A 1631 Raid on West Cork: When Barbary Pirates Came To Prey - Part 2 of 3: The Raid

By James Doherty

Photo by James Doherty
The cove where the pirates landed. Click on the image for a larger view.

On the 20th of June 1631, Morat Rais led his mixed force of soldiers and renegades in the attack on Baltimore. The startled villagers soon realized that it was they themselves who were the targets. The raid was launched amid much fanfare some six weeks earlier in Algiers. Cannon were sounded as the city's residents and fellow pirates watched as Rais and his two ships embarked on his most daring mission yet.

Read Part 1 of the 3-Part Series

By the time the pirate flotilla reached English waters, Rais had already captured two French vessels and taken nearly 30 captives. What he needed now was someone with local knowledge who could act as a pilot in the treacherous Irish waters. Rais spotted a merchant ship from Cornwall off the south coast of England, and, even though he was in sight of the English mainland, did not hesitate. Rais captured 10 sailors, and the captain Edward Fawlett agreed to act as a pilot. We do not know if Fawlett willingly aided Rais, but from this point on became an active participant in the raid. As the corsairs, guided by Fawlett, neared the Irish coast, they seized a small fishing boat off the Waterford coast captained by John Hackett.

Apparently, when questioned, Hackett advised against Kinsale as a target as it was "too hot" in fact, an admiralty ship, the Fifth Whelp, was anchored there. Later at the inquiry in to the incident, testimony seems to suggest that Hackett suggested Baltimore as a target. Hackett would have known of the Calvinists settlers in Baltimore, and his motives in guiding the pirates away from his native Catholic Waterford became hotly debated.

A 1703 drawing of a Janissary. By Christoph Weigel (1654–1725).

Approaching Baltimore at night, Morat Rais led a reconnaissance of the sleeping town. Two hours before dawn, Hackett piloted the pirate ships into the bay and a force of more than 200 Janissaries and pirates rowed ashore. The pirates used shock-and-awe, making as much noise as possible, as they ransacked the lower part of the village. The raiders treated the villagers as chattel, and so attempted to avoid bloodshed. However when resistance was shown, they were merciless. Some brave men tried to resist, but they were no match for the Janissaries, warrior monks trained from birth as soldiers who pledged their lives to Islam.

As Rais led his force in pillaging The Cove, he was planning his onslaught on the upper part of Baltimore. He sent his stunned prisoners back to the boats and mustered his forces for the next phase of the assault. It was then that he heard musket shots from the hill, followed by what sounded like a military drum. Although his intelligence told him Baltimore was unprotected, he had not become a pirate admiral without being cautious. Rais paused to release the helpful Hackett and Fawlett, and, looking to avoid a confrontation with the regular English army, he retreated to his boats, with 107 men, women and children, destined to be sold to the highest bidder in the slave market of Algiers.

Hope of rescue fades

As the humble folk of Baltimore huddled in the hold of the pirate ships, they must have dreamed of rescue. After all, was not a Royal Naval ship the Fifth Whelp anchored in nearby Kinsale. Indeed, stunned survivors of the raid sent word to Kinsale pleading for the navy to put to see at once to try to intercept the corsair fleet.

Although history tells us that Britannia ruled the waves, the perception and the reality were often at odds. Due to corruption and indifference, the Royal Navy boats stationed in Ireland were horribly neglected. The crew of the Fifth Whelp had not been paid in many months, and when they were resupplied, the food they received was often inedible. The helpless captain of the Fifth Whelp complained he could not leave port without supplies. Angry letters accused members of the admiralty of corruption, and the Fifth Whelp began the chase a week after the corsair fleet had left Baltimore. The result was a foregone conclusion.

Read "Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800" for more info about slavery in North Africa.

The king of England, Charles I, was furious when he heard of the raid, taking it as a personal affront. Amidst talk of corruption and negligence by the navy and of complicity by Hackett and Fawlett, he ordered a full inquiry.

No direct account of the fate of the Baltimore captives exists. However, we can imagine what fate awaited them. Algiers was a pirate utopia, whose economy was based on the slave trade. That trade throughout the Barbary Coast raged for hundreds of years, with corsairs cruising the Mediterranean and the Atlantic oceans for European and later American ships to plunder. Ostensibly under control of the Ottoman Empire, Algiers was ruled by its Pasha who, in turn, needed the pirates to prop up his corrupt regime. In the slave trade's heyday, up to 20,000 slaves were in Algiers, with 7,000 snatched from English waters in the space of 20 years.

The first ordeal to face the slaves was a vetting process, where ransoms were set according to social station. Wealthy captives were given the chance to send word home and in luxury awaited the arrival of their ransom. Not so the common folk who were sent to the slave pens, where men, women and children were forcibly separated. The most beautiful women were sent as tribute to the harem of the Pasha, while the rest faced public auction. Slave prices of skilled craftsmen were in demand, as were women of exceptional beauty and men of exceptional strength. Unsavory characters infested the slave markets of Algiers. However, there would have been some support in place, with religious orders such as the Trinitarians and Franciscans sometimes available to minister to the wretched slaves.

Anonymous 17th century drawing of priests purchasing Christian captives in the Barbary States.

Once sold, the slaves faced a variety of fates. Some would be forced to conduct intense manual labor, while living in substandard conditions. Others would face a life as unwilling concubines. Many would be forced to convert to Islam. A small number were treated well by their new masters, with a very small number becoming rich enough to buy their freedom.

Female slaves in the harem entered a type of gilded cage where, although surrounded by luxury, they were prisoners. Those women finding the Pasha's favor could see the fortunes dramatically improve, with some slaves rising to stations of great power and influence within the palace. However, this life could be harrowing, with one insane Pasha, on a whim, ordering all his several hundred female slaves bound, weighted, and thrown into the harbor. One of harshest fates probably befell many of the fishermen of Baltimore, living out their days as a galley slave chained day and night to an oar. The strong, rugged fishermen of Baltimore would have been suited for this task, where men were literally worked to death. WGT

Part 3 of the 3-Part Series: Aftermath

The Naming of the Two Baltimores 

"The Sack of Baltimore" (Amazon.com)

"The Stolen Village" (Amazon.com)

The Naming of the Two Baltimores


James Doherty is a Waterford-based writer who focuses on the preservation of the history of the Irish worldwide.

This feature was edited by Gerry Regan and Doug Chandler and produced by Joe Gannon.

Copyright © 2011 by James Doherty and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to permissions@garmedia.com.

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Tags: 1631, Barbary, Cork, Pirates, Raid, West


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