Behind the Line – Why John Bowen

“That’s when Johnny Boy started talkin’ about ’eadin’ over to Madagascar an’ making a deal with the natives. ’E wanted to use our treasure to build a fort an’ ’ave a proper stronghold fer pirates like us.”

The Day the Pirates Went Mad, Chapter 18: A Survivor, pg 141.
#TDTPiratesWentMad - Why John Bowen - Pirate Captain
Public Domain via Wikipedia

In Emma’s earliest encounter with pirates, she saw one of the first flags recorded to have the skull and crossbones. It was flown by Emanuel Wynn at the time when Emma voyaged to Zanzibar. (read “Behind the Line – A Black Flag” for more on this)

Hooking into the fabric of history like this was a requirement for the treasure Emma was to find at Little Tobago as well. The portion of the treasure that reached the West Indies for the crew of the New Adventure to recover would be fictional, but its origin needed to be factual.

After scouring lists of pirates and the tales of their plunder, I found a pirate captain who was active at the right time, who took a substantial enough treasure, and who ran into difficulties that could have led to a split in the crew (and the treasure!). That person was John Bowen.

Captain John Bowen, pirate

John Bowen was one of the infamous Pirate Rounders and sailed with other famous pirates like George Booth and Nathaniel North. He had a fairly storied career during which he captained at least four different ships and is estimated to have looted £170,000 (equivalent to ~£21,000,000 in 2022).

However, the important events for the purposes of “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” were the following:

  • While captaining the Speaker, John Bowen seized ~£100,000 from a Moorish ship in early 1701.
  • Returning from Malabar in late 1701, the Speaker wrecked on a reef just off Mauritius, but the crew managed to recover the majority of the treasure.
  • The governor was accommodating and let the crew buy a sloop, which they converted to a brigantine and named the Content.
  • In early 1702, when the Content was shipshape, John Bowen was able to enact his plans to create a pirate haven on the east coast of Madagascar (Fort Maratan).

A Dash of Fiction

It did not seem so fanciful to imagine that some number of John Bowen’s ‘associates’ would rather return to civilization with their shares than to invest in his plans. There are always some dissatisfied with any new idea, especially if it involves spending their money. And so, the fictional voyage of the Swift from Mauritius, around the Cape, and on to Nassau was invented. Once there, some of the absconding pirates would rapidly spend all they had on drinking, gambling, and other entertainment. Others would be robbed and murdered for their wealth. But a few, like Bill, would hope to go on to finally fulfill their dreams of a better life for themselves and their families. However, in this story, none of them would ever make it to their intended destination…

And that’s what’s behind the line in the quote above. 🙂