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Thomas Tew: From Wealthy Son to Pirate

Even today, many children of well-off families long for adventure and crave to step outside of the limitations of what is expected of them. Not all pirates started their life on the open seas or were forced into the line of work as a way to survive. This article takes a look at the life of Thomas Tew, who left behind a life of convenience to plunder ships for his own benefit.

Thomas Tew came from a wealthy family and lived in Newport, Rhode Island , a small state with a reputation for embracing pirates. Around 1690, he relocated to Bermuda, where he soon became a victorious privateer around the same time Britain fought with France. About one year later, members of the Amity venture elected Tew captain. He even received a letter of marque from the governor of Bermuda, Isaac Richier, to attack French ships and French slave stations situated along the West African coast. Upon his arrival, he would also receive help from the Royal African Company.

In case you’re wondering, a letter of marque is a formal document that the government issues to a citizen that gives him or her the permission to seize goods or people of other nations.

However, a turn of event would lead Tew astray his original mission. During a storm, he became separated from George Drew (his privateer partner) and decided to make his way toward the Cape of Good Hope. At this time, he successfully convinced the crew of 60 men to become pirates and away went the 70-ton Amity to find easy targets for plunder. Tew felt traveling further south would bring better riches than staying around French slave operations.

After a brief stop in Madagascar to load up on supplies, Tew and his crew ventured to the Red Sea, where they eventually captured a vessel belonging to the Great Moghul of India. More than 3,000 pounds of loot per men was divided when they reached the island of St. Mary’s , just off of Madagascar. This was considered an exceptional prize for the pirates. Tew decided to set course for Newport, which took him until the early part of 1694 to reach his destination. He had traveled nearly 22,000 miles to reach his home , a journey that took 15 months to accomplish.

Tew sailed what was called the ‘Pirate Round,’ which was quite popular amongst pirates during the late 17th century. The course began in the western Atlantic, leading around the southern tip of Africa, making a stop in Madagascar, and then moved on to the coast of Yemen and India. The Pirate Round placed sailors in direct contact with the routes of the East India Company ships, British vessels, and carriers of other nations , an easy way to plunder and take over those on route to trade goods.