Captain John Bowen


John Bowen was a Welsh pirate. He operated in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf before he died 1704. Born in Bermuda, Bowen moved to South Carolina and became captain of a ship trading in the West Indies. After some years, he was captured by French pirates. The French brigands crossed the Atlantic, pillaged along the African coast, and wrecked their ship on Madagascar's southwestern coast. About 18 months later, Bowen and the other survivors were picked up by a Captain Read. The pirates took over a larger Arab ship (but little hooty) in the Persian Gulf. At this time (or perhaps earlier), Bowen enlisted with the pirates and was elected sailing master.
Returning to western Madagascar, Bowen's gang sailed in consort with George Booth. In April 1700, the two crews captured and took over the Speaker, a strong 50-gun slave ship. More than 200 pirates of many nationalities sailed to Zanzibar with George Booth as captain. Bowen took command at the end of 1700, when Booth was killed fighting Arab troops. Near the mouth of the Red Sea, Bowen captured an Indian vessel with £ 100,000 in booty and (in November 1701) a British ship that was sold on the Indian coast. Returning to Madagascar, Bowen wrecked his ship on Mauritius Island but saved most of the men and treasure. In return for large bribes, the Dutch governor warmly welcomed the pirates and allowed them to buy a ship. In April 1702, Bowen went back to Madagascar and set up camp on the eastern coast. Some time after, the pirates seized and took over the Speedy Return, which had stopped to buy slaves. After cruising alone with little success, Bowen joined Thomas Howard, and the two captains seized a rich British merchantman in March 1703. Afterwards the pirates set in at Rajapora.
After separating for a time, Bowen and Howard again joined forces. In August 1703, two Indian vessels and more than £ 70,000 were captured in the Red Sea. The pirates divided their plunder at Rajapura, India, and judging their ships to be unsound they burned them and moved their crews to the prize, naming it the Defiance, mounted with 56 guns and mustering some 160 plus fighting men. Some stayed with Howard on the Indian coast. Bowen and 40 crewmen retired on Mauritius, where he died of intestinal ailment about six months later.
The need for accurate charts and maps or a pilot well acquainted with local waters was a necessity for pirates as can be seen from the above account. Lack of them could lead to the loss of a ship and worse. From the time of Francis Drake on one of the more valuable things that a pirate could take from a captured ship was the set of charts. The ability to read them and navigate were often enough to qualify a pirate for captain. While not famously successful Bowen was lucky and skillful enough to live long enough to retire from piracy.

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