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Captain John Bowen

    He was born on Bermuda and later moved to the proprietary colony of Carolina, where he signed on an English ship, serving as a petty officer. However, Bowen's ship was attacked and he was captured by French pirates. The pirates crossed the Atlantic Ocean, heading to Madagascar, but they ran aground near Elesa south of the island. Bowen and the other English prisoners managed to seize the ship's longboat and escape. Bowen later decided to become a pirate himself. He joined the crew of Captain Read, being elected sailing master by the crew. Following Read's capture of a large Indian ship, Bowen returned to Madagascar and joined George Booth as a crewman. In April 1699, Booth captured a 450-ton, 50-gun former slave ship, the Speaker. Bowen served under Booth's command until 1700, when Booth was killed by Arabs at Zanzibar when negotiating for the resupplying of his ship.

    After Booth's death Bowen was elected captain of the Speaker. He attacked a 13-strong fleet of Moorish ships and, though some of them escaped in darkness, captured a prize with an estimated value of 100,000. Following this, Bowen attacked a number of ships, including an English East Indiaman commanded by Captain Conway in November 1701, off the coast of Malabar. Despite these attacks, Bowen was able to continue to trade in local ports even though the populous knew them for pirates. After his attack on the East Indiaman, Bowen openly towed her into the nearby port of Callicoon and sold her in three shares to local merchants. Later during a voyage to Madagascar, the Speaker ran aground on St. Thomas' Reef off Mauritius and was lost. However, Bowen and most of the crew were able to reach the shore. After three months on the island, they were able to purchase a sloop and after converting for piracy renamed it the Content. Sailing to Madagascar they set down in Maritan on the eastern coast and built a fort and town.

    In early 1702 a ship, the Speedy Return, set into Maritan. Bowen and a number of pirates seized the Speedy Return, commanded by Captain Drummond, as well as an aged Brigantine which Drummond had planned to fill with slaves from Ile Sainte-Marie to sale to Portuguese cocoa plantation owners in Africa. The brigantine was later found to be useless for piracy and was burned. The Speedy Return was refitted to use against commercial vessels. The Content and Speedy Return left Maratan together, but on the first night of the voyage, the Content ran aground on a ledge. Unaware of this, Bowen continued to sail for the Mascarene Islands. He expected to find the ship Rook Galley, as it had been sighted there earlier by former members of Drummond's crew. However, the Rook Galley was gone and Bowen ended up going to Augustin Bay, where he met the Content. When the Content was examined, he found it to be useless to him and had the vessel burned. It's crew came aboard the Speedy Return.

    In late 1702, Bowen joined forces with Thomas Howard, who after leaving Bowen's crew at Madagascar following the loss of the Speaker had, along with a group of pirates, taken the 36-gun ship Prosperous, at the port of Mayotta. In March 1703, Bowen had the Speedy Return careened and it was not until August 1703 that together they attacked and plundered the East Indiaman Pembroke near Johanna Island, one of the Comoros Islands. Bowen and Howard then attacked two Indian ships in the Red Sea, capturing the larger one. They sailed to Rajapora and judging their ships to be unsound burned them and moved their crews to the new prize, renaming it the Defiance, arming her with 56 guns and mustering some 160 plus fighting men.

    Bowen took command of the Defiant and Thomas Howard remained. Sailing later off the Malabar coast the pirates again ran across the Pembroke and plundered her a second time, then returned to Mauritius and put in North-West Harbor, where they lived off their booty for a time. Setting sail again, they steered for the Mascarenes where Bowen and some 40 others left the Defiant, with his intention being to retire from piracy and to return to Madagascar. However, within six months Bowen died of an unspecified intestinal disease and was buried on Bourbon. Following his retirement, Nathaniel North was elected to replace him as captain of the Defiant. While not famously successful, Bowen was lucky and skillful enough to live long enough to retire from piracy, which is something few pirates were able to accomplish.




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