had thousands of men in his crew. He had a fleet of forty ships which were stationed near Bristol at the mouth of the river Avon. From this site he was able to hold up all the traffic in the English Channel. His plundering drove the Bristol merchants to seek the help of the Lord Admiral, Earl of Nottingham to get rid of him. Easton returned to Newfoundland in 1610. And in 1612 with his fleet he plundered along the rugged coasts, he swept everything before him like a barbarian, capturing ships, cannons, and $100,000 worth of bounty. He even enlisted 500 more men for his crews, most of whom joined gladly, but some of whom were tortured into submission.

With his captured cannons, Peter Easton fortified Harbour Grace Bay, and a little island off the harbor still bears his name. He built a fort just east of Caplin Cove. He made his headquarters across the bay from Harbour Grace on Kelly's Island. While he was living on Kelly's Island he captured the king's representative in the colony, Sir Richard Whitbourne. Sir Richard had been sent to Newfoundland to attempt to bring order, and had set up the first English court of law in the New World. According to Sir Richard's book (which was not published until 1620), he was kept on the ship for 11 weeks. During that time Easton lavished him with excellent treatment, in order to persuade him to join as his first lieutenant. He wanted Whitbourne to rule Newfoundland with him, using the colony as a base to conquer the New World. Although Whitbourne refused to participate in Easton's scheme, he did agree to go to England and support a petition for pardon, which would enable him to return to England and spend his days living in royal splendor on his loot.

Easton realized that Harbour Grace could be easily attacked by sea should the King decide to send a fleet against him, so moved his base to Ferryland and fortified the harbor. He now had his armada of 40 ships, a fortress which was virtually unassailable, including Isle au Bois, off Ferryland, which later defied the French navy. From this fortress he sent an ultimatum to England. If he were pardoned, he would go home and settle quietly for the rest of his life. If not, he would continue to rule the high seas according to his own fancy. The Government of England capitulated and sent the pardon, but Easton never received it. He lived for two years in Ferryland, waiting for it to arrive, and built a splendid palace on Fox Hill, the site of which may still be seen. He conducted raids against merchant ships out of Ferryland, and from nearby Aquaforte, where he always kept part of his fleet. He grew impatient at the delay in the arrival of the pardon, and sailed for the Azores to intercept the Spanish fleet that were making for home.

He was next sited on the Barbary Coast in 1614 with fourteen ships heavily laden with plunder. He made an alliance with the King of Algiers. Together, they fought a very profitable war against Spain. Then Easton disbanded his armada, divided his vast treasure, and bought a palace in the pirate kingdom of Savoy - at Ville Franche, near the present Principality of Monaco. There he lived to a ripe old age in great splendor and extravagance on a bounty that was reported to be worth two million pounds in gold, perhaps the most successful pirate who ever lived. Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame in Virginia, published in 1629, that Easton was so wealthy that he had the title, Marquis of Savoy.

Peter Easton was just one of many pirates that operated out of Newfoundland, as a result many legacies of piracy remain on the Island. There are many stories of pirate treasure in addition to one about Kellyís Island. A fortune in gold was discovered on a ship wreck off Baccalieu Island (and which as now been declared a bird sanctuary of international importance). Pirates have also given names to communities. Turkís Gut was a favorite shelter for pirate ships, and got its name because the settlers called the pirates "Turks". The town of Heartís Desire was named after a pirate ship which ravaged both sides of the Atlantic for years until 1620. The ship was captured by a Newfoundland skipper and brought back to Newfoundland as a prize. Lastly, pirates have also left their descendants in the province. Easton is still a common family names on the south side of Conception Bay.