On obtaining a privateering commission from the Governor of Bermuda, Thomas Tew, a former British officer, set sail in December 1691 to raid a French trading post in Guinea. However, once in African waters he decided that raiding a French ‘factory’ would not be very profitable and urged the crew on board his ship the ‘Amity’ to join him in a pirating adventure in the Red Sea. His men vowed ‘A gold chain or a wooden leg, we’ll stand by you.’
In the Red Sea he soon came upon a prize equal to that of 50 ordinary ones, a vessel belonging to the Great Mogul of India which was easily taken despite there being some 300 soldiers on board. None of the pirates lost their lives and each man got booty worth between £1,200 and £3,000. Tew’s share came to over £8,000.
Tew then sailed for Newport but obtained another privateer’s commission from the Governor of Rhode Island for a fee of £500 with which he set sail again, this time for Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and en route encountered the infamous Captain Mission.
This pirate and his men had made Madagascar their home, where Mission had diplomatically married a ‘comely young princess’ to cement relations with the natives and even founded a city which he named Libertaria. Captain Mission took a liking to Captain Tew and made him a citizen of his city. Tew helped to fortify the city and joined Mission in raids upon ships of the Indian Mogul. Captain Tew was made Admiral of the Fleet and also married a native woman.
Almost invulnerable to attacks from the sea, they once turned away five Portuguese pirate ships, but Mission had failed to defend the city against attacks from land. They never expected the Madagascar natives to become enemies but one night they attacked the city, slaughtering many. Tew and Mission were lucky to escape with the ‘Amity’ and another sloop.
At sea, Tew ran into some of his old pirate friends and reverted to his old drunken ways, losing the Libertarian ship the ‘Victoire’ in a storm from which he was rescued by Captain Mission. Admiral Tew managed to persuade his friend to return to America with him where they could ‘live like gentlemen’ but Mission’s ship went down in a storm and he never reached his destination .
Admiral Tew did attain his goal and, on reaching Rhode Island, distributed £1,000 to each of his crew and kept £12,000 for himself. For more than a year he lived well but the lure of pirate booty was too great and in 1695, under a privateer’s commission, this time given by the Governor of New York, he joined a fleet of pirate ships commanded by Henry Every but was killed in action before he could take an ounce of treasure.
Of Admiral Tew, Daniel Defoe wrote, ’in the engagement, a shot carried away the rim of Tew’s belly, who held his bowels in his hands but when he eventually fell his crew were terror stricken and gave themselves up without any more resistance.’
by Terry Took © 2015
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.