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There Be Pirates!

First rule of family history research – Be open-minded. Second rule – Be prepared for anything. Third rule – Bring snacks. Or maybe that last one could be moved up in the list. Some days there are few notable finds and then there may be a day when you come across something like this:

Piracy – The following account of a Piracy committed on board the brig Melita, under my command, the public may consider as strictly true, and no ways exaggerated. –

So begins the personal account of Abraham Pastorius, ship captain, born in Philadelphia in 1781, later lost at sea.

Pirate Flag of Jack Rackham - Wikimedia Commons

This particular search starts with two young men, both named Abraham Pastorius; both descendants of Francis Daniel Pastorius. The first Abraham was born October 10, 1745 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The second is his nephew and namesake born to Abraham’s brother Samuel.

Each of these men has a gripping story to tell. The first Abraham is my United Empire Loyalist ancestor. His story takes place during the American Revolution beginning with the arrival of British forces in Philadelphia in September of 1777. Abraham had a sister Hannah and two younger brothers, Daniel and Samuel. Abraham was the only one of his family who sided with the Crown during the American Revolution. His is a long and varied narrative that ends in Montreal, Canada. American records show, “After the Revolutionary War he removed to Canada, and was lost sight of.” There is definitely more to that story!

Abraham the second, was the child of Samuel Pastorius and Sarah Lincoln (yes, that Lincoln family). His father Samuel was the youngest son of Daniel and Sarah Pastorius who together built the Green Tree Tavern in Germantown. This building stands today at 6023 Germantown Avenue. Built in 1748, it adjoined the original Pastorius property. The letters D.S.P. are still visible on a stone under the eaves, the initials of Daniel and Sarah Pastorius, Abraham’s grandparents. In 2008, while in Philadelphia, I placed my hand on the front door and peered in the windows at the now silent rooms.

Born in 1781, Abraham Pastorius claimed a space in the middle of a family of eleven children. His father Samuel was a carpenter.

The Aurora General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) dated 13 December 1798 printed notice of an estate sale -

To Be Sold At Public Vendue on Wednesday the 19th at Two o’clock in the afternoon, at the late dwelling house of SAMUEL PASTORIUS, in Callowhill Street near Third Street. A quantity of Household and Kitchen Furniture, likewise some new window frames and sashes; also A quantity of Carpenter’s Tools, in good order, and one Hogshead Spirits: ALL PERSONS, having any demands against the estate of SAMUEL PASTORIUS, late of the Northern Liberties, house carpenter, deceased, are desired to render their accounts for settlement, and all persons indebted to said estate are requested to make immediate payment to JOHN KESSLER, administrator, with the will annexed. Third Street near Green Street.

What this notice does not say is that Samuel Pastorius age 51, and his wife Sarah, 45, both died of yellow fever in September 1798 within five days of each other. In 1808, all buildings and property of Samuel Pastorius, deceased, were seized and taken in execution to be sold at the merchant’s coffee house by Wm. T. Donaldson, sheriff.

A register from the United Grand Lodge of England Freemasons lists their son Abraham Pastorius, age 26, Mariner, admitted as a member of the Sea Captains Lodge, Liverpool, December 17, 1809. Perhaps the sale of the family property in part allowed for a career at sea.

United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers
United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers 1751-1921

Shipbuilding in Philadelphia was a major industry due to the abundant supply of trees, materials, and local skilled builders. In 1690 Philadelphia was the third largest port on the east coast and would soon become the busiest port in the colonies, even surpassing New York. Not surprising then that the Pastorius brothers saw opportunity at sea. Abraham, perhaps with their blessing, followed the lead of his two older brothers. Both Francis and John were captains of merchant vessels. And so, Abraham went to sea, eventually rising to the position of Master-mariner.

The Port of Philadelphia -

In 1816, Abraham married Charlotte Wilson. Two years later in January of 1818 a son, Washington was born. A daughter Margaretta followed in 1820. Sadly, John born in 1822 died a few short weeks after his birth and Francis Daniel born May 1, 1825 survived only two years. With her husband miles from home at sea, Charlotte must have mourned the loss of her dear boys alone. How many times did she make her way down to the docks to watch the ships sail away?

Belfast Shipping Intelligence, in the 18 June 1819 issue of The Irishman reads, “The American ship Delaware, Abraham Pastorius, master, from Newry to Philadelphia, has put into Baltimore in the county Cork, in great distress. She was about 350 miles to the westward when she sprung a leak, which increased so rapidly, the crew and passengers could scarcely keep her afloat.”

These are the names of the ships under the command of Abraham Pastorius from 1821 to 1825: Melita, Borrell, and Agorea. All sailed in the West Indies making stops at Trinidad, Cuba, and Turks Island before making their way back to Philadelphia. Using the Ship Registers of the Port of Philadelphia, Volume 1, 1942 and the Marine News published in early issues of The National Gazette it is possible to trace Abraham’s sea voyages. In 1821 the ship Melita, logged at least 13 passages carrying indigo, sugar, molasses, and rum from Trinidad and Laguira. Do not mistake these for leisurely Caribbean cruises. Thrown into the mix were threats of war, shipwreck, small pox, fever, and… pirates.

Captain Stow, of the brig Hammond, in 1821, warned that, “every vessel that arrives off Matanzas is robbed by the pirates. He recommends to all masters of vessels bound thence, to keep clear of Point Yacos, as the pirates have their rendezvous in that place.”

The Pirate's Ruse: Source/Library of Congress

For Abraham Pastorius, this warning came too late.

“On Wednesday, October 11th, off Cape Antonio, at 3 p.m. saw a boat standing towards us which I supposed to be the consort of a small schooner near us – shortly after they fired a shot, when it being calm, I ordered the sail lowered down – they came alongside, when ten men, armed with pistols, swords, and knives, jumped on board, and immediately cut down, stabbed, and threw overboard, a most valuable dog – then beat us with their sabres, and drove us all into the forecastle, and secured it – they then commenced a general plunder, breaking open the trunks in the cabin, and robbing us of every thing worth taking, not leaving us any as it were – they then dragged us on deck, when a scene of horror commenced which would appal the stoutest heart.

They first demanded the money on board; taking at the same time an old silver watch from me, and another from my mate, beating us all at times – when one ruffian, more desperate than the rest, seized the mate, tied him with his hands behind him to the long boat, and knife in hand, was all but executing a murder, and that in a manner too shocking to describe. They took hold of me, threatening murder, and searching me found a valuable gold watch, a prize of course – They then took my boy, 16 years old, and hauled him by the neck into the main rigging twice – the poor fellow all but dead, was at length released.

Thus they went on, threatening every one with instant death, and continually beating us. – Next they took a seaman, put a noose round his neck, hauled him into the fore rigging, one monster dragging on his legs, while another stood on his shoulders; however, they got nothing from the brave fellow, and nearly dead, they released him.

One of them came to me with every threat (and he seemed well inclined to execute,) demanding money – I denied having any – he then stabbed me in the arm, cut me over the shoulder, gave me another drubbing, and allowed me to depart. – This with one half my people incapable of doing duty, myself considerably hurt, I was, without clothes sufficient for myself or crew, a watch, or time glass, suffered to resume the command of the vessel.” – The National Gazette, Philadelphia PA 18 Nov 1821, Tuesday, p 2

This account is verified with supporting evidence that the brig Melita on her passage from Trinidad, Cuba was plundered off Cape Antonio, by a piratical boat of armed Spaniards. “Captain Pastorious and his crew were treated by the pirates in the most cruel and shameful manner.” – The National Gazette, Philadelphia PA 10 Nov 1821, p 3

One would think this horrifying experience would be enough to keep them ashore for some time. And yet within two weeks the brig Melita was again at sea with Abraham in command.

In April of 1825, the brig Agorea was newly registered and launched. The Agorea, brig of Philadelphia, was a ship of 154 43/95 tons, one deck, two masts, a square stem, a man’s bust head. Owners Edward W. Robinson, Wilson Hunt, Arthur St. Clair Nichols, merchants, Phila. Master: Abraham Pastorius. - Ship Registers of Port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Volume 1 1942

In Philadelphia, notice was given of its availability for freight or passage having elegant accommodations. Lying at Almond Street wharf, interested parties could apply to Edward W. Robinson, No. 32 1-2, Walnut Street.

The National Gazette - 6 May 1825 - Page 3

Four months later the Agorea was missing and Abraham Pastorius lost at sea.

The footnote to this story is that a Nassau newspaper in March of 1826 reported the hull of a vessel being found on the shore at the Hogstyes, which appeared to have been some time upset or foundered at sea, in which were the remains of two or three human bodies – [probably the brig Agorea which sailed hence for Porto Cabello on the 5th August last, and has for some time past been given over as lost.]


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