Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: John Upton

The Life of JOHN UPTON

a Pirate; including also the history of that sort of people, particularly the crew under Captain Cooper, in the "Night Rambler"

No laws in any civilized nations are more severe than those against piracy, nor are they less severely executed, and the criminals who suffer by them are usually the least pitied, or rather the most detested of all who come to die an ignominious death by the sentence of the Law. Of old they were styled "hostes humani generis", and the oldest systems we have of particular institutions have treated them with a rigor suitable to their offence. With respect to those who fall into the hands of British justice, it must be remarked that they usually plead as an excuse for what they have done their being forced into pirates' service, and as it is well known that numbers are really forced into crimes they detest, so the lenience of our judicators generally admit whatever proofs are probable in such a case. But where the contrary appears, and the acts of piracy plainly arise from the wicked dispositions of the offenders, the Royal Mercy is less frequently extended to them than to any other sort of criminal whatever.

As to the prisoner of whom we are to speak, John Upton was born at Deptford, of very honest parents who gave him such an education as fitted their station, and that in which they intended to breed him. When grown up to be a sturdy youth, they put him out apprentice to a waterman, with whom he served out his time faithfully, and with a good character. Afterwards he went to sea and served for twenty-eight years together on board a man-of-war, in the posts of either boatswain or quartermaster. Near the place of his birth he married a woman, took a house and lived very respectably with her during the whole course of her life, but she dying while he was at sea, and finding at his return that his deceased wife had run him greatly in debt, clamours coming from every quarter, and several writs being issued out against him, he quitted the service in the man-of-war, and went immediately in a merchantman to Newfoundland. There by agreement he was discharged from the ship and entered himself for eighteen pounds "per annum" into the service of a planter in that country in order to serve him in fishing and furring, the chief trade of that place; for Newfoundland abounding with excellent harbours, there is no country in the world which affords so large and so plentiful a fishery as this does. However its climate renders it less desirable, it being extremely hot in the summer and as intensely cold in the winter, when the wild beasts roam about in great numbers, and furnish thereby an opportunity to the inhabitants of gaining considerably by falling them, and selling their furs.

Upton having served his year out was discharged from his master, and going to New England, he there, in the month of July, 1725, shipped himself on board the "Perry" merchantman bound for Barbadoes. The ship was livred and loaded again, the captain designing them to sail for England, whereupon Upton desired leave to go on board his Majesty's ship "Lynn", Captain Cooper. But Captain King absolutely refusing to discharge him in order thereto, on the ninth of November, 1725, he sailed in the aforesaid vessel for England.

On the twelfth of the same month, off Dominica, they were attacked by a pirate sloop called the "Night Rambler", under the command of one Cooper. The pirate immediately ordered the captain of the "Perry" galley to come on board his ship, which he and four of his men did, and the pirate immediately sent some of his crew on board the "Perry" galley, who effectually made themselves masters thereof, and as Upton said, used him and the rest of the persons they found on board with great inhumanity and baseness, a thing very common amongst those wretches. Upton also insisted that as to himself, one of the pirate's crew ran up to him as soon as they came on board and with a cutlass in his hand, said with an oath, "You old son of a bitch, I know you and you shall go along with us or I'll cut out your liver", and thereupon fell to beating him fore and aft the deck with his cutlass.

The same evening he was carried on board the pirate sloop, where, according to his journal, three of the pirates attacked him; one with a pistol levelled at his forehead demanded whether he would sign their articles, another with a pistol at his right ear, swore that if he did not they would blow out his brains, while a third held a couple of forks at his breast, and terrified him with the continual apprehensions of having them stabbed into him. Whereupon he told them that he had four young infants in England, to whom he thought it his duty to return, and therefore begged to be excused as having reason to decline their service, as well as a natural dislike to their proceedings. Upon which, he said, he called his captain to take notice that he did not enter voluntarily amongst them. Upon this the pirate said they found out a way to satisfy themselves by signing for him, and this, he constantly averred, was the method of his being taken into the crew of the "Night Rambler", where he insisted he did nothing but as he was commanded, received no share in the plunder, but lived wholly on the ship's allowance, being treated in all respect as one whom force and not choice had brought amongst them.

But to return to the "Perry" galley, which the pirates carried to the Island of Aruba, a maroon or uninhabited island, or rather sand bank, where they sat the crew ashore and left them for seventeen days without any provision, except that the surgeon of the pirate now and then brought them something in his pocket by stealth. On the tenth of December the pirates saw a sail which proved to be a Dutch sloop, which they took, and on board this Upton and two others who had been forced as well as himself were put, from whence as he said, they made their escape. After abundance of misfortunes and many extraordinary adventures, he got on board his Majesty's ship "Nottingham", commanded by Captain Charles Cotterel, where he served for two years in the quality of quartermaster. He was then taken up and charged with piracy, upon which he was indicted at an Admiralty sessions held in the month of May, 1729, when the evidence at his trial appeared so strong that after a short stay the jury found him guilty.

But his case having been very differently represented, I fancy my readers will not be displeased if I give them an exact account of the proofs produced against him.

The first witness who was called on the part of the Crown was Mr. Dimmock, who had been chief mate on board the "Perry" galley, and he deposed in the following terms:

On the twelfth of November, 1725, we sailed from Barbadoes on the "Perry" galley bound for England. On the 14th, about noon, we were taken by the "Night Rambler", pirate sloop, one Cooper commander. Our captain and four men were ordered on board the pirate sloop, part of the pirate's crew coming also on board the "Perry." Wherein they no sooner entered, but the prisoner at the bar said, "Lads, are ye come? I'm glad to see ye; I have been looking out for ye for a great while." Whereupon the pirates saluted him very particularly, calling him by his name, and the prisoner was as busy as any of the rest in plundering and stripping the ship on board of which he had served, and the rest who belonged to it, the very next day after being made boatswain of the pirate. The same day I was carried on board the pirate sloop, tied to the gears and received two hundred lashes with a cat o' nine tails which the prisoner Upton had made for that purpose; after which they pickled me, and the prisoner Upton stabbed me in the head near my ear with a knife, insomuch that I could not lay my head upon a pillow for fourteen days, but was forced to support it upon my hand against the table; and when some of the pirate's crew asked me how I did, upon my answering that I was as bad as a man could be and live, the prisoner, Upton, said "D----n him, give him a second reward."

It was also further deposed by the same gentleman that at the island of Aruba, the prisoner was very busy in stripping the "Perry" galley of the most useful and valuable parts of her rigging, carrying them on board the pirate, and making use of them there. He had also in his custody several things of value, and particularly wearing apparel, belonging to one Mr. Furnell, a passenger belonging to the said "Perry" galley; and when it was debated amongst the pirates, and afterwards put to the vote, whether the crew of the said galley should have their vessel again or no, John Upton was not only against them, but also proposed burning the said vessel, and tying the captain and mate to one of the masts in order to their being burnt too.

Mr. Eaton, the second mate of the ship, was the next witness called. He confirmed all that had been sworn by Mr. Dimmock, adding that the day they were taken the pirates asked if he would consent to sign their articles, which he refused. Whereupon they put a rope about his neck, and hoisted him up to the yard's arm, so that he totally lost his senses. He recovered them by some of the pirate's crew pricking him in the fleshy parts of his body, while others beat him with the flat of their swords. As soon as they perceived he was a little come to himself they put the former question to him, whether he would sign their articles. He answered, "No", a second time. One of the crew thereupon snatched up a pistol, and swore he would shoot him through the head; but another of them said, "No, d----n him, that's too honourable a death; he shall be hanged." Upon this they pulled him up by the rope again, and treated him with many other indignities, and at last in the captain's cabin, pulled a cap over his eyes and clapped a pistol to his head; then he expected nothing but immediate death, a person having almost jabbed his eye out with the muzzle of the pistol, but at last they did let him go. He swore, also, that when the pirates' articles were presented to him to sign, he saw there the name of John Upton, he being well acquainted with his hand.

Mr. Furnell, a passenger in the ship, was the third evidence against the prisoner. He deposed to the same effect with the other two, adding that John Upton was more cruel and barbarous to them than any of the other pirates, insomuch that when they were marooned, and under the greatest necessities for food, Upton said, "D----n them, let them be starved", and was the most active of all the rest in taking the goods, and whatever he could lay his hands on out of the "Perry" galley.

In his defence the prisoner would fain have suggested that what the witnesses had sworn against him was chiefly occasioned by a malicious spleen they had against him. He asserted that he was forced by the pirates to become one of their number and was so far from concerned with them voluntarily that he proposed to the mate, after they were taken, to regain the ship, urging that there were but thirteen of the pirates on board, and they all drunk, and no less than nine of their own men left there who were all sober; that the mate's heart failed him, and instead of complying with his motion, said, "This is a dangerous thing to speak of; if it should come to the pirates' ears we shall be all murdered", and therefore entreated the prisoner not to speak of it any more. The mate denied every syllable of this, and so the prisoner's assertions did not weigh at all with the jury. After they had brought in their verdict, Mr. Upton said to those who swore against him, "Lord! What have you three done?"

Under sentence of death he behaved himself with much courage, and yet with great penitence. He denied part of the charge, viz., that he was willingly one of the pirates, but as to the other facts, he confessed them with very little alteration. He averred that the course of his life had been very wicked and debauched, for which he expressed much sorrow, and to the day of his death behaved himself with all outward mark of true repentance. At the place of execution, he was asked whether he had not advised the burning of the "Perry" galley, with Captain King and the chief mate on board. He averred that he did not in any shape whatsoever either propose or agree to an act of such a sort. Then, after some private devotions, he submitted to his sentence, and was turned off on the 16th day of May, 1729, being then about fifty years of age.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals