Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration

Pirates > John Phillips

John Phillips


John Phillips (Unknown - April 18, 1724) was an English pirate captain. He began his career under Thomas Anstis in 1721. Two years later he stole his own vessel in 1723. He is famous in history for having one of the four surviving copies of an authentic pirate code.

John Phillips - A General History of Pyrates (1725)

John Phillips - A General History of Pyrates (1725)

Philips was originally a carpenter. When traveling from England to Newfoundland in British Canada on April 19th, 1721, Philips and his crew were captured by pirates captained by Thomas Anstis. As often when done when ships were captured, skilled artisans such as carpenters, surgeons and others were conscripted to join the pirates. However within a year of working for the pirates he grew to like his new position as the ships carpenter.

In April of 1722 Anstis, Phillips and the crew went ashore to careen and repair a captured frigate off the coast of Tobago. British man-of-wars captained by Sir John Flowers soon approached the island, forcing Anstis to flee and the rest of the pirates to flee into the wilderness after burning all of the ships. Phillips avoided capture by the subsequent marine assault by hiding in the woods. Most of the crew was caught, however Anstis did leave a short while after only to be murdered in his sleep.

John Phillips - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

John Phillips - Pirates of the Spanish Main (1888)

A little while after laying low, Phillips returned to Bristol in England along with other crew members who managed to escape the marines. It was here they gave up piracy for a short while, however soon circumstances would force a change. As some of Anstsis and Phillips crews started getting arrested in Bristol, Phillips took a ship bound for the New World once again. While on another voyage to Newfoundland, on 29 August 1723 he seized a ship along with four other crew mates named the Revenge. The ship was a schooner that belonged to William Minott sailing out of Petty Harbor.

Phillips new crew consisted of John Nutt as the sailing master, James Spark as the gunner, Thomas Fern as the carpenter and William White as the tailor and private crewman. It was here the new group of pirates agreed to the famed articles that landed Phillips in the history books. They were as follows:

I. Every Man Shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full Share and a half of all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain and Gunner shall have one Share and quarter.

II. If any Man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be maroon’d with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm, and Shot.

III. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be maroon’d or shot.

IV. If any time we shall meet another Marroner that Man shall sign his Articles without the Consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.

V. That Man that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses’s Law (that is, 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.

VI. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a Cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.

VII. That Man shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.

VIII. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight ; if a Limb, 800.

IX. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.

The new articles consisted of an amendment for rape under penalty of death after what Phillips must have seen with the gang rape and murder of the women passenger. It is from these articles that much is understood about pirate life and pirate culture. We begin to see the development of pirate morales, pirate democracy and even the pirate healthcare system.


The first thing that Phillips and his crew did was set sail for the West Indies. However he needed a larger crew in order to successfully pirate vessels. Along the way they captured several fishing ships. Aboard one of the ships was former Edward 'Blackbeard' Teach crew member John Rose Archer. He joined the pirates, becoming quartermaster. Another one of the ships carried John Fillmore, great-grandfather of the US president. He was traveling aboard his ship the Dolphin and on September 5th after its captured he decided to join the pirates. Now Phillips had eleven men in his command.

In fact it is from Fillmore that one of the best accounts of John Phillips comes about. While he is generally not the most famous of pirates, he is the last one in the long line of pirates that began with Howell Davis and continued on through.

Entering the Caribbean, Phillips and his crew headed for Barbados. They found nothing in the area for nearly three months and were running low on provisions. They finally captured a few meager ships before decided to head to West Africa again. Phillips decided to go look for more deserted crew members from the original attack against them and found one black pirate named Pedro. Adding Pedro to the crew, the crew set about repairing their ship.

John Phillips - John Phillips Pirate Flag

John Phillips Pirate Flag

Fillmore makes no mention of a pirate flag during his capture. However Phillips reportedly used not only a red flag to capture a ship from Martinique near the end of 1723. Apparently Phillips used the flag to signal no quarter and the larger and more well armed ship gave up without a fight. However, upon turning over the prisoners to the Massachusetts authorities, Harradine and his crew also turned over his flag. The Boston News-Letter described it as:

"Their own dark flag, in the middle of which an anatomy, and at one side of it a dart in the heart, with drops of blood proceeding from it; and on the other side an hour-glass."

Next Phillips encountered a few problems. While searching around the coast of Tobago, the crew of the Revenge captured a vessel leaving the island. Phillips put his ships carpenter, a man named Thomas Fern in charge of the crew of the new ship. However Fern tried to steal the newly stolen ship but was caught by Phillips. Seemingly under control for a few months, Fern tried to escape again later in the winter. When Phillips caught them he murdered them.

In March of 1723, somewhere north of the island of Tobago, Phillips and his crew captured two more ships. One of the ships tried to fight the pirates and the ships master, a man named Robert Mortimer was killed. Phillips and his crew then traveled to Cape Sable, on Nova Scotia, arriving on 1 April 1723. In Nova Scotia they raided thirteen fishing vessels. In fact as fate would have it, one of the ships belonged to William Minott, the original owner of Phillips' ship, the Revenge. Phillips recognized the this and gave him back his ship.

Death & Legacy

One of the last captures Phillips made was a sloop captained by Andrew Harradine. Harradine and some other prisoners forced to join Phillips soon planned to mutiny and take the ship. On 18 April 1723 the mutineers successfully killed Phillips along with the sailing master, boatswain and gunner. Archer was spared but hung at the gallows with some of the other pirates on 2 June 1724. All the pirates gave speeches before they were hung and Archer blamed ruthless merchant captains who oppressed sailors for profit as a reason for the massive amount of piracy in the era. He was probably right.

Bartholomew Roberts Crew

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