Murat Rais (also know as Jan Janszoon)
Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, alias Murat Reis (c. 1570 – c. 1641) was perhaps the most notorious of the Barbary pirates and the perpetrator of the Sack of Baltimore in 1631.
Born in Haarlem, Holland, little is known of Janszoon’s early life. Around 1600, however, he appears on the scene as a privateer, sailing from his home port of Haarlem to harass Spanish shipping during the Eighty Years’ War under the auspices of the Dutch crown.
In 1618, however, shipwrecked in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, he found himself captive of Soliman Reys a fellow Dutchman who had turned to piracy and had risen to command a vast fleet from the Barbary “capital” of Algiers.
The Barbary referred to a string of pirate havens in North Africa that stretched from Tunis in the east to the southern coasts of Morocco.
Imprisoned in Algiers, Janszoon “turned Turk”. Converting to Islam, he adopted the name Murat Reis. Although he likely converted as a way to save himself from a life as a galley slave, Reis embraced the religion and lived to become a passionate Muslim missionary. Freed from slavery, he relocated to Salé, in what is now Morocco, he became a full-fledged Barbary corsair.
From Salé, he attacked ships of every foreign state using false flag tactics, quickly becoming “Reis” or leader of the pirate nest, commanding a fleet of sixteen or seventeen ships.
He eventually returned with his fleet to Algiers and from there he launched ever bolder attacks on shipping beyond the confines of the Mediterranean. Using larger and much faster European-built ships he tormented shipping up and down the Atlantic coast and as far afield as Iceland where he raided villages in search of slaves.
He captured the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel in 1627, holding it for five years and using it as a base for raiding expeditions. He held his prisoners on Lundy before sending them on to the slave markets of Algiers.
It was in the spring of 1631, off the southern coast of Ireland, that Reis seized a ship under the command of a man named John Hackett. In return for his freedom, Hackett would guide Reis and his ships to Baltimore. There, in the early morning hours of June 20th, Reis invaded and captured more than 100 men, women and children. Hackett was later hanged for his treachery.
Then, in 1635, near the Tunisian coast, Reis’ luck ran out. Ambushed and outnumbered by the Knights Hospitaller, a Christian military force, he found himself languishing in the notorious dark dungeons of Malta for five years until a massive attack by fellow Corsairs finally freed him. He returned to Morocco broken and in ill health, but a hero.
As a reward for his service, he was appointed as Governor of the great fortress of Oualidia, near Safi. He relocated his home to the Castle of Maladia. That same year the ship “Gelderlandt” arrived from Holland on a diplomatic mission. On board was Reis’ daughter from a Dutch marriage, Lysbeth. When Lysbeth arrived, she found Reis feeble from his captivity, but “seated in great pomp on a carpet, with silk cushions, the servants all around him”. Lysbeth spent some months with her father before returning to Holland.
Little is known of Reis’ fate thereafter. Rumours circulate that he died at the end of a sword, though, more likely, he ended his days immersed in opulence under the care of his large harem. The date of his death is not known.