Thomas Tew

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Thomas Tew
Pyle pirate tales.jpg
Thomas Tew relates his exploits to Gov. Fletcher of New York by Howard Pyle
Born1649 (?)
DiedSeptember 1695
Piratical career
NicknameThe Rhode Island Pirate
TypePirate / Privateer
Years active1692–1695
Base of operations Newport, Rhode Island, New York City, and Indian Ocean
Wealthabout £8,000
Later worksee his reputed son Ratsimilaho

Thomas Tew (died September 1695), also known as the Rhode Island Pirate, was a 17th-century English privateer-turned pirate. He embarked on two major pirate voyages and met a bloody death on the second, and he pioneered the route which became known as the Pirate Round. Many other infamous pirates followed in his path, including Henry Every and William Kidd.

The Pirate Round was a sailing route followed by certain, mainly English, pirates, during the late 17th century and early 18th century. The course led from the western Atlantic, parallel to the Cape Route around the southern tip of Africa, stopping at Madagascar, then on to targets such as the coast of Yemen and India. The Pirate Round was briefly used again during the early 1720s. Pirates who followed the route are sometimes referred to as Roundsmen. The Pirate Round was largely co-extensive with the routes of the East India Company ships, of Britain and other nations.

Henry Every English captain and pirate

Henry Every, also known as Henry Avery, sometimes erroneously given as Jack Avery or John Avery, was an English pirate who operated in the Atlantic and Indian oceans in the mid-1690s. He probably used several aliases throughout his career, including Benjamin Bridgeman, and was known as Long Ben to his crewmen and associates.

William Kidd Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean

William Kidd, also known as Captain William Kidd or simply Captain Kidd, was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Some modern historians, for example Sir Cornelius Neale Dalton, deem his piratical reputation unjust.


Life and career

It is frequently written that Tew had family in Rhode Island dating back to 1640, [1] but it is not known where he was born. He may have been born in New England; another hypothesis suggests that he was born in Maidford, Northamptonshire, England before emigrating to the American colonies as a child with his family, although there is only a little circumstantial evidence for this. [2] He lived at one time in Newport, Rhode Island. He is reported as being married with two daughters. According to one source, his wife and children all greatly enjoyed the New York City social scene after Tew became rich, [3] but there is no supporting evidence for this.

Rhode Island State in the United States

Rhode Island, officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area, the seventh least populous, and the second most densely populated. Rhode Island is bordered by Connecticut to the west, Massachusetts to the north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south via Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound. It also shares a small maritime border with New York. Providence is the state capital and most populous city in Rhode Island.

Maidford village in United Kingdom

Maidford is a civil and ecclesiastical parish in South Northamptonshire and the diocese of Peterborough situated about 6 miles (9.7 km) north-west of Towcester. The population is 179, falling to 168 at the 2011 census. It was a centre of local Northamptonshire lace-making until the early 20th century.

Northamptonshire County of England

Northamptonshire, archaically known as the County of Northampton, is a county in the East Midlands of England. In 2015 it had a population of 723,000. The county is administered by Northamptonshire County Council and by seven non-metropolitan district councils. It is known as "The Rose of the Shires".

In 1691, Tew moved to Bermuda. [4] There is evidence that he was already reputed as a pirate at that time, but no modern historian has determined whether or not this reputation was earned. He may simply have engaged in privateering against French and Spanish ships. [5] He was in close relations with fellow pirate Captain Richard Want who was his closest ally. Want became Tew's first mate on his first pirate cruise, [6] and sailed his own ship Dolphin alongside Tew's Amity on the second.

Richard Want was a pirate active in the Indian Ocean. He is best known for sailing alongside Thomas Tew and Henry Every.

First pirate cruise

In 1692, Thomas Tew obtained a letter of marque from the Governor of Bermuda. Various Bermudian backers provided him with the 70-ton sloop Amity, armed with eight guns and crewed by 46 officers and men. He and another captain obtained a privateer's commission from the lieutenant governor of Bermuda to destroy a French factory off the coast of West Africa. [7] Tew set sail in December, ostensibly to serve as a privateer against French holdings in The Gambia. [8] He set out alongside buccaneer, privateer, and pirate George Dew aboard the sloop Amy; shortly out of port, they were separated in a storm. Dew's dismasted ship limped alone to Saldanha Bay in South Africa, where he was arrested by the Dutch. [9] Not long out of Bermuda, Tew announced his intention of turning to piracy, asking the crew for their support since he could not enforce the illegal scheme without their consent. Tew's crew reportedly answered with the shout, "A gold chain or a wooden leg, we'll stand with you!" [10] The pirates proceeded to elect a quartermaster, a common pirate practice to balance the captain's power. [11]

Letter of marque governmental authorization of privateering

A letter of marque and reprisal was a government license in the Age of Sail that authorized a private person, known as a privateer or corsair, to attack and capture vessels of a nation at war with the issuer. Once captured, the privateer could then bring the case of that prize before their own admiralty court for condemnation and transfer of ownership to the privateer. A letter of marque and reprisal would include permission to cross an international border to conduct a reprisal and was authorized by an issuing jurisdiction to conduct reprisal operations outside its borders.

Sloop sail boat with a single mast and a fore-and-aft rig

A sloop is a sailing boat with a single mast typically meaning one headsail in front of the mast, and one mainsail aft of (behind) the mast. This is called a fore-and-aft rig, and can be rigged as a Bermuda rig with triangular sails fore and aft, or as a gaff-rig with triangular foresails and a gaff rigged mainsail. Sailboats can be classified according to type of rig, and so a sailboat may be a sloop, catboat, cutter, ketch, yawl, or schooner. A sloop usually has only one headsail, although an exception is the Friendship sloop, which is usually gaff-rigged with a bowsprit and multiple headsails. If the vessel has two or more headsails, the term cutter may be used, especially if the mast is stepped further towards the back of the boat.

The Gambia Country in West Africa

The Gambia, officially the Republic of The Gambia, is a country in West Africa that is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal with the exception of its western coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. It is the smallest country within mainland Africa.

Tew reached the Red Sea and ran down a large Ghanjah dhow en route from India to the Ottoman Empire late in 1693. The dhow surrendered without serious resistance, inflicting no casualties on the assailants. Tew's pirates helped themselves to the ship's treasure, worth £100,000 in gold and silver alone, not counting the value of the ivory, spices, gemstones, and silk taken. Tew's 45 men afterward shared out between £1,200 and £3,000 per man, and Tew himself claimed about £8,000. [12] Tew urged his crew to hunt down and rob the other ships in the Indian convoy, but he yielded to the opposition of the quartermaster. He set course back to the Cape of Good Hope, stopping [13] at Adam Baldridge's pirate settlement at St. Mary's on Madagascar to careen. [14]

Red Sea Arm of the Indian Ocean between Arabia and Africa

The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez. The Red Sea is a Global 200 ecoregion. The sea is underlain by the Red Sea Rift which is part of the Great Rift Valley.


A ghanjah or ganja, also known as kotiya in India, is a large wooden trading dhow, a traditional Indian subcontinental sailing vessel, modernized and made utilitarian during the reign of the Chola Dynasty.

Dhow type of sailing vessel from the Indian Ocean

Dhow is the generic name of a number of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with settee or sometimes lateen sails, used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean region. Historians are divided as to whether the dhow was invented by Arabs or Indians. Typically sporting long thin hulls, dhows are trading vessels primarily used to carry heavy items, such as fruit, fresh water, or other heavy merchandise, along the coasts of Eastern Arabia, East Africa, Yemen and coastal South Asia. Larger dhows have crews of approximately thirty, smaller ones typically around twelve.

Tew reached Newport in April 1694. Benjamin Fletcher, royal governor of Province of New York, became good friends with him and his family.

Benjamin Fletcher was colonial governor of New York from 1692 to 1697. Fletcher was known for the Ministry Act of 1693, which secured the place of Anglicans as the official religion in New York. He also built the first Trinity Church in 1698.

Province of New York English, from 1707, British, possession in North America between 1664 and 1776

The Province of New York (1664–1776) was a British proprietary colony and later royal colony on the northeast coast of North America. As one of the Thirteen Colonies, New York achieved independence and worked with the others to found the United States.

Captain Tew, A Calm, Rich Christian, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835034 Captain Tew, A Calm, Rich Christian, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835034.jpg
Captain Tew, A Calm, Rich Christian, from the Pirates of the Spanish Main series (N19) for Allen & Ginter Cigarettes MET DP835034

Second pirate cruise

In November 1694, Tew bought a new letter of marque from Fletcher and set out for another pirate cruise. His crew numbered 30 to 40 men at departure this time. [15] John Ireland served as navigator on Tew's Amity during their second cruise, although he claimed after his own capture that both he and Tew had been forced to serve by the sloop's mutinous crew. According to his deposition, [16] the crew threatened the pair during what would have been a trip from New York to Boston to prepare for privateering against the French. However, by the time that he reached Madagascar, Tew apparently increased his force to 50 or 60 men. [17]

They arrived at the Mandab Strait at the mouth of the Red Sea in August 1695, where Tew found several other pirates hoping to duplicate his prior success, including Henry Avery in the powerfully armed warship Fancy, fellow Rhode Island pirate captains Joseph Faro and Thomas Wake, William May, and Richard Want. Tew and the other pirate captains decided to sail in concert.

In September 1695, a 25-ship Mughal convoy approached the Mandab Strait, slipping past the pirates during the night. Tew and his fellow pirates pursued. The Amity attacked one of the Mughal ships, believed to be the Fateh Muhammed. Tew was killed in this battle, reportedly disemboweled by a cannon shot. Demoralized, his crew surrendered immediately, though they were freed later when Avery's Fancy captured the Fateh Muhammed. [18] The Amity returned to Baldridge's settlement under John Ireland's command to refit; [13] they later swapped the Amity for Richard Glover's Charming Mary and plundered ships in the Indian Ocean under captain Richard Bobbington. [13]


Tew's burial site is unknown, but he is said to be the father of Ratsimilaho, a man who created a kingdom on the east coast of Madagascar. [19] In addition, it has been claimed that Tew was one of the founders of the mysterious (and some believe fictional) pirate colony of Libertatia. [20] King William III commissioned Captain William Kidd to hunt down several pirates, Thomas Tew and John Ireland among them, [21] but Tew was already dead by the time Kidd set sail. [22]

Jolly Roger Flag

Traditional flag of Thomas Tew Pirate Flag of Thomas Tew.svg
Traditional flag of Thomas Tew

Tew's personal standard is often depicted as a flag with a white arm holding a short sword on a black field. Buccaneer Edmund Cooke used a similar design, except on a red-and-yellow striped field instead of black.


  1. Thomas Tew
  2. Pirate Thomas Tew
  3. Douglas Botting, The Pirates, Time-Life Books, 1978, p. 67.
  4. Merchant, 25.
  5. Christine L. Putnam, "Of Captain Thomas Tew"
  6. "Thomas Tew". Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  7. Merchant, 26.
  8. Botting, p. 67-69.
  9. Marley, David (2010). Pirates of the Americas. Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN   9781598842012 . Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  10. Johnson, p. 86.
  11. Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates London: Printed for, and sold by, T. Woodward, 1728, p. 86.
  12. Johnson, p. 86-87; Thomas Tew
  13. 1 2 3 Jameson, John Franklin (1923). Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period: Illustrative Documents. New York: Macmillan.
  14. Johnson, p. 87.
  15. Thomas Tew (website by Paul Orton)
  16. Fox, E. T. (2014). Pirates In Their Own Words. Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN   9781291945218.
  17. Pirate ship list – Amity
  18. Botting, p. 82; Putnam ; Johnson, p. 108-09.
  19. Trillo, Richard (2015). The Rough Guide to Madagascar. London: Penguin. ISBN   9780241216446 . Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  20. Johnson, Charles (1724). The history of the pyrates: containing the lives of Captain Mission. Captain Bowen. Captain Kidd ... and their several crews. London: T. Woodward. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  21. English Letter of Marque Against Pirates, 1695 also reprinted in Merchant, 41-2.
  22. Douglas Botting, The Pirates, Time-Life Books, 1978, p. 106.

Related Research Articles

Libertatia geographical object

Libertatia was a purported anarchist colony founded in the late 17th century in Madagascar by pirates under the leadership of Captain James Misson.

Adam Baldridge was an English pirate and one of the early founders of the pirate settlements in Madagascar.

Dirk Chivers was a Dutch pirate active in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean during the 1690s.

John Halsey (privateer) Colonial American privateer and pirate

John Halsey was a British privateer and a later pirate who was active in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans during the early 18th century. Although much of his life and career is unknown, he is recorded in A General History of the Pyrates which states "He was brave in his Person, courteous to all his Prisoners, lived beloved, and died regretted by his own People. His Grave was made in a garden of watermelons, and fenced in with Palisades to prevent his being rooted up by wild Hogs."

See also: 1694 in piracy, other events of 1695, 1696 in piracy and the list of 'years of Piracy'.


The Ganj-i-Sawai was an armed Ghanjah dhow belonging to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb which, along with her escort Fateh Muhammed, was captured on 7 September 1695 by the English pirate Henry Every en route from present day Mocha, Yemen to Surat, India.

Thomas Wake was a pirate from Newport. Active during the Golden Age of Piracy, he is best known for sailing alongside Thomas Tew to join Henry Every in the Indian Ocean, hunting the Moghul treasure fleet.

John Ireland was a pirate active in the Indian Ocean. He is best known for sailing with Thomas Tew.

Robert Colley was an American pirate and privateer active near Newfoundland and the Indian Ocean.

Robert Glover was an Irish-American pirate active in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean area in the late 1690s.

Richard Glover was a pirate and slave-trader active in the Caribbean and the Red Sea in the late 1690s.

Richard Bobbington was a pirate active in the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf in the late 1690s.

Thomas Mostyn was a sea captain and slave trader active between New York and the Indian Ocean, and later in the Caribbean. He was one of the traders employed by New York merchant Frederick Philipse to smuggle supplies to the pirates of Madagascar.

William May was a pirate active in the Indian Ocean. He was best known for taking over William Kidd’s ship Blessed William and sailing with Henry Avery.

George Dew (1666–1703) was a pirate, privateer, and buccaneer. He once sailed alongside William Kidd and Thomas Tew, and his career took him from Newfoundland to the Caribbean to the coast of Africa.

Edward Woodman was a pirate active in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean.

Thomas Collins was a pirate active in the Indian Ocean. He is best known for leading a pirate settlement and trading post on Madagascar.