Here Lies the Pickled Head of Captain John Phillips

Boston Pirate Trail

Here Lies the Pickled Head of Captain John Phillips

Boston, Massachusetts 02115, United States

Created By: Simmons University


Boston's rich history includes the story of Captain John Phillips, a pirate whose trail location is where the late Boston lawyer William Minot’s office was. The connection between Captain John Phillips and William Minot is not a pleasant one. Captain John Phillips did what what most pirates are known for: stealing. Specifically, he stole a schooner owned by William Minot, who was a well-known Massachusetts lawyer.[1] After many adventures sailed on Minot’s boat, which he renamed Revenge, Captain John Phillips was brutally murdered by his own crew who sent his head to William Minot’s office in a pickle barrel.[2] Before his untimely death, John Phillips led an adventurous life filled to the brim with piracy.

John Phillips started his piratical career as a ship's carpenter. Because of his carpentry skills, pirate captain Thomas Anstis forced him to become a part of his pirate crew as the ship’s carpenter.[3] Since his piratical career started suddenly and not by his own choice, it took him some time to find his own sealegs. While part of Anstis’s crew, a British warship found their boat, causing Anstis to abandon his crew. John Phillips was clever enough to go into hiding and gave up on piracy for awhile.[4] After hiding out for a time, he still craved adventure from his boring life, so he got together with the rest of the marooned crew who elected John Phillips as the captain of their new pirate ship.[5]

Captain John Phillips' first order of business as pirate captain eventually contributed to his legacy, since William Minot’s schooner was not the first ship he stole. Before setting off to sea with his new crew, he captured several small fishing boats and obtained more people for his crew.[6] They also stole a Portuguese ship and various other boats called sloops.[7] Most of his piratical crimes were in fact stealing boats. In total, Captain John Phillips stole thirteen nautical vessels during his short piratical career.[8]

Eight months later, Captain John Phillips time as a pirate soon came to an abrupt end. Most, if not all, of his crew mutinied because Phillips was a very controlling captain who did not want any of his crew members to leave him. For example, Captain Phillips heard about one of his crew planning to leave the ship because of Phillips’ treatment of the crew, so Phillips stabbed him to death.[9] This stabbing did not scare the rest of the crew into submission, however, as the rest of the crew later mutinied and killed John Phillips with an axe. They threw his body overboard along with anyone who continued to support him, but kept Captain John Phillips’ head as a souvenir. They nailed it to the main mast of their ship before eventually shipping it in a pickle barrel to William Minot, whose ship was the last on that Phillips stole.[10]

There is no historical marker describing Captain John Phillips or the location of William Minot’s office. Back in the 1700s, his office was situated on what is now known as Court Street, but the actual building no longer remains.[11] Only a Starbucks and the site of the old Boston Jail, which is where Captain Kidd was held, mark the location to which a notorious Boston pirate's head was delivered in a pickle barrel.

—Adrianna King

[1] Henry Hall, Americas Successful Men of Affairs: an Encyclopedia of Contemporaneous Biography (Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1996).
[2] Edward Rowe Snow, Pirates, Shipwrecks, and Historic Chronicles. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1981).
[3] Charles Johnson, Pirates (Creation, 1999).
[4] Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates (1724), 340.
[5] Charles Johnson, Pirates (Creation, 1999).
[6] Charles Johnson, Pirates (Creation, 1999).
[7] “Captain John Phillips.” Consejo Belize, (Accessed October 14, 2019).
[8] Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates (1724), 405.
[9] Gordon Harris, et al., “The Reluctant Pirate from Ipswich, Captain John Fillmore,” Historic Ipswich, 8 Mar. 2019, reluctant-pirate/.
[10] Gordon Harris, et al., “The Reluctant Pirate from Ipswich, Captain John Fillmore,” Historic Ipswich, 8 Mar. 2019, reluctant-pirate/.
[11] George Washington Bromley and Walter Scott Bromley, Atlas of the city of Boston : city proper and Roxbury (1890). Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, (accessed October 01, 2019).

Pictured: Captain John Phillips. Court Street from John Groves Hale "Map of Boston in the state of Massachusetts" 1814.

**To go to Flag of our Union Office (Site 12), head northwest on Court St. and turn left toward Tremont St. Arrive at Site 12. **

This point of interest is part of the tour: Boston Pirate Trail


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