Captain Charles Hart left Salem aboard the brig the New Priscilla on September 24, 1828, never to return.

He and his crew fell prey to a large number of sea pirates and his capture was one of the worst cases of piracy against an American ship on record.

Most of the story is remembered in Francis BC Bradlee’s book “Piracy in the West Indies and its Repression” and in the newspaper archives.

The New Priscilla (125 tons) was bound for Sumatra and the Pepper Coast when it cleared Salem customs. Hart would do a few errands from Havana to South Carolina.

The coin needed for the voyage to pay for the cargo of pepper was in Spanish currency carried in drums and linen sacks from the Asian bank on Essex Street to the dock.

His logbook records two runs and a departure for the Pepper Coast on January 22, 1829. On February 14, foul play was cited by Captain John Conega of the Mary Jane.

The report was confirmed by Lt. Shearer of the schooner HBM Monkey. On February 3, Hart departed Charleston, bound for Havana and had fallen to the pirates on February 14 (Daily Georgian, Wednesday, June 10, 1829, Savannah, Ga.)

An extract from Captain Weston’s letter dated March 16 was published in the Portsmouth Journal and Rockingham Gazette, Saturday March 21, 1829. It reads:

“There is great reason to fear that the officers and crew of the brig New Priscilla, of Salem, shared an equally deplorable fate, although many people harbor the hope that they escaped in the boats, who were not seen aboard the ship when she fell into it.

“The new Priscilla was the last of Charleston, SC, bound for Matanzas, and was commanded by Captain Charles Hart, an enterprising, resolute, and worthy citizen… A letter from Captain Weston, who arrived in Charleston from Havana , says he has no doubt that Captain Hart and his crew have all been cut off.

“The captain of an English sloop informed Captain Weston, who arrived at Charleston, SC, on the 7th, from Havana, that the same day the brig ‘New Priscilla’, of Salem, was seen on the Bank, he saw a ship lying, in company with a small ship, and that several other ships were in sight, some of which had probably fallen into the hands of the pirates.

On April 16 came this report:

“In the Royal Gazette of March 15, we find the following statement relative to the brig New Priscilla. Captain Hart, from this port bound for Havana:

“Anthony Kemp, captain of the sloop industry, of this harbour, states that about twelve days ago he discovered a brig some distance away, apparently aground, on the south side of Antros Island (Andros), to which was heading for the purpose of rendering assistance in time of need; and that, going on board, he found no prisoners near the ship; her rigging had been cut in places, her sails broken and loose , the boat having been cut from the davits; several bags of ice lay on the deck and chests had been broken. Under way under the lockers were found broken and some with clothing and several papers scattered. The name “New Priscilla, of Salem” is painted on the stern and bow. Finding it impossible to remove the brig, we proceeded to haul out the cargo, which consisted of rice in tieres and hags, which having carried with the aid of another small vessel to come there the next day, she floated, and was towed ver s a safer place, where the rest of the cargo has been taken out and unloaded. Some of the cargo arrived here, and other ships were sent to bring it to port. The papers, among which the ship’s log is said to be, have not yet been brought from the wreckage, but are expected in a day or two.

A few years before the capture of the New Priscilla, some American ships launched an aggressive campaign to ferret out threats of theft.

From 1824 until the capture of New Priscilla, piracy took on an alarming scale and several defenseless merchants were captured at the very entrance to large ports such as Havana.

Merchants banded together at the Salem Marine Insurance office to form a committee to urge Congress to change laws on the willful destruction of ships on the high seas and crack down on pirates in the West Indies.

The tragic loss of New Priscilla initiated a powerful change, and she would eventually become something of a sacrificial vessel to anchor greater justice against piracy.

Hart would never know that his brig would make such waves and start powerful altercations – an American armada cleaned up the ugly sea rovers to create a safer sea.

According to Bradlee, one of the last acts of piracy took place in September 1832 on the brig Salem the Mexican, owned by Joseph Peabody and commanded by Captain John G. Butman.

Soon after, the reign of piracy would come to an end.

A bit of tradition – two sailors received divine intervention, which came from a howling black cat on the Charleston docks.

The superstitious guys decided they weren’t going to test fate, so they hopped on a platform for Salem.

Sources say one of them lived to a ripe old age in Salem and, during several rounds of taverns, related how he escaped the reaper of New Priscilla.

Hart’s logbooks are held at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Melissa Davenport Berry is a local historical and genealogical researcher and writer. She writes for Newsbank’s Genealogy group and is a researcher for the Heritage Collectors Society. Visit his website at