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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425


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A Trio of Pirates
By Cindy Vallar

Murat Rais
Through guile and daring, Murat Rais became one of the most feared of the Barbary corsairs.  From his base of operations on the North African coast, he attacked Spanish and Italian ships and raided Christian settlements along the Mediterranean.  His journey into piracy began as a young boy when Kari Ali Rais captured him in 1546.  He joined the corsairs, adopting the Muslim name Murat (rais means captain).  Although he wrecked his first ship, he didnít return empty-handed.  He and his crew appropriated a passing vessel and used it to seize three more.  His victims often miscalculated his strength because his smaller galiots lowered their masts and concealed themselves behind larger galleys.  In 1578 he captured the Spanish viceroy, incurring Philip IIís wrath and shocking the Christian world.  Two years later the papal flagship fell into Muratís hands. In 1581 he snared more than a million ducats in gold and silver.  He was the first corsair to venture outside their traditional haunts when he sacked Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.  The Sultan of Algiers named Murat Captain of the Sea in 1574, but the emperor of the Ottoman Empire withheld his approval for twenty years.  In 1595 Murat captured three Sicilian warships and repulsed an attack by the Maltese corsairs whose galleys outnumbered his.  For the last thirty-one years of his life, he helped to crush piracy in the Aegean Sea while raiding Christian cities in the Adriatic.  His reign as the greatest corsair ended when he was killed in 1638 during the siege of VlorŽ.

Kanhoji Angria
When Kanhoji (also Conajee) Angria died in 1729, he left his sons an impregnable pirate kingdom on the western coast of the Indian Ocean.  He preyed on the British East India Company and with his sons terrorized their main port of Bombay for over thirty years.  His reign began in 1710 when he captured two islands near Bombay and fortified them to use as his base.  He was the first pirate who dared to extort money from Indian and British shipping.  In 1712 he seized the armed yacht of the East India Companyís governor and held it for a sizeable ransom.  Several years later he repelled the British at Gheriah and Deoghur using specially built gunships.  His success drew pirates from India and Europe and by the 1720ís his captains commanded hundreds of well-armed vessels.  By 1722 his repeated humiliations of the Company led to their cessation of attempts to destroy Kanhoji.  On his death, the majority of his power passed to his son, Sumbhaji Angria.  When he died in 1743, his half-brother Toolaji Angria took control, but within thirteen years Kanhojiís empire crumbled.  The British stormed the main fortress, imprisoned Toolaji, and shipped the treasure to Bombay.

Howell Davis
In 1718, Howell Davis was a mate aboard a slaver when captured by the Irish pirate Edward England off the West African coast.  The Welshman decided to join the pirates and after prowling the West Indies, he journeyed east across the Atlantic to Africa.  He was gifted with an innate ability to act and bluffed his way into capturing many a ship and ransoming at least one governor.  One of his favorite ploys was to pretend he was a respectable pirate hunter.  When Davis came across two French ships, he captured the first one then forced its crew to act like pirates by waving their swords while he hoisted the black flag from the main mast.  Thus tricked, the second ship surrendered without a fight.  Disguised as a gentleman, he garnered an invitation to dinner from a governor of the Royal African Company.  Afterward, Davis absconded with £2000 in gold.  Sometime later while he prowled the waters off the Gold Coast (Ghana), a fellow Welshman named Batholomew Roberts joined his crew.  After capturing a Dutch ship, Davis sailed into the harbor of Principe Island, seized a French ship on the grounds that it traded with pirates, and then convinced the Portuguese governor that he commanded an English man-of-war assigned to chase pirates.  The day before Davis was to embark, the governor Ė informed by another pirate that his kidnapping was imminent Ė staged an ambush in which the militia shot him five times and then slit his throat.  Led by Roberts, the pirates burned the fort and shelled the town in retaliation for their captainís death.


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© 2000 Cindy Vallar


 
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