Edward Jordan, the First Pirate Hanged in Canada
A passenger on the Three Sisters ship, Edward Jordan took control of the schooner, viciously murdering several men. He was hanged and left on the gibbet as warning.
A gun blast was aimed directly at Captain Stairs, commander of the Three Sisters schooner. The ball fired “grazed his face and nose,” said Cindy Vallar in Pirates & Privateers, and then hit crew member Thomas Heath in the chest. He was killed. Captain Stairs ran to get his weapons but they were gone.
Set sail from Perce for Halifax, Nova Scotia on September 10, 1809, the Three Sisters was manned with a small crew of three, Ben Matthews, John Kelly and Thomas Heath, plus the Captain. Six passengers were on the voyage, Edward Jordan, his wife Margaret, and their four children. Three days into the trip, Edward Jordan fired his pistol at Captain Stairs.
Jordan had an Accomplice
Captain Stairs was unaware that one of his crew had betrayed him. Without weapons, the Captain fled for the ladder. Jordan was there, with an axe and pistol in hand. The Captain shouted for assistance, but John Kelly did not arrive. Rushing to aid his commander, Ben Matthews was wounded in the struggle. Margaret Jordan joined the throng and was beating Captain Stairs with a boat hook.
Not finished with Ben Matthews, Jordan whacked the back of the crew member’s head with the axe several times. Meanwhile, Captain Stairs escaped from Mrs. Jordan. He grabbed a hatch cover and leapt overboard into the sea. Floating for three hours, he was rescued by a passing fishing schooner.
Three Sisters Schooner Back to Halifax
A month later, Edward Jordan hired Patrick Power to sail the vessel from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Ireland. Before they were far out at sea, the Lieutenant Bury and officers of the HM Cuttle boarded and ordered the Three Sisters back to port in Halifax. Edward Jordan was charged with piracy.
Not quite the fun, swashbuckling adventures of books and movies, piracy is defined as murder and robbery at sea, noted the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The definition fit Jordan’s act of murdering two crew mates, attempted murder of the captain and stealing the ship. Also on trial were Jordan’s wife, Margaret Jordan and accomplice, John Kelly.
Edward Jordan a Violent Pirate
The Halifax court heard the damning evidence against Jordon and learned that Kelly had insisted that Captain Stairs not be murdered aboard the ship. He was certain that the commander wound not survive the ocean swim. Alas for Jordan, Captain Stairs did survive. Jordan blamed Kelly, for if the Captain had been dispatched aboard the Three Sisters, they would not have been caught. An hour after evidence finished, the court found Edward Jordan guilty of piracy. Margaret Jordan and John Kelly were acquitted of the charges.
Sentenced to hang, Edward Jordan was put to death on November 24, 1809 near the Black Rock Beach, the first pirate to be hanged in Canada. A law in Nova Scotia “required that the pirates be executed with their bodies displayed in public as warning to other sailors,” according to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Jordan’s body was “covered in tar and hanged from chains in an iron cage called a gibbet.” (A gibbet is a post with a horizontal beam on which the executed were hung. In Jordan’s case, his body was also in a cage.)
In 2007, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic at 1675 Lower Water Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 1S3, held a fascinating Piracy exhibit including a replica of a pirate hanging by gibbet. Some of the display can still be viewed online.
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in 2009. (C) Susanna McLeod