Before moving on to the pirates of the Pirate Republic of Nassau we will return to the time when the Pirate Round was pioneered. The Pirate Round was a famous pirating route which offered pirates number of lucrative plundering options and a safe place to resupply and careen their ships. Many famous pirates followed that route, and most famous of those who did were Henry Avery and William Kid. The man who pioneered the route was Thomas Tew, an English privateer who turned to piracy.
Thomas Tew's flag was described as a flag with a white arm holding a short scimitar on a black field
Thomas Tew - Life before piracy
We don't know much about the early life of Thomas Tew. There are different suggestions about where he was born, but there is not much evidence on those hypotheses. What we know for certain is that he lived in Newport on Rhode Island at one time. We also know that he had a family there, a wife and probably two daughters. In 1691 Tew moved to Bermuda where he obtained a letter of marque in 1692. After obtaining the letter of marque he found a group of Bermudian backers to provide him with a ship and necessary equipment for the career of a privateer. The ship in question was the sloop Amity. The Amity was a seventy-ton vessel crewed by forty-six men and armed with eight canons.
In December of 1692 Tew and another privateer, George Dew aboard the sloop Amy set their sail for The Gambia. They were instructed by the governor of Bermuda to destroy a French factory off the coast of West Africa and continue plundering French holdings in that region. Not long after leaving Bermuda, the storm hit the expedition and separated the two captains. Thomas Tew has been harboring intentions of becoming a pirate and this gave him a good opportunity to fulfill those intentions. However, Tew knew that he could not enforce his scheme without the support of his crew. He openly announced his intention to the crew, and the sources say that he was immediately answered with the shout: "A gold chain or a wooden leg, we'll stand with you!"
The power of the captain at legal ships was close to absolute but the pirates didn't like it that way. As soon as they turned to piracy the crew of Amity held an election for the quartermaster. It was common practice at the pirate ships of the time as the quartermaster was a counterbalance to the captain's power.
The Pirate Round
The Pirate Round was attractive to pirates for various reasons. The route was mostly frequented by English pirates who would start their journey in the Atlantic. From the Atlantic, they would sail around the southern tip of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. Popular targets there were the coasts of India and Yemen.
One of the reasons for the popularity of the route was an abundance of riches to be gained in the Indian Ocean. There were two main targets for the pirates there. The first were the ships loaded with exotic goods from India sailing on the trade route between India and New York City. Such goods could fetch a good price on black markets. A lot of legal markets were also willing to trade with pirates for such goods. Goods from India were hard to come by and market owners could buy them off for lower price than that offered by merchant ships, thus increasing their profits.
The other profitable target was Mocha at the mouth of the Red Sea. That location was ideal for annual large profits by the pirates. Muslim voyages between Surat and Mecca were passing there each year on the Hajj pilgrimage. Pirates could plan their attacks in the area up front as the pilgrimage takes place at the same time and the same place each year. Ships traveling on the route were often laden with riches, and such a reliable source of income wasn't accessible to pirates anywhere else.
Besides lucrative opportunities offered by the Indian Ocean, the key to the existence of The Pirate Round was Madagascar. There was a pirate base on the Île Sainte-Marie, a small island on the north-east coast of Madagascar. The base was run by Adam Baldridge, a pirate and owner of the black market in the base on the island. Pirates could resupply, careen their ships and wait out the monsoons while on their way to and from the Indian Ocean. In addition to the safe haven which was a rarity for pirates, they could also trade part of their goods there; thus they could free their storage to fit more plunder in case of lucky encounters on their way back to the Atlantic. Such lucky encounters happened pretty often as the Pirate Round followed the similar route as the ships of East India Company.
The Pirate Round was pioneered and made famous by Thomas Tew in 1693. On his cruise there he suffered a low amount of casualties and earned a hefty amount of money. The route went into decline from 1700 to 1718. The main reasons for the decline was a loss of Baldridge's base and increased protection of convoys in the area, both of which happened because of the War of the Spanish Succession.
Thomas Tew's Pirate Career
In late 1693 Thomas Tew's arrived from the Bermudas to the Red Sea. There he attacked a large Ghanjah which traveled from India to the Ottoman Empire. Although the Ghanjah had a huge garrison around 300 soldiers strong, they surrendered with little resistance and Tew captured it with no casualties. The treasure of the ship included £100 000 in gold and silver, in addition, it was loaded with ivory, spices, gems, and silk. For Tew's small crew of 45 men, it was an enormous amount of money. Each of the men shared between £1200 and £3000. Tew's share as a captain was larger and it amounted somewhere around £8000 which was more than a governor of the time earned in 20 years from their salary.
After the successful plunder, Tew urged his crew to stay in the area and attack other ships. but he was opposed by the quartermaster of the ship. He yielded to the quartermaster's suggestion and set course back to the Atlantic stopping in the Baldridge's base on Madagascar to resupply and careen the Amity.
Tew returned to New York where he befriended governor Fletcher. They became close enough friends that he told Fletcher all about his pirating career and exploits. Despite knowing about Tew's criminal career, Fletcher issued him a second letter of marque and Tew was ready for a second cruise.
Thomas Tew talking to Governor Fletcher of New York by Howard Pyle, 1894
Once again Tew arrived at the mouth of the Red Sea in August 1695. There he met Henry Avery and few other pirate captains with similar goals in mind. He joined forces with them for the mutual benefit. However, the Amity couldn't keep up with the speed of the Fancy, Henry Avery's warship which was the fastest pirate vessel sailing the seas at the time. Instead, they decided to pursue a Mughal ship, the Fateh Muhammed. In the battle against the Fateh Muhammed Thomas Tew was killed by a cannon shot. Demoralized his crew surrendered immediately. This battle ends the story of Thomas Tew.
Tew's crew was later rescued by Henry Avery when he defeated the Fateh Muhammed. You can read more of Avery and his cruise on the Pirate Round in my other post here.
- A General History of the Pyrates - 1724, Captain Charles Johnson
- The Pirates - 1978, Douglas Botting
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