Captain John Derdrake

    John Derdrake alias "Jack of the Baltic" was a Danish pirate from Copenhagen. Early on as a carpenter in the King's Dockyard at Copenhagen he was dismissed for drunkenness. After making a few voyages to London as a ship's carpenter, his parents died and left their son a small fortune. With this money Derdrake built himself a fast sailing brig sheathed with copper, and for a while traded in wood between Norway and London. Becoming impatient of the smallness of the profits in this trade, he offered his services and ship to Peter the Great. This monarch, after inspecting the ship, bought her, and at the same time appointed Derdrake to be a master shipwright in the royal dockyards on the Neva. The carpenter, always a man of violent temper, one day quarrelled with one of his superiors, seized an axe, and slew him. His ship then happening to be in the harbor, Derdrake hurried on board her and made sail, and went off with the cargo, which he sold in London.

    Arming his vessel with twelve guns, he sailed for Norway, but on the way he was attacked by a large Russian man-of-war. The Russian was defeated and surrendered, and Derdrake then used her in place of his own smaller ship, giving his new craft the ominous name of "Sudden Death". With a fine, well-armed ship and a crew of seventy desperadoes, one-half English, and the rest Norwegian and Danish, he now definitely turned pirate. Lying in wait for English and Russian ships carrying goods to Peter the Great, the pirates took many valuable prizes, with cargoes consisting of fittings for ships, arms, and warm woolen clothing. For these he found a ready market in Sweden, where no questions were asked and cash on delivery was the rule.

    Derdrake like some of the other pirate captains drowned all his prisoners, as "Dead men tell no tales" was their way of keeping the authorities at bay, and he was said to be one of the very few pirates, other than those found in works of fiction, who forced his victims to "walk the plank." Not long afterwards the pirates met with and fought an armed Swedish vessel, which was defeated, but the captain and some of the crew managed to escape in a longboat. After getting to shore, they began to spread the tidings of the pirates wicked deeds. On hearing the news, the Governor of St. Petersburg, General Shevelling, sent out two ships to search for and take the pirates, and offered a reward for Derdrake's head. The pirates had just heard of this when they happened to take a Russian vessel bound for Cronstadt, on board of which was a passenger, a sister of the very General Shevelling. This poor lady, after being reproached by the pirates for her brother's doings, was stabbed to death in the back by Derdrake.

   The Governor was soon told of his sister's murder by one of the ships crew who had deserted, and also that the pirates were to be found at Strothing in Sweden. Two well-armed vessels were immediately despatched, which, finding the "Sudden Death" at anchor, fought and sunk her. Fortunately for Derdrake he happened to be on shore at the time and escaped, but most of his crew were killed. Derdrake, who had a large sum of money with him, bought an estate near Stralsund, and lived there in luxury for fourteen years. Until one day, he made the mistake of traveling to Stockholm, where he was recognized by the captain of the Swedish ship who had first given information against him. He was then arrested and quickly tried for his crimes and hanged.