The Grand Pirate from Meath – George Cusack

The Cusack family were an important family in Meath in medieval times. George Cusack was born at Granstown, ‘East-Meath’ in the early 1600s. His parents wanted him to be a friar but Geroge did not and eventually succumbed to the easy life of robbery and piracy. He was forced to leave the country after robbing a neighbour, Benedict Arthur, of sixty pounds and a watch within two miles of Dublin in 1653. His two weaknesses were “loose women and riches.”

Cusack became a mercenary on the continent but the disciplined life did not suit him. Cusack operated briefly as a “pressmaster” pressing men into serving in the Royal Navy. He fell foul of authorities when he pressed a serious criminal into the Navy so the criminal could escape the noose. Serving time in jail in London Cusack swore that he would only work for himself in the future.

In 1688 Cusack sailed on the ship, Hopewell, from Cadiz bound for Virgina. Midway in the Atlantic Cusack and his men mutinied and captured the ship.  The captain and the crew were abandoned in a small boat.

Cusack decided to remove any identifying papers and materials.  But when he attempted to dispose of a Bible, several of his fellow mutineers objected. Cusack exclaims, ‘You Cowards, what do you think to go to Heaven, and do such Actions as these? No, I will make you Officers in Hell under me’. Cusack lifts the Bible from the table and hurls it into the sea: ‘Go thou thy way Divinity, what have we to do with thee.’

They renamed the vessel, Valiant Prince, and sailed to the Leeward Islands where they attacked a number of smaller boats. The abandoned officers and crew had arrived before them and the pirates were captured and imprisoned in Barbados but escaped.

On a nearby French island, the captain of a rich merchant ship, the Saint Joseph, took on Cusack and his men to protect the valuable cargo from pirates! Two days after sailing Cusack and his men took over the ship which they named Flying Devil, which they sailed up the east of coast of America. Cusack sold the valuable cargo in New England and burned out the ship and returned to England on a smaller boat.

Forced to lie low Cusack operated as a highway man around Dublin. He picked up ‘with a Company of Tories’ (highwaymen – this is where the Conservative Party in England gets its nickname from!). Having robbed a Quaker, he was arrested and imprisoned. He convinced the authorities that he was due a pardon in London and was allowed on bail. Fleeing to Holland he resumed his pirating ways.

In July 1674 Cusack using the name, Smith, boarded the ship “The Robert” bound for Newcastle out of Amsterdam. Not far into the voyage Cusack and his men took the ship and rendezvoused with three other ships taken by Cusack’s accomplices. Cusack threw the crew of the ship into an open boat with food for a day and threw them adrift in the North Sea. One of the passengers, Creswell, stood up to Cusack but Cusack forced him with his sword to jump overboard wearing only his underwear.

Later that year Cusack sailed a captured ship up the Thames and moored at Gravesend for two days. The Navy were too powerful and he was captured and imprisoned. It was said that Cusack was captured in bed with a woman, a prostitute, Cusack’s sister. At his trial by the Admirality he took centre stage and argued his case. However the end result was not in doubt – George Cusack was executed on the banks of the Thames in 1675. As he mounted the steps of the scaffold he said “Farewell earth. This is the last time I tread on thee.”

Later that year a book with dramatic descriptions of his life was published: “The Grand pyrate, or, The life and death of Capt. George Cusack, the great sea-robber with an accompt of all his notorious robberies both at sea and land : together with his tryal, condemnation, and execution Impartial hand.”