Tuesday, 11 December 2018 16:45

The Third-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: Thomas Tew ($103 Million)

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The Third-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: Thomas Tew ($103 Million) The Third-Most Successful Pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy: Thomas Tew ($103 Million) Image from Wikipedia

Golden Age of Piracy: Top 10 Countdown

This is the eighth 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).

# 3. Thomas Tew: $103 million

The difference in the pilfered riches of the top three pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy and all of the others is sufficient to consider these three to be in a class of their own. The third-most successful of these, Thomas Tew, accumulated an amount of treasure ($103 million) roughly two and a half times that of the fourth-place pirate, John Bowen ($40 million).  Further, Tew was also much more efficient than most, having pilfered the major portion of his bounty in only a single capture.

The early life of Thomas Tew (1649-1695) is understandably less than clear.  It is known that he lived for awhile in what is now Newport, Rhode Island (and thus acquired the moniker of the “Rhode Island Pirate”), but his place of birth is unknown.  Some documents indicate that he was actually born in Maidford, Northamptonshire, England before later emigrating to New England.

In adulthood, Tew was thought to have had a wife and two daughters in New England.  He was documented to have spent substantial time in Madagascar (where he possibly founded a pirate sanctuary) before moving to Bermuda in 1691.

As was true with most pirates, Tew was initially a privateer before turning to (continuing?) the lifestyle of commandeering “enemy” vessels and their cargo.  The difference, of course, is that a privateer was sworn to deliver all captured valuables back to his government of affiliation and await due payment for his efforts.  A pirate, though, adhered to no such obligation and simply kept it all for himself and his crew.

Regardless of his exact place of origin and/or residences, Tew impressively and efficiently made a name for himself in the lore of piracy. Although he didn/t embark on the life of a pirate until he was approximately 43, Tew was able to make one huge “hit” that greatly surpassed any other in the annals of piracy of that era.

Tew is known to have profited greatly from this one particular capture.  During a cruise that began legally – Tew had been granted a “letter of marque” from the governor of Bermuda – but did not end that way, Tew focused on taking the largest cargo ship that he could find, but he did not intend to share the wealth with the governor.  At sea aboard the borrowed sloop “Amity,” Tew announced his intention to turn to piracy, a decision that was supported by his crew.  Reaching the Red Sea, Tew overtook a huge Indian merchant ship that ultimately yielded tremendous riches in gold, silver, ivory, spices, gemstones, and silk. 

Tew’s second voyage was not as successful.  After a brief retirement to Newport in April of 1694, similar to Blackbeard fourteen years later, he was evidently not well-suited for the quite life.  Sailing for Madagascar in November, Tew encountered other pirates such as Henry Avery, Joseph Faro, Thomas Wake, William May, and Richard Want.  Deciding to combine their forces, the group set out in search of riches.

What they found was more than what they had anticipated, but not in a good way.  Attacking a 25-ship convoy, a huge battle ensued.  Tew was killed by a cannon shot and his crew soon surrendered. 

Interestingly, Captain William Kidd, himself to soon meet an untimely fate of questionable legitimacy after being accused of piracy, had been commissioned as a pirate hunter by King William III, and Thomas Tew was at the top of his list.  Unbeknownst to either the king or Kidd, Tew was already dead at the time.


Last modified on Tuesday, 11 December 2018 16:57