Europe under Siege

The European renegados were influential in expanding the operating boundaries of the Barbary pirates and brought a great deal of open-ocean sailing experience to the corsair fleets. While the Barbary sea galley was the perfect vessel for close shoreline attacks and short forays into the Mediterranean, it was no match for the high winds and rough waters of the Atlantic. The Europeans taught Muslim crews how to handle heavy, square-rigged merchant ships, and how to outfit them for many months at sea.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of the novel Don Quixote, was captured at sea by Barbary pirates in 1575. Because he was thought to be a man of some importance, an exorbitantly high ransom was demanded for his freedom. After he spent five years in captivity, the Catholic Order of Trinitarians paid for his release and he was returned to his family in Madrid in 1580.

Although slavery along the north African coast is generally considered to be an ugly but undeniable historical fact, the enormous traffic in white slaves taken from the European continent is often overlooked. There are no clear records of the number of slaves who were captured or held by the corsairs, but educated estimates made between the years 1600 and 1800 put the number at over 100,000 — some as high as over a million.

Villages and port towns along the coasts of Portugal, Spain, France, and England were regularly raided by Barbary pirates for the express purpose of taking captives to be sold into slavery. Although many ships' passengers were held for ransom and released when the ransoms were paid, many thousands of Europeans were captured and sold into slavery, never to be heard from again. In many seafaring communities along the European coast, normal fishing activities were often brought to a complete halt by virtual blockades of Barbary pirate vessels lurking within sight of land, waiting to pounce on any vessel careless enough to sail within reach.

Murad Reis

One of the most notorious renegados to sail with the Barbary pirates was Jan Janszoon Van Haarlem (usually called Janszoon), who was born about 1575 in the town of Haarlem, near Amsterdam in Holland. Little is known of his early life, other than that he married a Dutch woman and had a child with her in 1596. About four years later, Janszoon became a seaman; and during his travels, he made his way to Cartagena, Spain, where it appears he converted to Islam and married a second wife with whom he had several children.

With De Veenboer's approval, Janszoon soon took command of an Algerian pirate ship, and became one of the most successful captains in the fleet. He assumed the Muslim name Murad Reis, and established his own small fleet of eighteen Barbary pirate ships. He then made the port of Salee in Morocco his base, from which he terrorized shipping in the Mediterranean Sea and along the Atlantic coast.

Janszoon sailed for many years as a privateer with letters of marque allowing him to attack and plunder Spanish merchant ships. Historians note, however, that Janszoon overstepped the boundaries of his letters of marque and sailed to the Barbary Coast, opportunistically attacking ships of all nations. When he attacked the Spanish, he flew the Dutch flag, and when he attacked merchant ships of other nations, he flew the Turkish flag. In 1618, his own ship was captured by Algerian Barbary pirates, and Janszoon was taken to Algeria. To his good fortune, he was recognized by the admiral of the Fleet of Algiers, who just happened to be fellow Dutchman and infamous renegado Suleyman Reis De Veenboer.

A Brave Bluff

Unlike De Veenboer, Janszoon continued to attack ships of all nations during the 1620s. One of the more ignoble tales regarding Jan Janszoon van Haarlem relates that his pirate crew began stalking a Dutch merchant vessel sailing off the coast of southern Spain with the intention of plundering her. When the Dutch ship suddenly ran up a red flag to signify that no quarter would be given and turned to sail directly toward the pursuing pirates, Janszoon feared that he'd been tricked by a heavily armed privateer and quickly fled for safety. The Dutch consulate in Algeria later revealed that the Dutch shipmaster was really a peaceful trader who'd simply pulled off a courageous bluff.

Janszoon's Villainous Voyages

Janszoon apparently made several journeys along the European coastline. On one occasion in about 1623, he sailed into the Dutch port of Veere to resupply his ships. The Dutch government at the time was under treaty with Morocco, and Janszoon flew the Moroccan flag to establish diplomatic immunity. While he was in port, the Dutch authorities brought Janszoon's Dutch wife to the docks in an effort to lure him into leaving his Barbary Coast ways and bring him back into the service of Holland, but their well-intentioned plans completely backfired. Janszoon remained unswayed, and several adventurous Dutchmen actually signed onboard his crew and sailed away with the pirate ship.

In 1631, Janszoon again sailed into Atlantic waters to the southern coast of Ireland. In a raid that still resounds in Irish history, over 100 men, women, and children of the small town of Baltimore were kidnapped and sold into slavery. None of the victims would ever return to Ireland, and the attack virtually destroyed the community. There is other evidence that Janszoon's pirates made raids as far as Iceland, seizing the cargoes of fishing vessels along with the fishermen. In one instance, Janszoon's fleet captured over 400 inhabitants from Iceland, all of whom were sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast.

Records of Jan Janszoon van Haarlem become scarce after the year 1641. One of his sons, Anthony, who grew up in Morocco, is well recorded to have married and traveled to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in America where he purchased large tracts of land in what is now Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island. It's thought that his infamous father provided Anthony with a sizable fortune, although the final fate of Janszoon and any wealth he retained is unknown.

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