Peter Easton (also known as Peter Eston) was an English pirate that became known not only as one of the most notorious pirates from this country but also as one of the most successful pirates of all time. Born around 1570, he became known to authorities as a sea pirate during his plundering career that ranged between 1611 and 1614. During that time, he managed to achieve a thing that few pirates in history have managed to build in their lifetimes – to create such a formidable pirate fleet around him that he became more powerful than legitimate governments, sovereigns or other private forces of his time. Even more impressively, he managed to retire from piracy and live enjoying the incredible wealth he collected on the sea.
During his career as a pirate, Peter Easton was described not as a bloodthirsty monster bent on destruction at sea, but as a highly capable naval officer who was well-versed in tactic, leadership, and trade. He was often praised for being a brilliant navigator, brave, bold, and tactician that can extract the maximum from the ships and crew he possessed. These abilities helped him to gather around him a formidable force that helped him target more and more ambitious targets, all the while remaining in contact with English crown which tried several times to give him pardon and remove his dangerous presence from the sea.
During height of his career, Peter Easton was regarded as the most successful Corsair of all time
Very little is known about the early life of Peter Easton, a man that would eventually become one of the most successful pirates of his time. He came from the family who had a rich history of supporting English Crown and being part of Crusades and various sea skirmishes against Spanish Armada. His first historical record of activity on the sea comes from 1602 when he was tasked by the commission from Elizabeth I of England to protect the English fishing fleet in Newfoundland against Spanish intrusions as a privateer. During those years, he actively protected English shipping and harassed Spanish merchants and fishermen (who were during that time also equipped for naval combat). His base of operation was located in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador (today Canada), and his flagship ornamented with the Saint George’s Cross was named “Happy Adventure”.
Lives of many English privateers were changed forever on 23 June 1604, when Elizabeth I was succeeded by James I who immediately sued for peace between England and Spain. This meant that all privateers suddenly became jobless, and many of them immediately turned to what they knew the best – piracy.
Peter Easton was one of those privateers who continued attacking Spanish assets in Atlantic as nothing has ever happened, which immediately turned him into a pirate. But he was not satisfied only with Atlantic coast near Canada. Under the financial backing of the powerful Canadian family of Killgrews, he continued harassing Spanish ships even in the Mediterranean, seeking gold and plunder that he could sell back in pirate havens in West Indies. When his fleet grew to the armada of 10 pirate ships, he started to actively attack even English targets, seeking more wealth and coercing more and more fishermen into his pirate crew.
Easton was considered as being an extremely successful pirate. During one campaign of piracy, he plundered more than 30 ships, managing to capture large wealth and several high-value captives. One of those captives was even sent to obtain to Easton an official government pardon from England for him and his entire crew, but by the time the pardon arrived at his home base of Harbour Grace, Easton moved to Barbary Coast where he continued to harass the Spanish. By that time, his pirate “crew” grew into an actual army that counted more than 1500 men. This force enabled him to execute even more daring plans, including an incredible attack on the Spanish plate fleet in the sea around the Azores. The details of this battle are lost to history, but what was remembered is that immediately after that event Easton appeared on the coast of Tunis bringing with himself incredible wealth and four large Spanish galleons.
During his years of activity, Peter Easton held a reputation of the most dangerous and leading corsairs who fought against Spain. In a span of just a few years, he amassed one of the largest wealth in the history of piracy and was unmatched on the sea where he was never cornered or lost a battle against numerous fleets who were commissioned to hunt him down.
After several successful years on the sea, the English pardon finally reached Easton when he was anchored in the port of Villefranche, Savoy, which was then known as a free port and a haven of pirates. He elected to accept the pardon and gained the approval of the local Duke of Savoy who was very interested to take advantage of the very wealthy Easton who immediately purchased a mansion, a title of “Marquis of Savoy” and even found a wife. According to surviving documents, he remained in Savoy where he served the local duke until 1620 when history loses track of him. To this day, it is not known how Peter Easton lived the remainder of his life, and how or when he died.
Many pirate captains of the Golden Age of Piracy spread fear and chaos utilizing skills of theatric intimidation. One of most successful tactics of this kind was displaying of pirate flag while their ship neared the pray, giving time to defenders to properly grasp the seriousness of their situation. Before the so-called “Jolly Roger” flags become popular, and started featuring numerous ominous ornaments such as skulls, bones and weapons, pirate captain Peter Easton popularized very simple form of pirate flag – pure black flag. During his pirate career that made him one of the wealthiest and most successful pirates of all time on the Atlantic sea, the sight of Peter Easton’s pure black fag drove chills into the heart of any merchant or naval officer who saw it. Decades later, the tales of this flag served as a foundation for many other famous Jolly Rodger flags, such as those flown by Calico Jack Rackham (white skull with two interlocked swords), Sam Bellamy and Blackbeard (white skull with two interlocked bones).