Muslim terrorists attack Baltimore and kidnap citizens into slavery.
What’s Bogie got to do with it?
Sailing on the ferry to Sherkin Island in the Atlantic off the coast of West Cork, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to see a pirate vessel from North Africa appear over the horizon and sail into Roaring Water Bay.
Around two in the morning on Sunday 19 June 1631, the inhabitants of the town of Baltimore, West Cork, Ireland woke up screaming as their doors were splintered by iron bars and their thatched roofs set alight. As they ran into the streets they were confronted by Janissaries waving curved sabres and screaming like demons.
“A stifled gasp, a dreamy noise! ‘The roof is in a flame!’
From out their beds and to their doors rush maid and sire and dame,
And meet upon the threshold stone the gleaming sabre’s fall,
And o’er each black and bearded face the white or crimson shawl.
The yell of “Allah!” breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar:
O blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore!”
230 musketeers divided themselves into 26 attack squads – one for each homestead. Timothy Curlew put up a brave resistance and was hacked to death, as was John Davis. However, the basic aim was to take as many alive as possible. Within a very short time 109 villagers, four-fifths of them women and children, 50 of them children, were being herded onto waiting boats. Two were released because they were too infirm to be profitable.
Why did this particular ship turn up at this particular time on the coast of County Cork? This European raid by Barbary pirates was not as unusual as one might have thought. Barbary pirates operated from the time of the crusades until the 19th century. They were based along the stretch of North Africa known as the Barbary Coast after the Berber inhabitants. The Ottoman Pashas were little more than figureheads in North Africa. Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli were independent bases for pirates in the business of capturing and trading in slaves. They carried out razzias or predatory raids throughout the Mediterranean and as far north as Iceland, capturing Christians to sell in the slave markets of Algeria and Morocco. From the 16th to the 19th century, it is estimated that as many as 1.25 million Christians were kidnapped.
It would not have been a pleasant cruise on the Algerian ship. The dark, dank warren would have been home to rats and cockroaches and everyone crawled with lice. Arrival in Algiers would have been a great shock to the systems of simple villagers who had never been outside their own parish. A contingent of established Christian slaves got entertainment from jeering at new arrivals. The captors did not recognise Europeans as full human beings and did not worry about breaking up families. They were put on sale in the Bedistan market.
A French priest, Father Pierre Dan reported how “they sold on the one hand the husbands, on the other the wives, ripping their daughters from their arms, leaving them no hope of ever seeing each other again.” Buyers would have been interested in three classes of females: virgin girls, skilled craft workers and the outstandingly beautiful, meaning of ample proportions and fair-skinned. An English slave, Joseph Pitts reported that buyers would stick their fingers in the women’s mouths, squeeze their bosoms and check their virginity ‘in a modest way’. They made them walk up and down to check ‘the bounciness of their breasts’.
Of the Baltimore women, Ellen Hawkins was worth about six horses and Joane Broadbrook about eight oxen. Joane Broadbrook would have been sold for the price today of a ten-year-old hatchback. The profits from the sale of the captives would have been shared out. Half of the proceeds would go to the investors in the kidnapping mission including the ship’s captain. The other half was divided up amongst the ship’s company. Each seaman would get three parts and each Janissary got half a seaman’s cut because they were already on salary. The captain got 40 parts bringing his total take to around $73,000 in today’s money.
The imperial harem would normally be a sedate place and there were periods when the royal palace was ruled by females. Unfortunately, the period when the Baltimore women arrived coincided with the reigns of the two most debauched sultans in history. Murad was only in his twenties but the entire nation feared his unpredictable rages. He executed a cook on the spot when he was dissatisfied with dinner. He sat on the sea shore randomly shooting his subjects as they passed by. He once, on a whim, ordered a whole boatload of women to be sunk. He died at the age of 28 when he had a seizure following a gargantuan drunken spree which coincided with a solar eclipse.
A skilled oarsman like Tom Paine, one of the Baltimore captives, would have been highly valued as a galley slave, but the value would not reduce the brutality with which he was treated. The life of a galley slave was described as being like ‘a species of hell’, chained three to an oar, constantly lashed and prodded. Their heads were shaved and they had nothing to cover them but a filthy cape. Their only lodging was to lie on a bare board and they had to subsist on bread soaked with a little wine.
Other slaves were put to work on state farms. Captain John Smith (of Virginia fame) was once a slave and described being ‘treated like a dog’ threshing corn. There are reports of men pulling ploughs like horses with metal bits in their teeth. Some worked in quarries pulling 40-ton rocks for two miles on sleds. Others worked in the blazing sun on construction sites.
There were methods of escaping from slavery. You could be ransomed by family or friends. You could save the pittances gleaned from working and buy yourself out. You could be ransomed through charity. Your release could be negotiated by treaty by your home government. Your patron might release you, usually because you had converted to Islam. You might try to escape.
Fifteen years after the raid on Baltimore, in September 1646, an English ship, the Charles, appeared in the bay of Algiers. On board was Edward Cason an envoy dispatched by Parliament to negotiate the release of hundreds of English and Irish slaves. Cason compiled a register and calculated that there were 650 in Algiers and another 100 in the Turkish fleet at Crete. There was an acceptance that he could not recover those who had converted to Islam ‘through beating and hard usage’, those children being raised in local households and those who had converted and been spirited away to other ports in the east. The patrons drove a hard bargain, citing the increase in value of some of the slaves who had been taught crafts and skills. Cason reckoned that he only had funds to ransom 250 slaves. In the end 264 were ‘redeemed and sent home’.
There were captives from all over the British Isles but only two from Baltimore – Joane Broadbrook and Ellen Hawkins. What had happened to the other 105? The average post-infancy life expectancy in the 17th century was about 60 and Algiers at that time was one of the world’s more healthy locations. In London bedpans were tipped into the street. In Algiers, there was piped sewage and clean running water. The streets were kept clean by an army of workers.
One of the authorities on this subject, John de Courcy Ireland, said that few showed any enthusiasm for returning. There may have been elements of the Stockholm syndrome. Slavery might have been an improvement on the drudgery they had been snatched from in the fish factory back home. Many may have been successfully integrated into Algiers society. Life may have been more pleasant and social mobility more possible in this ancient sunny town than in rainy, windy West Cork.
A greedy and corrupt English navy had failed to protect them and failed to pursue the pirates. Some may have felt betrayed and abandoned and resistant to returning to their former home. Looking back to the circumstances of the raid, the details become even more bizarre.
My friend, Richard Boyle, is editor of Travel Sri Lanka, author of the books Knox’s Words and Sinbad in Serendib and a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary. His namesake was Joint Administrator of Ireland and Great Earl of Cork in 1631 and he owned great chunks of the county (stolen from the natives of course) including Midleton where I lived before coming to live in Sri Lanka. His son, Robert Boyle, was a noted scientist, author of Boyle’s Law and The Sceptical Chymist. The Earl was a prime target himself and had previously narrowly avoided capture by pirates. After this, he had placed spies among them and knew that the price on his head was around 390,000 GBP. He received a tip-off that there was going to be a raid but did not know where and could not persuade the government to take precautions.
Boyle had many enemies and did not want to dig too deeply lest his own financial shenanigans would be exposed. John Hackett (see below for his part in the episode) was chosen as a scapegoat and was dragged across country behind a galloping horse and hanged on a high cliff.
Boyle could have done more to effect the release of the Baltimore slaves. The amount he spent on a single present for his daughter could have paid the ransom for all the Baltimore women.
Other aspects are surprising: the pirate captain was not a Berber; the captives were not Irish. A list of the names of the 107 Baltimore residents who were taken to Algiers is in the archives. A strange coincidence that one of them was called Tom Paine. They were all descended from English Protestants who settled in Ireland after leaving Devon and Cornwall.
The captain of the pirate ship was known as Murat Reis the Younger but he was born in Haarlem in the Netherlands and was formerly called Jan Janszoon. Janszoon married a Moorish woman of African Berber origin, by whom he fathered several children.
The captives were of English Protestant origin but they were not aggressive usurpers like the Presbyterians in Ulster. They were refugees who had fled to Ireland to escape the oppressive rule of Elizabeth I. Their leader was Thomas Crooke who found the Irish Anglican hierarchy more sympathetic than the established church in England. In 1624 he was knighted. At the time of the raid their settlement had been established for 30 years and their children had known no other home than Baltimore.
They had paid a substantial rental to lease the land from a local chieftain, Fineen O’Driscoll. Why did these particular ships turn up at this particular time on the coast of County Cork? They were piloted by John Hackett from Dungarvan in Waterford whose 12-ton fishing boat had been captured by the corsairs at the Old Head of Kinsale. It may be that Hackett helped them willingly in order to guide them away from his home town.
There was considerable tension between Catholics and Protestants in the area at the time. Hackett, a Catholic, guided the fighting forces of Islam towards the Protestant English community at Baltimore. They anchored at the entrance to the Eastern Hole, concealed by a rocky outcrop out of view of the main port at the seaward base of a narrow triangular inlet bounded by treacherous rocks and cliffs. Murat carried out a full reconnaissance before the full attack. He went in a small boat with deadened oars accompanied by ten musketeers.
The small boat was piloted by one Captain Fawlett, who seemed to have had an intimate knowledge of the village, including the occupancy of individual houses. Fawlett was from Dartmouth in Devon and had been captured by the corsairs in the St George’s Channel, 60 miles from Cornwall. He became an active supporter of the Barbary slavers volunteering his detailed knowledge of the ports of southern Ireland.
It is unlikely that he had been coerced because he was released after the raid. Was his encounter with the corsairs pre-arranged? The settlers were being harassed by a lawyer called Walter Coppinger who wanted to expel the settlers and take over the port of Baltimore for himself. As well as being a shyster lawyer and a money lender Coppinger seems like a character from a Hammer horror movie. Legend has it that he started his career as page boy to Sir Walter Raleigh on Raleigh’s estate at Youghal (stolen from the Irish people). He made a fortune through cheating and intimidation. It was said that he had a yard arm fixed to the gable of his house ‘a gallows wherewith to hang the victims of his unlicensed power.’
Coppinger gave his fourteen-year old niece, Jeanette, in marriage to the wealthy Walter Grant, who was almost eighty. Grant soon died and Coppinger managed the estate, putting his name on all the documents leaving Jeanette penniless. She knew she could not get justice in Cork because uncle was well known for knobbling juries, so she took her case to Dublin. The furious Coppinger punched her in the mouth and knocked out all her teeth and got her sent to gaol for four years. One of his clients, Ellen ni Driscoll, discovered that he had tampered with her deeds and put her estate in his own name. Heavily pregnant, she begged for funds from him. ‘He did batter her in a most cruel manner and threw her over a cliff into the sea’. She survived but lost the baby.
After years of intense wrangling through the courts plus harassment and intimidation, Coppinger secured ownership of Baltimore, confirmed by Chancery and upheld by the Lords Justices. However, the courts had decreed that the settlers had invested too much in the settlement at Baltimore to be evicted even after the lease expired in 1631. Coppinger had won his long battle but his victory was tainted by the fact that he was stuck with recalcitrant sitting tenants.
Coppinger was the only man in Ireland to benefit from the pirate raid. He was rich enough and vicious enough to pay any price to settle a grudge. He had a history of hiring musclemen to do his bidding. It would not be beyond him to hire Mussulmen.
Murat had offered to renounce his Muslim faith and serve King Charles but he had been rebuffed. He hated the English. Baltimore had been a haven for pirates but the English settlers had frozen them out. He had two heavily armed warships and 280 elite fighting troops, which suggests he was on a serious mission. He tootled around the English coast for a long time attacking small merchantmen and fishing boats before sailing 50 miles west to attack a small village that depended on pilchards.
On June 20 1610, an agreement was signed to hand over Baltimore to Coppinger in 21 years’ time. Twenty-one years to the day from the date that agreement was signed, Murat’s corsairs arrived and removed the English settlers from Baltimore. Was Murat on a contract with Coppinger to cleanse Baltimore of the English Protestant settlers? Bad Karma got Coppinger soon enough though – the vast pilchard shoals which made Baltimore profitable suddenly stopped coming and in 1636 Coppinger leased out the village.
There is another implication arising from the story. Historian WJ Kingston has suggested that the raid may have been a major factor in the execution of Charles I. The Ship Money tax was normally imposed on coastal towns in order to equip warships. Charles, fearing a repetition of the corsair raid, extended the tax to inland communities in order to strengthen the navy. He did this without the consent of Parliament which produced such opposition that civil war and regicide followed. From then on no autocrat in Europe was safe.
What’s Bogart got to do with it?
Murat Reis aka Janszoon fathered several children by his Berber wife. Two of them, Abraham Jansz (a common Burgher name in Sri Lanka) and Anthony Jansen van Salee, took up the family trade of piracy. They were among the early settlers of New Amsterdam, settling in what is now Coney Island and Brooklyn. Among van Salee’s descendants were Humphrey Bogart, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jackie Kennedy, John Hammond (producer of Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan) and John Hammond Jr (blues singer).
Most of the information in this article came from a wonderful book by an Irish journalist called Des Ekin called ‘The Stolen Village’, published by the O’Brien Press, Dublin http://www.o’brien.ie. There is even more fascinating material in the book, available from Amazon.