At the Point of a Cutlass

The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton

Gregory N. Flemming

A handful of sea stories define the American maritime narrative. Stories of whaling, fishing, exploration, naval adventure, and piracy have always captured our imaginations, and the most colorful of these are the tales of piracy. Called America’s real-life Robinson Crusoe, the true story of Philip Ashton—a nineteen-year-old fisherman captured by pirates, impressed as a crewman, subjected to torture and hardship, who eventually escaped and lived as a castaway and scavenger on a deserted island in the Caribbean—was at one time as well known as the tales of Cooper, Hawthorne, and Defoe. Based on a rare copy of Ashton’s 1725 account, Gregory N. Flemming’s vivid portrait recounts this maritime world during the golden age of piracy. Fishing vessels and merchantmen plied the coastal waters and crisscrossed the Atlantic and Caribbean. It was a hard, dangerous life, made more so by both the depredations and temptations of piracy. Chased by the British Royal Navy, blown out of the water or summarily hung when caught, pirate captains such as Edward Low kidnapped, cajoled, beat, and bribed men like Ashton into the rich—but also vile, brutal, and often short—life of the pirate. In the tradition of Nathaniel Philbrick, At the Point of a Cutlass expands on a lost classic narrative of America and the sea, and brings to life a forgotten world of ships and men on both sides of maritime law.

Paper: $19.95 | Cloth: $29.95 | E-book: $14.99
ISBN-13: 9781611687804
Pages: 256 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: June 3, 2014

“At the Point of a Cutlass is a thrilling voyage with plenty of ‘Arghh Matey!!’ and grog to go around.”

Paul Schneider


  • Flemming relates the story of the capture by pirates of Philip Ashton in 1722, and in the process he reveals a fascinating history of pirates during the first decades of the 18th century, "the golden age of piracy." . . . From battles with warships to the way the pirates split their plunder, 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 (starred review)
  • Ashton’s account of his travails, published in 1725, became a hit in Colonial New England. Now forgotten, his story is brought back to life by Gregory N. Flemming in his fine new book, At the Point of a Cutlass. Beautifully printed and bound-though it could use more maps-the book delivers blood-thirsty pirates and plenty of action and excitement on the high seas. Forgoing an ‘avast ye swabbies!’ approach, Flemming’s sober style and scholarly approach ballast his account and keep his story on a steady course.

    Boston Globe
  • Paints an indelible picture of pirate life, day by day... compelling, dramatic reading.

    Dallas Morning News
  • [A] real-life historical thriller.

    The Week
    The Best of U.S. and International Media
  • At the Point of a Cutlass is trim and shipshape, and it left me talking like Long John Silver for a day or two.

    NC Star
  • Gregory Flemming’s account of Philip Ashton’s fascinating odyssey is superb. A deeply religious cod fisherman, Ashton survived capture by depraved pirates and months alone on an uninhabited Caribbean island. Eventually rescued, he returned to Marblehead, Massachusetts, to tell his incomparable tale, which gained the attention and admiration of Cotton Mather, his disciple John Barnard, and Daniel Defoe.

    George C. Daughan
  • 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
  • Pirates have begun to attract serious and talented scholars and writers in recent years; Gregory N. Flemming exemplifies the trend in At the Point of a Cutlass. Here is the powerful story of Philip Ashton's life-and-death encounter with the notorious sea-robber Ned Low and his swaggering band of pirates. Flemming's dramatic history of real pirates is vastly better than the Hollywood version!”

    Marcus Rediker
  • More than just a meticulously researched account of an epic survival story, and more than a surprisingly intimate look inside the lives of the victims of 18th century pirates and the politics of piracy, At the Point of a Cutlass is a thrilling voyage with plenty of ‘Arghh Matey!!’ and grog to go around.

    Paul Schneider

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