Jewish Pirates of The Caribbean. Oy There!

by Daniel Russ on March 15, 2010

Jean Lafitte, Famous Pirate Was Jewish

Moses Cohen Henriques had a beef with the Spanish and Portuguese: The Inquisition, where thousands of innocent people, in particular Jews, were tortured to death because they failed to follow the path of righteousness as prescribed by the Catholic Church. He found friends too, like Piet Hain, the Admiral of the Dutch East India Company who had been held as a slave in a Spanish Galleon for four years. Together the Jewish Pirate and the piqued former Dutch slave planned revenge.

On the topic of Jewish Pirates, I find it fascinating as a Jew to read about tough Jews. I don’t mean to be prejudiced, but the only tough Jew I ever met was my own father and I wrote about him a year ago. Most of the Jews in my life have not been the sorts of people who were combative or scary. But one only has to look into history to see that in fact, Jews have been a warlike people for millennium. One can start with the notion that the patriarchs in the Old Testament were not bearded wise men tottering around the desert on a cane. Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Saul, Solomon, Joshua, David, all of these Jews were warrior kings who led their troops from the front. They invaded and conquered and according to the Bible from time to time they killed or enslaved men women and children. I think of Golda Meir, and the Israeli Army and Meyer Lansky to remind me that comedian Jackie Mason may be wrong. He has a whole routine on tough Jews and Italians. He says when you have an Italian individual you have a person who will kick your butt if needed. But put them in uniform and they freeze up and surrender. Jews are the opposite he says, “a single Jew is no problem, but put them in a uniform and you’re in trouble.” That said, yes, just like there are Jewish warriors and leaders, there are Jewish pirates. During the reign of the Jewish kingdom after the establishment of the Second Temple, the famous Jewish historian Josephus recorded that a Jew named Aristobulus was accused by a legislator named Hyrcanus of acts of piracy.

Ed Kritzler, a writer who was fascinated by Jews in Jamaica before the New World was settled discovered that there was quite a few Jews who took matters into their own hands after the Spanish and Portuguese governments started torturing them. He wrote a book entitle “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean,” where most of this material is culled from.

You may have heard of the Jewish language called Yiddish. Yiddish, which means “Jewish” is mostly German and Russian and Czech and Polish, maybe some Hebrew. It’s a language created out of the street and became a sort of universal Language for Jews. The Jews of the European Diaspora were divided into two groups, the Ashkenazim or Eastern European Jews who spoke Yiddish, and the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews who spoke Ladino, a sort of Spanish-Yiddish.

A Sephardic Jew who took to pirating was the famous Jean Lafitte who created a small thieving empire in the swamps of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte is credited with supplying Andrew Jackson with weaponry and over 1000 men to hold off the British on January 8th 1815. Lafitte was known as one of the Moranos, or Sephardic Jews who openly converted to Catholicism and secretly worshipped as a Jew. He was expelled from New Orleans in 1817 and later set camp up in what’s now Galveston Bay, Texas.

In the 1830s Henriques and Hain got their revenge for the Inquisition. They ambushed Spanish gold bearing ships and robbed the Spanish empire of what would be considered roughly one billion dollars in Gold bullion in today’s economy. Afterwards they became masters at tracking and robbing the Spanish and often acted as paid mercenaries to the enemies of Spain. After the Portuguese wrested Brazil from Spain, Moses Cohen Henriques worked with Henry Morgan, the most notorious pirate of all time.



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Louis August 28, 2017 at 7:50 am

As a Dutchmen it warms my heart to see that Piet Hein is mentioned in the piece above. However, as I am also a nitpicker and a “besserwisser” I have some comments: Piet Hain is usually written as Hein or Heyn. He was admiral of the West Indian Compagny (the WIC) which was the little brother of the East Indian Company (VOC). The WIC was started especially to harass the Spanish in the West Indies, and they engaged in slave trading, also to undercut the monopoly of the Spanish and Portugese in that trade. And the WIC occupied part of what is now then eastcoast of Brazil for about 40 years.
Finally the whole capture of the Silverfleet took part in 1630, and not in 1830, as you wrote above.

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