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Monday, April 05, 2021

Who was Pirate Jasper Seager and Did he Use an Alias?

These details reference those pirates involved in the taking of Cassandra, an East India Company vessel under the command of James Macrae in the summer of 1720, in the bay of Anjouan or Johanna, just off the north-western tip of Madagascar.

First of all... Jasper Seager was NOT the same pirate as Edward England! 

Why would anyone think that, anyway? "Jasper" is no nickname for "Edward" that I've ever heard! "Seager" doesn't sound anything like "England." Presumably, some writers assume that pirates used aliases and this explains the comparison.

I read this all the time in various references - presumably because people today anachronistically believe that pirates used aliases on a regular basis. They really did not. There are a couple of rare examples, but it was by no means a common practice. Moreover, the common reference of "alias" in records of this time period simply meant "also known as" - perhaps a nickname commonly used - and was not a term necessarily to indicate an attempt by them to hide their true identity by taking on a completely different name. That's more of a 20th and 21st-century assumption about criminality and the modern concept of "alias."

Yes, pirates committed crimes, but the 18th century was far from a crime-free time period - much more crime-ridden than society today. The British government of older times often endorsed criminality themselves and often openly outside of Great Britain and especially in America - the land "beyond the lines of amity!" So, let's put this England-Seager false comparative assumption to rest once and for all!

Primary-source records - indeed, eyewitness accounts - can assure us that Jasper Seager and Edward England are not the same man:

John Barnes, the 1st mate of Greenwich, captain Richard Kirby, while in Johanna Bay, wrote in his journal entry for August 7, 1720 that Greenwich, Cassandra, and an Ostend vessel (220-ton Stahremberg, Capt. Richard Gargan) came under attack by two pirates: 46-gun French-built Victory, commanded by "Capt. England" and 36-gun Dutch-built Fancy, captained by "Capt. Seager." Barnes clearly understood that there were two different pirate captains named England and Seager.

Barnes' journal entry for August 7, 1720

Again, note that John Barnes' journal was an eye-witness account - and, therefore, a primary record! Most of the secondary sources - especially non-cited references, lacking in source notes - are definitely NOT primary sources! In my opinion, many 18th-century newspaper articles are highly suspect secondary sources - often derived from hearsay, printed quickly, and with little or no vetting. Many of those not trained in proper historical research techniques can misunderstand these subtle, but important, distinctions. Thus, a lot of popular pirate literature are bursting with errors and false assumptions.

I cannot say this enough, but Charles Johnson's counterfactual hit-piece A General History of the Pyrates is clearly secondary - quite faulty - and NOT a primary source! Yes, it was all that was handily available for nearly 300 years, but that fact does not magically give it precedence over valid primary sources readily available now! It also did not stop thousands of writers elaborating greatly upon the untold facts - again, over 300 years!

There are quite enough primaries available today that make using faulty references like Johnson's quite ill-advised (~175 transcribed primary records are available for all to use on the "Pirate Reference" tab of my website at Nothing in print can be trusted without detailed valid citations to indicate precisely where the author got his information. Otherwise, it might as well be rumors, religion, hearsay but certainly not history!

Okay... climbing down from the soapbox....

From Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar:

Jasper Seager is an historical enigma. His name does not appear in documents related to this particular group of pirates before sailing to Madagascar in 1720. He appears not to have come from the African Coast with the others. Still, he assumes command of Fancy, and possibly as commodore over both of the two ships that take Cassandra. If his name had not appeared in Chief Mate John Barnes’ journal from Greenwich as the captain of Fancy on the dated entry for 7 August 1720, before hostilities began on the 8th, he would not have been considered as all that important. His credit from historians is undeservedly and comparatively slight after taking Cassandra. He is not as perceptible in most narratives after the pirates take the Viceroy’s ship (see Chapter Five) at La Bourbon, despite the Viceroy’s own account – Richard Lasinby’s account, of course, came from aboard Victory and not Cassandra, then under Seager’s command. 

Owing purely to speculation, Seager may be regarded as an older man of great experience, perhaps already a pirate inhabitant of Madagascar when the others arrived. It is known that one Thomas Seager was in Henry Every’s crew, had not returned with others, and had possibly settled on Madagascar in the mid-1690s.  Perhaps another Seager served in Every’s crew or in Kidd’s? To his credit, Charles Johnson predicted that Edward England’s crew searched for Every’s old crew when they arrived at Île Saint-Marie. Evolving from this reasonable speculation, it may also be that later pirate crews [in the East Indies] consisted of mixes between elder pirate residents of Madagascar and the recent arrivals to the island. Charles Grey also alludes to this in Pirates of the Eastern Seas. As an older pirate residing on Madagascar who once possibly served with Henry Every, Jasper Seager could have been viewed by these younger pirates as legendary as Every himself. It should be noted that an early article by Grey, published in Bombay, India on the “Taking of Cassandra” gave Jasper Seager the primary credit for her capture, not Edward England. Indeed, from Barnes’ journal, it was Seager in Fancy who engaged Macrae for so long and so diligently while England in Victory chased Kirby’s Greenwich.

John Barnes Journal - entry for August 8, 1720

The entry in my Dictionary of Pyrate Biography for Jasper Seager is as follows:

Seager, Jaspar – possibly found at Madagascar by Edward England et al when they arrived in 1720; may be related to Henry Avery’s crewman, Thomas Seager; commanded Victory at Island of Johanna in the East Indies [Anjouan Island in the Comoros, NW of Madagascar], Edward England in Fancy with Richard Taylor aboard took East Indian vessel (8 Aug 1720; 17 Aug 1720 in misprinted Post Boy article) Cassandra, Capt. James Macrae [Mackra in Post Boy], 380 tons, 26 guns, 76 men (left Portsmouth, England 21 Mar 1720) – England is deposed by his crew and left at Madagascar – England then retires on Ile Saint Marie; Possibly an older man, Jasper Seager was made captain of Cassandra; met with Bombay Fleet, late 1720; proceeded to Dutch fort of “Cochins” [southwest coast of India, burial place of Vasco de Gama], Christmas 1720; see greater detail in Olivier LeVasseur and Richard Taylor; word that seven Indian ships sought them and hid at uninhabited island called “Morashes” [Mauritius] – cleaned and caulked badly leaking Victory; Seager in Cassandra, Taylor as quartermaster and LeVasseur made captain of Victory, Feb 1720; LeVasseur and Seager went to “Don Maskareene” [island group just east of Madagascar - Mascarene Islands: Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues] – made for Bay of Bourbon or St. Denis, Réunion and arrived c. Easter Sunday [13 Apr; Moor says 8 Apr], 1721; Luís Carlos Inácio Xavier de Meneses, Viceroy of the East Indies, sailing on a Portuguese vessel, Nossa Senhora do Cabo [Guelderland - Vierge de Cap[1]] from Goa to France, after weathering a storm that blew down all masts and left them with 21 canons, captured by LeVasseur in Victory and Seager in Cassandra [Ericiera calls her Fantasie, variant of "Enchantress," a synonym for the meaning of "Cassandre"] in Bay of Saint-Denis, Isle de Bourbon (a booty equivalent to ten million Euros today, in diamonds, gold, silver coin, bar or ingot), 11/16 April 1721; to leeward [west] of island, captured Dutch ship City of Ostend (former Greyhound), 21/26 Apr 1721; arguments over the Nossa Senhora do Cabo ensued - returned to Madagascar with City of Ostend to clean and sell slaves - desired to split company; Seager died at Madagascar while avoiding British fleet under Comm. Matthews - Olivier LeVasseur took his place as captain of Cassandra.[2]

[1]Research conducted by Baneto and Verazzone at Les Archives Nationales Portugaises de la Torre do Tombo. LISBOA – Portugal,; This royal frigate was named after the DNS Zeelandia, DNS Gelderland and DNS Galderland. It was a second-class warship and was bought and renamed the Nossa Senhora do Cabo (“Our Lady of the Cape” called Vierge de Cap or “Celebrate the Cape” in Dutch by Comte d’Ericiera) by Portugal in 1717.

[2]“Captain Mackra’s ship taken by Edward England, Post Boy, 25 & 27 Apr 1721, “Richard Lazenby, a prisoner of Taylor,” “The Examination of Richard Moor, 31 October 1724 (addenda 5 November 1724), HCA 1/55, ff. 94-97,” “The Examination of John Matthews, 12 October 1722, HCA 1/55, ff. 201-21” in E. T. Fox, Pirates in Their Own Words (Fox Historical, 2014), 271-276, 276-285, 207-213, 192-195; “Jaques du Bucquoy” in Alfred Grandidier, Collection des Ouvrages Anciens concernant Madagascar, Vol. 5(Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1888), 61-72; L. Robert, “Description, in general and in detail, of the island of Madagascar, made on the best memoirs of the old officers who lived in this island [at] the Port Dauphin; all checked exactly on the spot by the sieur ROBERT; Part 1. The discovery of the island. - 2nd part. The detail of each kingdom or provinces. - 3rd part. The Dauphin Port. - 4th part. The rancidity of the pirates; the great advantages that there would be in forming colonies there." (1730), No. 196, Manuscript 3755, Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque du Service Historique de la Défense, Bibliothèques de la Marine (Vincennes, Val-de-Marne, France), 4th part, ff. 109-117; La Gazette de Paris, Bureau d'adresse (Paris), 23 May 1722;“Relation of Count Ericiera” in G. Cavelier, Le Mercure, May 1722, 54-68; both translated by Baylus C. Brooks.


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