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Thomas Tew, born in Newport, Rhode Island, was one of the first pirates to successfully sail the Pirate Round around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and plunder the treasure ships of the Great Mogul of India.

In 1690, Tew moved to Bermuda to become a privateer. With a commission from Bermuda's Governor Isaac Richier, he set sail to take a French factory on the Gambia River in Africa. But once at sea, Tew told his crew that there was little to be gained in Africa and great danger in gaining it. Instead, he offered them a much more lucrative choice: sail to the Red Sea and plunder the treasure-laden ships of the Great Mogul of India. The proposition was greeted with great cheers and the unified cry, "A gold chain or a wooden leg, we'll stand by you!"

Captain Tew and his pirate crew of forty, emboldened by their new commitment, had the audacity to attack a huge, heavily armed Mogul treasure ship laden with gold, silver, pearls, gems, spices, ivory, and silk. After a brief battle, the 300 turban-clad Indian soldiers dropped their muskets and scimitars and fell to their knees in surrender. No one in Tew's crew was injured.

Tew sailed his eight-gun ship Amity to the tiny island of St. Mary's off the coast of Madagascar where the crew careened the ship, restocked supplies, and divided the plunder. Every man received 3,000 pounds sterling ($3.5 million by today's standards) with a double share for Captain Tew. It was an amazing amount of wealth.

When Tew returned to Rhode Island after his adventure, he was welcomed as a conquering hero and invited to dine with the most prestigious families. Tew, his wife, and two daughters were honored as the special guests of Governor Fletcher of New York. Every colonial wanted to see Tew's riches and hear his tales of Arabia.

In 1694, Tew embarked on another voyage, promising his family it would be his last. Unfortunately, it was. Roving once again in the Red Sea, his sloop was one of a squadron of six pirate ships led by Henry Every attempting to overpower a fleet of Mogul ships. This time his rich dreams were not to become reality.

In September 1695, Tew met his gory demise during the very first exchange of broadsides with the Mogul ships' great guns. His stomach was torn away with a cannon ball and he was said to be holding his bowels in his hands as he hit the quarterdeck. With their famous captain dead, the crew panicked and surrendered their fate to the enemy.

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Did you know?

  • The Jolly Roger was a black flag flown to identify the vessel as a pirate ship. While the skull and crossbones is the most common of these flags, many great pirate captains designed custom symbols to identify exactly who is attacking.

  • "Shiver me timbers" is an expression of excitement or awe. Its origin has to do with sailing in heavy seas, when the ship is lifted up and pounded down so hard that the timbers are said to shiver.

  • Although pirates have been around since the Romans and Vikings, most pirating happened during the Golden Age of Piracy between 1680 and 1730.

  • Pirates believed that whistling on a ship would cause the weather to turn stormy. Consider the phrase 'to whistle up a storm.'

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