MURAD REIS AND THE SACK OF BALTIMORE
“We shall have a bon voyago.”
Much as we might like to meet a whole crew of Sallee Rovers, people with names, dates, biographies we could study, “cases” we could analyze in order to better understand the Renegado character and fate, sadly no such survey will be possible. If we know little about the converts of Algiers and Tunis, we know even less about those of Sale. I've wondered why this should be so, and can only suggest that Sale must have been considered (by European travellers and chroniclers at least) more a backwater than Algiers and Tunis, perhaps harder to get to, and perhaps even more of a dangerous hell-hole. Even good Pere Dan, who gives us a brief chapter on Sale, apparently never visited the place but described it on the basis of hearsay; and the few first-hand accounts are uninformative. In any case writers about Sale- i.e., literate Europeans-had little curiosity about the Renegadoes, whom they despised and feared, and represented in the most sensationalistic manner possible. Meanwhile, those who could tell us something interesting-the converts themselves-were not writers All categories in which we might discuss the corsairs have been predetermined by outside hostility and propaganda. This is the fate of the revisionist historian attempting to investigate the culture-or the politics of resistance-of a long vanished non-literate community. Recently, of course, the revisionists themselves have developed (or resurrected) some categories of their own. Marxist or Marxizing historians of “social banditry” and millennialism, like Hobsbawm and Cohn, provide some useful methodology, while writers of a more libertarian-leftist slant (like Hill, Lemisch, Linebaugh, and Rediker) have actually created a whole new historiography of maritime radicalism. But none of them has discussed the Renegadoes. As far as I know, no comparable school of thought has arisen amongst Moroecan or Algerian or Tunisian historians, who might have access to untapped documentary resources (assuming such exist); orientalists have ignored the issue, whether out of their own innate cultural conservatism or because no texts can be found; and so the field has been left to us amateur piratologists, faute de mieux.
Coindreau (1948: 80-84) has scraped together a brief list of Sallee Rovers from archives and unedited source material in European collections. Thus we have El hajj Ali probably a Moor, who, on October 14, 1624, off Cape Finistere, captured a Dutch ship under one Captain Euwout Henriexz, during a period when Sale was supposed to be at peace with Holland and therefore ceased to molest its shipping. Hajj Ali demanded that the captain declare himself to be French- and thus a legitimate prize-or else be thrown overboard.
Rais Chafer (Ja'far), an English renegade (mentioned in 1630), Hassan Ibrahim (probably native, 1636), and Maime Rais, a Dutch renegade (1636). This last, commanding a ship of 200 tons with 13 cannon, captured an English ship and was on his way back to Sale when he himself was taken.
Chaban Rais Portuguese renegade, in 1646 commanded an Algerian ship, The Crabbe (16 cannon and a crew of 175), stopped in Sale to take on stores and arms. At sea for three months, he'd seized nothing better than an English cargo of salt and one fishing boat in the Gulf of Gascony, when (on July 22) he was himself taken by the Dutch pirate Cornelis Verbeck.
Ahmed eI-Cortobi a Spanish renegade (or Morisco?) from Cordoba, was a “fat man.” On October 6, 1658, commanding the Saletine ship The Sull he met with a Dutch Qeet off Cape Finistere. Again Holland and Sale were supposed to be at peace, and Ahmed Rais decided to pay a friendly visit to the flagship. After returning to his own ship, he watched in horror as one of the Dutch vessels, The Prophet Daniel of Lubeck under Captain Pieter Noel, suddenly attacked him. Several corsairs were killed, and the rest-including Ahmed-taken prisoner. The Dutchman then looted The Sun, set fire to her, and sank her. This singular event caused a great diplomatic scandal to erupt. Sale demanded recompense, and the Dutch (anxious to preserve the peace) took the affair quite seriously. In January 1659 the Admiralty fined the captain of The Prophet Daniel 9,500 florins, and handed over to Sale a vessel equal in tonnage and armament to the sunken Sun, while The Prophet Daniel itself was awarded to Ahmed el-Cortobi.
[Coindreau, 1948: 187]
Ali Campos (Spain), Case Mareys (England), and Courtebey (the son of Ahmed al-Cortobi, who must have been as “short” as his father was “fat”-unless his name is simply a corruption of Cortobi) are a few more names to add to our list; and Venetia an Italian renegade, famous for his audacity and courage. This fairly exhausts the roster of Renegadoes from the Republican period of Rabat-Sale-with one major exception.
Murad Rais (a.k.a. Morat, John Barber, Captain John, Caid Morato), the most famous of all Sallee Rovers, was born as Jan Janz in Haarlem, Holland, day and year unknown.
- Jan Jansz began his career, as did most of the Dutch seafaring men who ultimately turned pirates, as a privateer of the States against the Spaniards during the War of Liberation. But this quasi-lawful type of warfare yielded more glory than profit, and Jansz presently trespassed on his commission and found his way to the Barbary coast. There he waged war on the ships of all Christian nations alike, those of Holland not excepted, save that when he attacked a Spaniard he flew the standard of the Prince of Orange as a tribute of sentiment to his origin. When occupied against any other nation's shipping he flew the red half-moon of the Turks.
[Gosse, 54 5][Coindreau identifies this flag as the 3 gold crescent moons on a red ground often flown by Ottoman privateers and corsairs, but It might also refer to the flag of Sale, showing a gold Man in the Moon on a red ground.]
Captured at Lanzarote in 1618 by Barbary Corsairs, Janz apostasized at Algiers-and although the conversion may have been forced, it seems to have taken root, for Murad never begged a pardon or gave the least sign of wishing to return to Christendom. He took up his trade under the leadership of the great Algerian corsair Sulayman Rais (who may also have been Dutch) who died however next year in 1619. Murad provides us with a perfect example of the links between Algiers and Sale, since he now began to move back and forth between them like a man with dual citizenship.
Gosse has this to say about Murad:
At first he sailed as mate to a famous corsair called Suleiman Reis, of Algiers, but after his chief's death in 1619 settled at Sallee. The port (“its name stunk in all Christendom”) was extremely well situated for the new form of piracy, being on the coast of the Atlantic, only fifty miles from Gibraltar, where the corsairs could lie in ambush for everything that passed through the Straits and dash out quickly to meet the East India and Guinea traders. The Sallee fleet was not large, about eighteen all told, and the individual vessels were small, since a bar in the harbour prevented ships of deep draught entering unless they were first unloaded. The port was nominally subject to the Emperor of Morocco, but shortly after Jansz's arrival the Sallentines declared themselves independent and established what was in effect a pirate republic, governed by fourteen of themselves, with a president who was also the Admiral. The Dutchman was the first to be elected, and to show his adopted countrymen how thoroughly he had become one of themselves he married a Moorish woman, though he had left a wife and family at Haarlem.
[Gosse, p. 55]
Other sources say that Murad was appointed Governor of Sale by the Moroccan Sultan Moulay Zaydan in 1624, but this misunderstanding probably arises from the fact that the Sultan, wishing to preserve at least the outward show of sovereignty, merely approved the fait accompli of Murad's election. We can assume that Murad was a man of charisma and genuine talent as a leader, and that he had the quality prized by pirates above all others-Itzck. We can assume that he was an enthusiast for the corsair republic, and perhaps its chief ideologue as well as its first elected Admiral. We might even go so far as to assume that a person of such obvious intelligence and courage may have attained a certain degree of political consciousness and revolutionary fervor.
Business prospered under Jansz's efficient administration and he was soon compelled to find an assistant, a post for which he selected a fellow countryman, Mathys van Bostel Oosterlinck. The Vice-Admiral celebrated his appointment by following his superior's example, turning Mohammedan and marrying a Spanish girl of fourteen, although he had a wife and small daughter in Amsterdam.
Jansz, what with prizes taken at sea and his perquisites as Admiral, which included all dues for anchorage, pilotage and other harbor revenues, as well as brokerage on stolen goods, soon became an enormously rich man. Nevertheless he occasionally found the routine of business irksome, the pirate in him asserted itself and he went off on a cruise. During one of these, in November 1622, when he was trying his luck in the English Channel, he ran out of provisions and was forced to put in at the port of Veere in Holland to replenish his stock. It seemed a risky undertaking, but the Admiral of Sallee was a subject of the Emperor of Morocco, who had lately made a treaty with the States of Holland; hence Jan could legally claim the privileges of the port, though the welcome he received was a cold one.
The first visitor to come on board was the Dutch Mrs. Jansz, accompanied by all the little Janszes. “His wife and all his children,” a contemporary writer records, “came on board to bid him leave the ship; the parents of the crew did the same but they could not succeed in bringing them to do this as they (the Dutch renegade crew) were too much bitten of the Spaniards and too much hankering after booty.” Not only did his crew remain, but it was swelled by recruits, despite a stern order by the magistrates that no one was to take service on the vessel. But times were hard in Holland as a result of nearly half a century of war with Spain; the youth of Veere were more tempted by the opportunity of collecting an easy livelihood while getting in a blow at their old enemy than afraid of magisterial displeasure. Jan left Veere with a great many more hands on board than when he entered it.
A few years later, in mid winter, Jansz called at Holland again, this time having barely escaped disaster. Off the coast he had met a big ship flying Dutch colors. Jan, momentarily forgetful of treaties, was “at once enamoured of the fine ship and tried to take her”-it was quite probable that after he had succeeded, the lawyers would again enable him to claim the advantage of the treaty. But the affair turned out quite differently: as he came alongside the vessel the Dutch flag was hauled down, the standard of Spain run up in its place and in a moment Spanish troops were swarming on to his deck. The pirates, outclassed, just managed to escape after a bitter fight, many of the crew being killed and wounded. They were glad to get safe into the harbour of Amsterdam. Jan applied to t he authorities for assistance for his sick and wounded but was flatly refused. The unfortunate corsair had meant to violate the treaty, had failed and been punished, and was now receiving further punishment by having its benefits denied him just as if he had succeeded. He was not even granted permission to bury his dead, so the corpses had to be pushed beneath the ice as the only means of disposing of them.
After several comparatively bad years in the Straits of Gibraltar, Jan decided to try his luck where no pirate, Barbary or other, had ever before ventured. In 1627 he engaged as pilot a Danish slave who claimed to have been to Iceland, and instructed him to lead the way to that remote island. Jansz's three ships contained, besides Moors, three English renegades.
The voyage was a daring feat of navigation for the time but the results were not commensurate with the risk. They plundered Reykjavik, the capital, but only obtained some salted fish and a few hides. To make up for their disappointment they caught and brought back four hundred- some say eight- Icelanders: men, women and children.
[Gosse, pp. 55-7]
By 1627 the political situation in Sale had grown a bit warm. The Hornacheros declared their own Republic in the Casbah that year, and al-Ayyashi was actively establishing himself in Old Sale. Murad's Admiralship, which had kept him from sea, may have ended awkwardly; in any case, after his return from Iceland he moved with his Moorish family back to Algiers, and at once resumed the active Corsair life. In 1631 he organized another great adventure, his sacking of the town of Baltimore, County Cork, Ireland.
The real and still unanswered question about the sack of Baltimore is not “how?” Although Murad's seamanship was obviously superb, he was by no means a pioneer in this case, as with Iceland. “Little John” Ward had visited Ireland several times and we can be sure he wasn't the only corsair to follow that route.
[In fact, as B. Quinn points out in his wonderful book Atlantean: Ireland's North African and Maritime Heritage, the raid on Baltimore may be viewed as the last episode of a history stretching back into Neolithic and even Megalithic times. It's interesting to note that the pre-Celtic tribes of Munster were called the Hibernii, assumed to be a branch of the Iberii from Spain; the syllable BER is only one reason (Quinn offers many more) to believe that both peoples were related to the Berbers of North Africa. This opens up a vast and unplowed field for research and speculation on Irish-Moroccan connections, which Quinn has only begun to cultivate. See also Ali and Ali (no date) for an "Afrocentric" treatment of the same theme.]
The real question about the sack of Baltimore is “why?” And for once in our studies, the mists of lost history seem to clear-just a bit-offering us some glimpses of possible motives.
In the first place, Southern and Western Ireland was at this time nearly as infested with pirates as the Barbary Coast. The famous woman pirate Grace O'Malley ruled her own little kingdom in Mayo during the time of Elizabeth, and in fact had paid that ruler a kind of state visit, queen-to-queen, in 1593. [Chambers, 1979. Elizabeth and Grace got on very well-kindred spirits, no doubt.] As for County Cork, we learn (from a rather rare book, Pirate Harbours and their Secrets by B. Fuller and R. Leslie-Melville):
Sir William Herbert, the Vice President of Munster, summed up the state of the province in 1589 in these words: “If piracies be there maintained, and every port and haven in those parts be made acceptable for them, we must give over our inhabitation there, since we shall pass neither our commodities or ourselves over the seas, but at their mercy. The province generally is made a receptacle of pirates. They are too much favoured in Kerry. Sir Edward Denny has received Gascon wine which was robbed from Frenchmen, and Lany Denny has received goods which were taken from 'Brittaines.' One Captain Maris, oi Youghal, a known negotiator in these kinds of affairs, is shortly to remove to Tawlaght, a castle of Sir Edward Denny's, near Tralee, there to exercise that trade.” Denny, later created Earl of Norwich, also had seats in Cornwall, and was therefore a neighbour to the Killigrews. He, in fact, did for the pirates in Ireland what the Killigrews and Sir John Perrot did for them in Cornwall and South Wales. When influential noblemen acted as “fences” piracy was certainly a paying game… As the Royal Navy was practically non-existent until the latter half of the century, when James II placed it on a sound basis, it was virtually impossible “to eye and awe the inhabitants from traffic with these caterpillars,” to use the picturesque words of Lord Danvers.
The extent to which the pirates held the upper hand may be judged from the fact that early in 1609 Danvers himself was blockaded in Cork by four sail of pirates carrying some three hundred men. The Lord-President could not raise even one ship strong enough to defy the marauders, and so in Cork he had to stay, while the unwelcome visitors sailed up and down the coast seeking sustenance. So as to prevent them re-victualling in Co. Kerry, the supplies of corn which were usually exported from Co. Cork were held up, but this seems to have annoyed the inhabitants far more than the pirates.
Later in the year an even greater force of pirates, numbering eleven ships and 1,000 men, assembled off the coast. [This was Captain Ward and his fleet from Tunis.] Sir Richard Moryson, then the Elce-President of Munster, was powerless to take action against them, and had to fall back on the old and obviously unsatisfactory method of pardoning them. “The continual repair of the pirates to the western coast of the province,” he told Lord Salisbury, “in consequence of the remoteness of the place, the wildness of the people, and their own strength and wealth, both to command and entice relief, is very difficult for us to prevent or remedy.”
Such was the position of affairs when Berehaven first attracted the angry attention of the English Government. This was in the days of Donnell O'Sullivan Beare. As a haven the spot was and still is ideal. In proof of this it is necessary to say no more than that it is one of the naval bases retained by Great Britain under the Treaty of 1921. It is really a haven within a haven, for it lies far into Bantry Bay, which itself is famous as one of the world's finest natural harbours as well as a very beautiful one.
Even in the middle of the eighteenth century it could be said that Bantry Bay was large enough to hold all the shipping in Europe, and the statement was by no means absurd, for the Bay is about twenty-one miles long and averages three miles in width. Moreover, it is deep. Berehaven is formed by Bere Island, a humpbacked strip of land about seven miles long and one-and-a-half wide, which lies off the northern shore of Bantry Bay. Seen from the head of the Bay, that is to say from its eastern end, the island bears a striking resemblance to a basking crocodile. Lying as it does roughly parallel to the mainland, and almost joining it at its seaward end, the island affords shipping a perfect haven of refuge when Bantry Bay itself is lashed into fury.
Donnell O'Sullivan's chief stronghold was Dunboy Castle, on the mainland and commanding the narrow seaward entrance to the haven. He was a wild sea-rover, bold in the knowledge of the strength of his lair and in the backing of the powerful O'Sullivan clan to which the district belonged. Even to-day at least seventy-five percent of the inhabitants of Castletown Bere, the remote little town on the mainland opposite the island, are O'Sullivans. Here came pirates great and small, and a merry trade they ran, for Berehaven had a rival for their favours, the neighbouring harbour of Baltimore known also by the picturesque name of Dunashad, or the Fort of the Jewels. Dunashad Haven is a sheltered bay “where infinite number of ships may ride, having small tides, deep water, and a good place to careen ships,” to quote Sir Thomas Stafford.
The haven is formed by Sherkin Island, which acts as a natural breakwater. Further out to sea is Clear Island, the nearest land to the Fasnet Rock Lighthouse, whose powerful beam has cheered many a transatlantic traveller. This well-sheltered lair and the surrounding district, then the largest barony in Ireland, was run by the O'Driscolls who, perhaps, deserve to be remembered as the most notable clan of Irish sea-rovers. Rich pickings were to be had from the pirates who came running before favourable winds with prizes snatched from the hands of the hated English. And so it is to be supposed that little affection existed between the O'Sullivans and the O'Driscolls. It cannot be doubted that the pirates were well aware of this fact and made excellent capital from their knowledge.
Thus Berehaven and Baltimore were not pirate lairs in the sense that they were owned by self-confessed sea-robbers who used them as an essential base for their operations. They were useful stations into which any pirate could sail to secure a long price for his cargoes or retreat for protection if hard pressed. At the same time, there is no doubt that the owners of both harbours did a certain amount of pirating on their own accounts and that they were not foolishly particular in the matter of infringing each other's interests, or the interests of any other Irishmen. There was, for instance, the occasion when Sir Fineen O'Driscoll-Sir Fineen of the Ships, as he was known- burnt his fingers badly over a cargo of rich wine.
One stormy February day this worthy, in company with his bastard son, Gilly Duff, nicknamed the Black Boy, saw a ship beating about helplessly at the entrance to Baltimore Bay. Jumping into a boat the thoughtful pair offered to pilot the stranger, much to the relief of the harassed sailors. She was a Portuguese vessel laden with one hundred tuns of wine consigned to certain merchants in Waterford. All this the O'Driscolls very soon found out, and they determined to make the valuable cargo their own. The Portuguese captain was delighted when the charming strangers asked him and his officers to dine with them in their haven. Apparently he suspected nothing when the crew were included in the invitation. It was a case of the spider and the fly. No sooner were the sailors inside the castle than they were seized and clapped into irons, and the work of transferring the wine began. But the Waterford merchants were not the men to have their pride (and their pockets) hurt in this way, and they speedily fitted out an armed vessel to avenge their loss.
The O'Driscolls, still dismantling the wineship, were surprised, and barely escaped with their lives. Flushed with the victory, the Mayor of Waterford sent another expedition some days later, and they laid Baltimore Castle in ruins besides burning all O'Driscoll's ships, about fifty in number. His own galley of thirty oars they towed back to Waterford as evidence of their prowess. Baltimore Haven did not take long to recover from this reverse. Fresh wealth Qowed in readily enough from trade with the pirates.
The people of Berehaven were not behindhand in turning their attention to any scheme that would make them money. Their pride, if not their self-interest, would not allow them to play second fiddle to Baltimore. So Donnell O'Sullivan added to his activities as “fence” on a grand scale by leasing fishing rights to foreigners. And, strangely enough, the rights he hired out were for the most part his own to sell. “The coast yields such abundance of sea fish as few places in Christendom do the like,” wrote Sir Thomas Stafford, “and at the fishing time there was such a resort of fishermen of all nations, although the duties which they paid unto O'Sullivan was very little yet at the least it was worth unto him £1500 yearly.” Today the equivalent sum would be at least £15,000.
So continued the rivalry between the two pirate lairs for many years. But Berehaven was the first to fall. On September 16th, 1602, Sir George Carew opened a fierce attack upon the castle of Dunboy. The siege formed part of the General's ruthless suppression of the rebellion of 1600-1603. At the time the haven was garrisoned by one hundred and twenty men only, and Carew's forces numbered at least five thousand, but the gallant defenders held out until the 18th, when the walls were finally breached and the attackers burst in. Even at the very last moment, when the Royalists were inside the castle, the Irish nearly achieved a pyrrhic victory. As the soldiers burst into the magazine they saw Richard MacGeoghegan, the gallant commander of the castle, painfully crawling towards a number of powder barrels with a lighted candle in his hand. They seized him in the nick of time, and although he was mortally wounded, killed him out of hand in a fit of senseless and disgusting brutality.
O'Sullivan himself was fighting elsewhere, and managed to escape to Spain, only to be treacherously stabbed to death by an Anglo-Irishman. As a pirate den, Berehaven may have thoroughly deserved suppression, but Carew did not attack it on this score. He punished the pirates for their alleged disloyalty to the Crown, a matter which was by no means proven. Consequently, the wholesale slaughter which accompanied the capture of Dunboy Castle is a matter which Englishmen prefer to forget. It was unnecessary, unworthy, and unjustified. Only a crumbling fragment now remains of Dunboy Castle, and the point on which it stood is overgrown with trees. Thus fell Berehaven for a time.
[Fuller and Leslie-Melville, 1935: 168173]
As for Baltimore, we are indebted for its story to an Irish source, “The Sack of Baltimore” by H. Barnby (1969) Sir Fineen O'Driscoll “Of the Ships,” who appears as an engaging rogue in Pirate Hal 60ul d now takes on a less romantic air. He turns out to be a collaborator with the English; he sided with them in the Desmond Rebellion. He turned several “murderers” (rebels?) over to the authorities, and was so deeply in debt he began to sell leases on parts of his demesne to English colonists. His Irish subjects were left to fend for themselves.
In 1605 an Englishman named Thomas Crooke offered to purchase a lease for twenty-one years of the town of Baltimore and its surrounding ploughlands for £2,000. Sir Fineen O'Driscoll accepted his offer and the lease was drawn up. Surprisingly, there is no record of there having been any complaint from the existing townsfolk. It is possible that by 1605 many Baltimore residents, offended by the presence of English troops in the area, may have moved away to the north or to the comparative sanctuary of one of the larger islands of Roaring Water Bay.
When Thomas Crooke purchased his lease from Sir Fineen O'Driscoll in 1605, the English physical presence in West Cork was very small and his scheme to plant several hundred English settlers in the Baltimore area must have been highly acceptable to the authorities in Cork, Dublin and Westminster If however these same authorities had stopped to ask themselves how such a considerable party of settlers were to maintain themselves in this area, they might have come to some slightly disturbing conclusions. In the words of the old saying, “the law ends at Leap.” In the Calendar of State Papers, Ireland, 1606-1608, there are twenty-one references to Baltimore and most of these refer to piracy.
However, the formal establishment of the English plantation at Baltimore went steadily ahead. On 3 July 1607 Baltimore was authorised by “His Majesties High Court of Chancery…to hold…a Friday Market, and two Fairs on 24 June and 28 October and two days after each…” On 26 September 1612 the borough received its official charter. This appointed “…Thomas Crooke, Esq., to be the first Soveraigne, and James Salmon, Daniel Leach, Joseph Carter, William Hudson, Joseph Hoskins, Stephen Hunt, Thomas Bennett, the elder, Thomas Bennett, the younger, Roger Bennett, William Howling, Thomas Germon, and Richard Commy to be the first twelve burgesses….” The sovereign was to hold court for minor offences and civil actions every Friday, while he and his council were empowered to establish byelaws. They were also invested with the duty of electing two discreet men to attend the parliament that James I was planning to summon at Dublin in the near future. Thomas Crooke had been appointed the first sovereign, but for the future, the burgesses were to meet once a year for the especial purpose of electing one of their own number to hold this office.
Those Irish who remained to mingle with the new planters appear to have been quite prepared to put up with any sort of change. However not many elected to remain and a Spaniard who came into Baltimore harbour on a ship in 1608 was told that there were now very few Irish there.
Thomas Crooke's achievement was remarkable. He had, in the words of the Lord Bishop of Cork, “…at his own charges…gathered out of England a whole town of English people, larger and more civilly and religiously ordered than any town in this province that began so lately….”
The reliable Anglican theology of the new West Cork planters enabled the representatives of King James to overlook less attractive features about Thomas Crooke's new plantation. It seems more than possible that Thomas Crooke established his plantation at Baltimore with the intention of trading with pirates. This does not imply that the planters there were to occupy themselves with no other activities, but they were a sea-harbour settlement and relied on visiting ships to purchase their produce and skills in return for money or trade goods. The way in which their customers had acquired money and trade goods was no concern of theirs. The new planters at Baltimore were behaving in exactly the same manner as many harbours in southwest England had behaved for decades, but England under a legalistically-minded king was becoming unsafe for pirates. Thomas Crooke had foreseen this situation developing and had taken steps to profit by it.
The official trade carried through Baltimore was ludicrously small. According to one source, only three ship loads of wine entered the harbour during 1614 and 1615. The unofficial trade must have been considerable. Certainly pirates' goods brought into Ireland through Baltimore were supplied throughout the province and the president of Munster himself and many other leading citizens of Cork are known to have bought from that source. By 1608, no more than two years after the establishment of the English at Baltimore, Thomas Crooke was called before the Privy Council in London to answer charges of having had dealings with pirates. It was this charge that prompted the bishop of Cork's letter of recommendation. The Privy Council acquitted him with all honour; how could they do otherwise? There had been revolts before in Munster, in which English planters had had their throats cut. If ambitious, energetic men such as Richard Boyle and Thomas Crooke were able to persuade large parties of Protestant English to go and colonise this uncertain area, how could the English authorities jeopardize their enterprise by being too nice about their trading methods?
The Privy Council may have acquitted Thomas Crooke and his fellow planters but others were less complaisant. By 1608 the Venetians were writing that there were two chief nests of English pirates, and one of these was on the Irish coast at Baltimore. An English source stated during 1608 that all the harbours of Munster were safe for pirates but that Baltimore was most by them. also during 1608 the president of Munster wrote that Robinson, a pirate, arrived at Baltimore in a ship of one-hundred twenty tons and twenty cannon. “…at first his strict directions being observed by those that inhabit Baltimore…although they could not be denied ordinary relief by the weak inhabitants, yet they hindered for a while from the commodities that might repair their defects; until, daily re-inforcing themselves with fresh men they grew so fearful to the fisherman and all the country, that having neither the means to defend their own nor to offend them, he was forced to confirm a treaty…with them…” Since the kings chief Officer in the province of Munster confirms having dealings with a pirate at Baltimore, it is reasonable to assume that the inhabitants of that place, surrounded by a still largely Gaelic hinterland and with the nearest officer of the crown many miles away, would have been ready and willing to trade.
They had ways also of covering their actions with a semblance of legality. One of the most successful of this time was a man named Henry Mainwaring. He had accepted a pardon from the King and wrote a most comprehensive work on the methods employed by pirates on the coast of Ireland. He states that when pirates needed supplies of meat they would send a discreet man on shore to seek a farmer with cattle for sale. The farmer would say where he would put the cattle and the pirates would send a party of men ashore to fetch them after dark. These would fire off a musket or two as though they were making a land raid. The local people, amply forwarned, would keep well out of the way. The business was very welcome, said Mainwaring, because cattle sold by this means usually fetched double their market value.
The new English plantation at Baltimore seems to have flourished. King James, embarrassed by the complaints of foreign merchants, insisted on steps being taken to suppress the pirates of south-west Ireland. Once in a while a royal man-o-war sailed along the coast. But the royal ships were usually old and badly maintained. The pirates, whose necks depended on their agility, used small Dutch-built warships which, when regularly defouled, were the swiftest sailors afloat. They seldom allowed themselves to be caught by the royal ships, and if caught, they often seem to have managed to come to an understanding with their captors. Many pirates were operating but very few were hanged. The Dutch obtained King James's permission to search the creeks and harbours of south-west Ireland for pirates, but when they appeared off Baltimore and asked for a pilot to bring them into the harbour, Thomas Crooke told them to be off. This would seem to be a very high line to take with the commander of a Dutch squadron operating with royal permission; but Thomas Crooke must have known what he was doing because he continued to prosper. It is only possible to guess the extent of his financial prosperity, but we know that he became a baronet in 1624 shortly before he died.
The new English community at Baltimore was almost entirely the product of the enterprise, energy and lack of scruple of Sir Thomas Crooke, Bart. It is therefore strangely appropriate that things should have started to go wrong almost from the time of his death.
It seems possible, and in fact is assumed by some writers (e.g Pivate hTa/hora), that after Crooke's death the people of Baltlmore declded to go straight. Their pilchard fisheries were proving remarkably profitable, and the authorities were slowly increasing their control over the “lawless” regions. We may hypothesize that in 1624 the leaders of Baltimore made it known on the pirate grapevine that the days of hospitality were over, and the port closed to all illegality save a bit of harmless smuggling.
Meanwhile the feckless Sir Fineen had sunk himself even deeper in the mire of debt. A creditor appeared on the scene.
Sir Walter Coppinger, Bart., was a magistrate at Cork City whose acquisitiveness bore a marked resemblance to the swashbuckling behaviour of his MIking forefathers. He recognised just as clearly as Richard Boyle or Thomas Crooke that West Cork was underpopulated and ripe for development. He was, however, a staunch Roman Catholic and no lover of the new English Protestants that were beginning to settle the land. He had no wish to plant Englishmen in West Cork. His interest was in building up his personal estate in this area. His original acquisitions were mainly from the old Irish proprietors; sometimes their title was confused and Sir Walter found himself in dispute with other occupants. On these occasions his manners could be rough. The London East India Company purchased woods high up the tidal estuary of the Bandon river in 1612. Here they began to build ships. Sir Walter chose to believe the land belonged to him. He did not care to see Englishmen cutting down his trees so he set armed men to harry them. These hired muscle-men terrified the shipyard workmen and broke down the dams that had been built to operate the hammer mills. The dispute over Dun Daniel woods subsided into oblivion, but Sir Walter was soon appearing in the records again. He next made an attempt to take over Baltimore. His claim was not a frivolous one.
In 1573 Fineen O'Driscoll had surrendered his lands to the English Crown along with other tribal lords of Munster. This was part of a complicated land title reform the net result of which was that Sir Fineen now held title to his lands in person and not, as previously, merely in his condition as elected leader of the Sept. Fineen had been a young man when he took this step; for many years the change had no practical effect and his life in West Cork continued in its normal pattern. In 1583 he visited London and received his knighthood. As Sir Fineen O'Driscoll his standard of living may well have proved more expensive. In 1602, his prestige suffered a serious blow when he was obliged to hand over three of his castles to the English, but his writ still ran in West Cork and in the same year he detained and handed over to the English authorities wanted murderers who had sought refuge in his territories. However, his financial position seems to have deteriorated sharply about then and one of the immediate results of this was his sale of a twenty-one-year lease of Baltimore to Thomas Crooke in 1605.
About 1616 it seems likely that Sir Walter Coppinger lent Sir Fineen O'Driscoll a sum of money on security of his lands occupied by the plantation at Baltimore. Sir Thomas Crooke had purchased the lease of Baltimore only for twenty-one years. The purchase had been made in 1605, which meant that in 1626 the lease either had to be renegotiated or the use of the property returned to Sir Fineen, his heirs or assignees. If Sir Fineen did not repay the loan, Sir Walter Coppinger automatically became his assignee and the absolute owner of Baltimore on expiry of the lease. In the meantime he demonstrated the firmness of his intentions by harrying the English planters in every way that he was able. At first [Sir Walter] used force but the planters seem to have soon organised themselves adequately for their own defence; accordingly, he altered his tactics and began to institute civil and criminal actions against individual planters in rapid succession. As a magistrate of long standing in Cork city, Sir Walter must have made a disturbing opponent.
Sir Thomas Crooke died in 1624 and the Baltimore plantation lost its main guide and sponsor. In 1626 the lease held from Sir Fineen came to its end and the land and buildings occupied by the English at Baltimore would fall into the hands of that inveterate opponent of the new English, Sir Walter Coppinger. The planters applied to the House of Lords for relief. This was a shrewd move, for the English authorities were obviously going to be most reluctant to see a Protestant English plantation, so strategically placed in the remote south western parts of Ireland, fall into the hands of a Roman Catholic gentleman of doubtful loyalty. Negotiations were set in hand. It is not known what form these took but there were certain results. On 14 April 1629 a deed of defeasance was signed by Sir Fineen and Sir Walter. The result of this was that the English planters remained in undisturbed possession of their leasehold property at Baltimore, although Sir Walter got possession of the fort of Dun na Sead.
So-to sum up-in 1629 the creditor Sir Walter Coppinger was bilked of possession of Baltimore. Sir Walter hated the English, and had used violence against them several times. He hated the people of Baltimore because they had successfully resisted his advances, and because they were Imperialist Protestants. Sir Walter had two very good motives-in his own mind at least for doing an injury to that little colony patriotism and profit. Two years later, a great injury did in fact befall Baltimore. , as the lawyers say.