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The BookBrowse Review

Published May 21, 2014

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The BookBrowse Review

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Editor's Introduction
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Book Jacket

At the Point of a Cutlass
The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton
by Gregory N. Flemming
3 Jun 2014
256 pages
Publisher: University Press of New England
ISBN-13: 9781611685152
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Based on a rare manuscript from 1725, At the Point of a Cutlass uncovers the amazing voyage of Philip Ashton - a nineteen-year old fisherman who was captured by pirates, escaped on an uninhabited Caribbean island, and then miraculously arrived back home three years later to tell his incredible story.

Taken in a surprise attack near Nova Scotia in June 1722, Ashton was forced to sail across the Atlantic and back with a crew under the command of Edward Low, a man so vicious he tortured victims by slicing off an ear or nose and roasting them over a fire. "A greater monster," one colonial official wrote, "never infested the seas." Ashton barely survived the nine months he sailed with Low's crew - he was nearly shot in the head at gunpoint, came close to drowning when a ship sank near the coast of Brazil, and was almost hanged for secretly plotting a revolt against the pirates.

Like many forced men, Ashton thought constantly about escaping. In March of 1723, he saw his chance when Low's crew anchored at the secluded island of Roatan, at the western edge of the Caribbean. Ashton fled into the thick, overgrown woods and, for more than a year, had to claw out a living on the remote strip of land, completely alone and with practically nothing to sustain him. The opportunity to escape came so unexpectedly that Ashton ran off without a gun, a knife, or even a pair of shoes on his feet. Yet the resilient young castaway - who has been called America's real-life Robinson Crusoe - was able to find food, build a crude shelter, and even survive a debilitating fever brought on by the cool winter rains before he was rescued by a band of men sailing near the island. Based on Ashton's own first-hand account, as well trial records, logbooks, and a wealth of other archival evidence, At the Point of a Cutlass pieces together the unforgettable story of a man thrust into the violent world of a pirate ship and his daring survival and escape.

"Starred Review. Flemming's focus on individual actors adds a welcome depth to the history of piracy with this engaging and harrowing account of 'America's real-life Robinson Crusoe.'" - Publishers Weekly

"A dark and fascinating tale.  At the Point of a Cutlass takes us into corners of the pirate life we haven't been before...one of the most harrowing survival stories of the colonial era." - Stephan Talty, author of Empire of Blue Water, The Illustrious Dead, and Escape from the Land of Snows

"Flemming's account of Philip Ashton's fascinating odyssey is superb." - George C. Daughan, author of 1812: The Navy's War, and The Shining Sea: David Porter and the Epic Voyage of the U.S.S. Essex During the War of 1812

"Flemming's dramatic history of real pirates is vastly better than the Hollywood version!" - Markus Rediker, author of Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age, and The Slave Ship: A Human History

"...a meticulously researched account of an epic survival story...a thrilling voyage." - Paul Schneider, author of Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History, and Brutal Journey: Cabeza de Vaca and the Epic First Crossing of North America

Gregory N. Flemming is a former journalist who holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He lives with his family in New England. His website is www.gregflemming.com.

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