Monday, 10 December 2018 11:57

The Fourth-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: John Bowen ($40 Million)

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The Fourth-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: John Bowen ($40 Million) The Fourth-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: John Bowen ($40 Million) Image from Wikipedia

Golden Age of Piracy: Top 10 Countdown

This is the seventh installment of a series focusing upon the ten most successful pirates (as determined by the estimated total value of their combined hauls) of the Golden Age of Piracy (generally considered to have ended with the killing of Barthlomew “Black Bart” Roberts in 1722).


# 4. John Bowen: $40 million 

John Bowen was not as famous as Black Bart, but he far surpassed Roberts in terms of plunder.  By the time of his death from an intestinal ailment in 1704, Bowen had amassed approximately 25 percent more booty ($40 million to Black Bart’s $32 million in today’s dollars) in about the same number of years (four) in the piracy business.

Of Creole heritage, Bowen was born in Bermuda but was living in the proprietary colony of Carolina when he signed up with an English ship as a petty officer.  While serving on this ship, he was taken captive by French pirates, but was able to make a dramatic escape in one of the pirates’ long boats. 

Sailing 45 miles to the shore of Madagascar, Bowen lived in St. Augustine for 18 months before deciding to become a pirate himself.  Sailing under the command of veteran pirate George Booth, Bowen was able to watch and learn the ways of piracy.

When Booth was killed by Arabs in Zanzibar, Bowen assumed command of their ship, a 450-ton former slave ship, the “Speaker,” armed with 50 guns.  Operating primarily in and around the trade routes of the Indian Ocean, Bowen proved to be a serious threat to the merchants of that part of the world.  Commandeering numerous ships and continuously “trading up,” Bowen operated no less than four different flagships (i.e., “Speaker”; “Content”; “Speedy Return”; and “Defiant”) in his four years of pirating. 

In early 1704, Bowen decided to retire in Madasgascar, but was soon afflicted by an intestinal virus (common to foreign sailors exposed to “new” diseases in the tropical climate of the Indian Ocean).  He died within six months.

John Bowen’s career is profiled by Captain Charles Johnson (commonly presumed to be a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe, author of the novel “Robinson Crusoe”) in “A General History of the Pyrates,” which is considered by many to be the primary reference for the activities of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Bowen can be cited as the fourth-most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Last modified on Monday, 10 December 2018 12:09