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The Fort of Jewels by Nigel Roth



First, I'd like to introduce you to Reis Mourad the Younger.


Mourad, whose real name was Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, was a Dutch pirate, one of the dreaded Barbary corsairs.


He’d converted to Islam, after being caught by one of the Moorish states, probably as a way to escape a fate worse than religious conversion, and ‘turned Turk’ as the original saying goes, before sailing the high seas with the other Salé Rovers.


As well as sailing between innocent ship and outlaw bay, and causing mayhem on the way, Mourad helped found the Republic of Salé, a city state within present day Morocco, where he and a group of Moriscos, Muslim people and their descendants whom the Roman Catholic church demanded convert to Christianity, before giving up on that plan and expelling them completely, lived, loved, and traded in slaves.


Next, I’d like you to meet the gentle people of Baltimore.


Baltimore, or Dún na Séad, meaning ‘fort of the jewels’, was a small village in County Cork, in the southernmost parish in Ireland. The real name of Baltimore was Baile an Tí Mhóir, which has nothing to do with jewels, and means the ‘town of the big house’. The big house, in this case, was the O'Driscoll castle, named Dún na Séad, hence the jewel connection.


These two entities - Mourad and Baltimore - came together in 1631, with terrible consequences.


The inhabitants, consisting mainly of immigrant English fisherfolk leasing land from Sir Fineen O'Driscoll, didn’t see the fleet of ships approaching through the morning fog, and so went about their fishy business unaware of the doom that lay ahead.


It was unfortunate for Baltimore that one of the ships heading their way was being captained by Irish pirate John Hackett, who’d won his freedom by promising to steer the piratic horde into the comparatively quiet region of and safe waters off Baltimore.


What happened when they landed we’ll come to in a second.


Pirates, a term that encompasses despots like Mourad, as well as privateers like Captain William Kidd, who were employed by governments to capture enemy ships, until the enemies became friends, and the privateer became a pirate while he was unknowingly peeling his mangoes.


They were an odd combination of barbaric tyrants and sensible inventors.


For example, many wore a patch over one eye, even though they had two perfectly good working ones, because closing one helped them navigate more quickly between the bright deck and the darkness below.


If they lost a leg or an arm in a fight there was a workers compensation plan that offered a fair amount of money for the missing limb, and, if the pirate then decided to retire from service altogether, a retirement plan would see him carried safely to a more congenial and less chaotic life along the coast of the Americas.


Far from being out-of-touch on the high seas, pirates managed a very sensible mail system, shared by all, and which kept them in frequent contact with family and friends, sons, daughters, and the bowling club, as they plowed the waves and plundered the wavers.


They were also equal opportunity employers.


Buccaneer’s like Jeanne de Clisson and Mary Read, and Ireland's own Grace O'Malley and Anne Bonny, and the American pirate, Rachel Wall, who was hanged at twenty-nine for her chosen life and its associated crimes, were equal among their peers.


The Chinese commander Madame Ching Shih, led the Red Flag Fleet of over three-hundred ships with around forty-thousand hands, before using her vast treasure chest to open a gambling house, and live in landed peace until she was almost seventy.


Many pirates were also patrons of the arts.