A Short Life

Captain Edward Lightbourn

Story & Images Courtesy Antoinette Lightbourn Butz

This is a typical page from Captain Edward Lightbourn’s letterbook.

Captain Edward Lightbourn was my great-great-great uncle. I researched this article through many documents found on Bermuda and the Turks & Caicos Islands, particularly from a letterbook in my possession and a set purchased by the Bermuda Archives in 2018.


Edward Lightbourn was born in the Heron Bay Southampton area of Bermuda on January 7, 1775. His father was Samuel Lightbourn and he had a brother also named Samuel. In 1794, he married Frances Bascome of Salt Kettle, Paget and they had a daughter, Sarah Bascome Lightbourn on April 13, 1795. Three other daughters, all born in Bermuda, followed and then a son born in the Turks Islands in 1811. Tragically, the son died the following year. Other sons were later born in the Turks Islands.

Edward joined his father and brother in a business trading under the name of Samuel Lightbourn and Sons. This must have been boring for him, as in 1796 we read of his assuming command of a privateer ship owned by the famous Hezekiah Frith. The lucrative operation of privateering had resumed after the re-outbreak of war between France and England in 1793 and Bermudian privateers found many rich prizes to bring into Bermuda.

However, England was not at war with the fledgling United States so Bermudians had no right to capture American ships. Nevertheless, Captain Edward Lightbourn, being unable to find any French or Spanish ships in 1797 and sailing the schooner Thetis (owned by his father), captured the Newcastle, Delaware schooner Nancy and took it to Aux Cayes. This brought charges and looting against him and his prize master. The following year he captured another American ship, the brigantine Mary, whose captain, Faulk, objected strongly in the courts to his treatment and eventually won his freedom although with no compensation.

The next decade of Edward’s life is somewhat vague. Privateering had effectively ceased in 1803 and there had been legal complications over many of the ships captured by privateers. His father-in-law’s 1805 will says that he had recently sold Edward a house and land at Salt Kettle for 460 pounds but not yet been paid. The Paget Parish tax records show Edward owning a store and goods over the period, but have not yet been followed through until he left Bermuda. 

Apparently in 1809 he was still a ship’s captain but had fallen out with Hezekiah Frith. In a letter written on May 17, 1809 from William Astwood in Bermuda to Captain John Lightbourn Sr. in Turks Island, William says: 

“Captain Edward Lightbourn about Four Weeks past, had the offer of taking the Command of a vessel belonging to Messer’s Joell and Francis Tucker. Capt. Hezekiah Frith opposed his leaving Bermuda until he had discharged the Bond he owed him, and would not consent for him to go unless he gave a Bond with security for 2,000 pounds. That he would return except of Death or imprisonment by the first day of December next.

Which proposal Edward at last consented to, with a view of getting support for his Family, if nothing more. The day before he went away, he mentioned to me that he wrote on to Mr. Daniel Bascome stating his situation, and as it appeared that there was a sum of three or four hundred Pounds due from his Father’s Estate to Capt. Samuel Lightbourn. Beg that he would if possible, point out some mode of payment in order to be the means of assisting him from bondage.

Edward requests me to mention the Circumstances to you, saying on his return to Bermuda the Business, it must be closed. At any rate, and in case he should not be able to pay up Frith’s demand without his property, say Furniture, Negros and being obliged to be sold, which in all probability would be made a sacrifice, of whether you would be Kind Enough to adjust him, as far as for his property to be appraised, and advance his some moneys — and take the property  as a security for the same. Until such time as he could make you payment. I presume from his conversation, what he meant was to request you to advance him in case he should require it, some moneys, and take his property as Security for a certain time without paying interest. As otherwise it would be as well for Frith to Hold a Mortgage on it. You’ll please acquaint me relative to the above business that I might have it in my Power to make Edward acquainted. Respecting it as he must be miserable in his mind.”

It is not known for sure what the family relationship between Captain John Lightbourn Sr and Edward Lightbourn was, but Edward was probably his nephew. John had been living off and on in Grand Turk for many years in spite of having a wife and family both in Bermuda and Turks, and a transcription of his correspondence with his nephew William Astwood of Bermuda between 1806 and 1812 has been published in Letterbook of Captain John Lightbourn Sr, which I have transcribed.

Captain Edward must have decided at this point to move with his family to Turks Island to get away from the “Hezekiah Frith problem.” There is a June 1810 letter from William Astwood to Captain John Lightbourn Sr saying Edward Lightbourn was expected to leave imminently, followed by a December 29, 1810 letter saying:

“Our relation and friend, Captain Edward Lightbourn is about leaving this for Turks Islands, with his Family, after meeting with many difficulty’s, and ill treatment through Capt. Frith, but I flatter myself that he is about to fix himself and Family more comfortable than he has been for a long time past.”

Further information about the family comes from “Manuscript Letterbook of Correspondance to and from William Astwood 1809–1811.” Writing from Turks Islands on April 21, 1811, Captain Edward Lightbourn wrote to William Astwood:

“We arrived here on the 10th January after an agreeable passage of five days and all very hearty and have continued ever since.”

It appears that Edward was joined by his brother Samuel in the Islands because in December 1813 there is a letter written by him while there to William Astwood in Bermuda:

“Mrs. Lightbourn desires me to express her thankfulness for your friendship in sending then a supply of provisions & her respects to you and me Astwood & family. She is very unhappy at present for the safety of my Brother. He left us two months since for Jamaica with a handsome little cargo of Pickled fish, Tobacco, Salt & with prospects of success in his voyage, but his evil star still accompanying him he was taken to Cape Francois, by one of Christophes Vessels on what pretense we are still ignorant tho we have since learned that his vessel was confiscated & sold & a desperate report accompanying this that he and his Crew were in confinement, this however we flatter ourselves, is  incorrect as we have heard of his being at liberty eight days after his arrival.”

Edward’s own account of the event comes in an April 9, 1814 letter to Astwood:

“Dear Sir;

I now have the pleasure of acknowledging the receipt of your respectful favors of April 17th and November 25th with three blls flour a half blls Sugar a half Tierce rice which came very timely and respectable which adds to the many former obligations we find ourselves indebted for I know of Nothing what would make me happy then to have it in my Power to reimburse you therefore but ill fortune yet follows up so closely that God knows when I shall have it in my Power which those unhappy times continues but hope they are nearly at an end at the moment when I begin to be incouraged and thought I was again getting on my legs only figure to yourself what my feeling must have been on my arrival home from Pot Rico after the Hurrycan when I found the Greater part of the town gone my House one of the number near the half of our Salt which we had collected since our arrival here and every soal destitute of the most coarse necessary of life But not withstanding after a few days Found it necessary that I should exert myself and get to work and get a covering for a part of my House which has been a temporary shelter for my Family since and for the want of lumber and other necessarys it yet remain in that ruined state and I fear that it is so shattered and damaged that it is not worth repairing when I might have it in my power. In addition there to I sailed from hence to Jamaica with a cargo of tobacco Cod and Pickled fish some dry goods suitable to that market and Salt and should have made an Excellent voyage but for once the interference of Christophes Cruisers which took possession of me and carried me into Cape Francois where I was taken with all my Crew immently to prison without anything being said to us but abuse and there kept in close confinement fifty two days and allowed me but one Rusk per 24 hours and a part of that time in a dungin without pen and Ink or the least communication with any Buddy without and there is no doubt on their intention to put all to death but fortunately for us some unknown friend gave information to our  Capture and situation to the Admiral of Jamaica who dispatched a man of War to demand us but they denied of them Having any such capture of their being any such persons with them and the man of War returned to Jamaica assuring them that there would be other demands made immediately which alarmed them and the next night at 12 o’clock we were taken out which as the first time of our seeing or hearing of each other during our confinement by a private way to water under moment expatiation of meeting the fate which I had long expected but to our great joy found ourselves disappointed and was carried in a boat under a strong Guard and carried out of the harbor and was informed by the officer that we were to be put on a boat an American Schooner which was to sail that morning for America at 10 o’clock, was put on board without the knowledge of the Captain or anyone but themselves. The Captain refused to take us and was returning again into Port but the officer of the Boat threatened him to return on his peril, After some reflection he told me that he knew of our situation and that he knows will put us ashore again that we should all be privately dispatched therefore if we would assure him that there should be no advantage taken of him by my people that he would take us on to New York.

Accordingly I did and we made sail after a few hours we got acquainted with him to be one of us and his humanity led him to be prevailed on to put us on shore at Sand key where we remained thirty six hours and our signals being discovered at Salt key boats were sent to our relief and we arrived unexpectedly here on the 23rd of Dec at 12 o’clock at night. We have forwarded a protest to the Government of Nassau and the Admiral of Jamaica as well as giving a copy of Capt Rossnady? To the Foresters who sailed from this about 10 days with a determination to go to the Cape and demand restitution of that Government and we are in hopes to recover the property — In expectation of saving you a bisset? Soon I am expecting a Spanish Schooner to leave from Mount Coast with a cargo of cocoa and a deck load of cattle which I have engaged to Navigate to Bermuda and I yesterday had another application to take charge of a sloop which is just purchased from new Providence by Mr. Wheeland which is to sail in two or three days for Port au Prince for a cargo from Bermuda but my state of life would not permit me to do it. She will return here from Port au prince and if I am not employed on her return I shall take charge of her for Bermuda — I have not been well since my arrival and four weeks past my complaint terminated in an Obstinate Pleurisy and fever which confined me for three weeks, but am now about again getting hearty.

I am with due respect your obedient Servant, Edward Lightbourn” 

John Lightbourn, writing to William Astwood on October 29, 1814 tells him that Edward has still not recovered from his ordeal: 

“Our relation Edward Lightbourn have ever since arrived from the Cape has been under complaints proceeding from his being confined in a dungeon & this 5 weeks past been confined to his house and Bed & ill man, & I with the rest of his friends think of fear, he will not get the better of his complaints which is gathering in his breast which I think is an abscess from which he discharged a deal of matter. The Doctor lives in hopes that Blistering will cure the Complaint . . . 

Sir your most obedient servant John Lightbourn Sr.”

Another letter written to William Astwood the same day by a Benjamin Lightbourn says much the same: 

“I am sorry to inform you of the low state of health Captain Edward Lightbourn in & fearful & all of his friends he will not get the better of his Complaints. I have seen him this morning & he tells me he is better but what he spits of his stomach is the color of chocolate and quite thick . . .”

Replying to Benjamin Lightbourn on December 17, 1814 William Astwood wrote:

“Dear Sir;

I am truly sorry to hear that cousin Edward is in such a bad state of health. I heartily pray that he may recover his health for the sake of his numerous family . . .

Your most obedient Servant William Astwood”

Edward did not recover his health and the sad fact of his death is recorded in the next letter. Written in March 1815:

“Dear Sir;

I was sorry for the loss you mentioned of Sister Lightbourn. I have the same thing in return of the death of my son Edward who departed this life on second December last from a severe cold received from his imprisonment at Cape Francoise . . .

Your most Obedient Servant Samuel Lightbourn”

Turks Islands March 14, 1815, Wm Astwood Esq:

“Dear Sir 

Having been very long without opportunity write  to Bermuda friends I am induced to forward this per Capt Gilbert via Port au prince merely to announce the melancholy tidings of my Poor Brother’s Departure on  December 2nd last — His Death has left a numerous family unprovided for which must have rendered his last moments extremely  embittered  in his anxiety expressed on this head He mentioned his desire that his son Edward may find a friend in you & that you should be informed of his wish that he may be brought upon your guidance — Have the Goodness to make mention this event known to my distressed sister Mrs Thomas and inform her that all friends have besides are in good health . . . . .

I remain most Respectfully  yours & 

Samuel Lightbourn Jun”

Bermuda May 31, 1815:

“Dear Madam 

I am happy to have the pleasure of informing you that Edward, William and Myself arrived home safe, after Passage of twelve days and thank God, all of us enjoyed good Health during the voyage and have continued so since. Edward was not so sea sick, as his friends expected, he lost only one meal, He appears perfectly satisfied and I am inclin’d to think that he will be much healthier here than at Turks Islands  — Mrs Astwood, and children, unite with me in my best Respects, to yourself and family — and flattering myself that you’ll make yourself Easy respect’g Edw’d  I remain Your most obd’t serv’t

William Astwood.”

Captain Edward Lightbourn’s wife Frances stayed on Grand Turk and died there in May 1830. One of their daughters, Mary Hannah, married James Misick and had at least three children including James born in 1822 and Laura born in 1831. Laura married Queen’s Advocate Francis Ellis but died young and it is not known whether James had descendants in the Islands. Nor is it known what happened to the other children of Edward and Frances.

If anyone reading this has any information on Captain Edward Lightbourn or his descendants or where he is buried on Turks Island, please let me know.

Antoinette Lightbourn Butz

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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography ( created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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