Age of Pirates

Pirate Encyclopedia: Maurycy Beniowski

In his day, the Polish pirate Maurycy Beniowski was known as a Count, as a Governor, and as a King. Beniowski was born in the autumn of 1746 to a noble Hungarian family living in Russian-ruled Poland. In his youth, Maurycy trained as a soldier, and first made a name for himself as a military officer, but he was not fated for the life of a military man. Beniowski was a devout Roman Catholic, and when his strong religious views caused conflict between him and his military superiors, he left the army. In 1768, Beniowski joined the Confederation of Bar, a group of Polish noblemen united with the aim of defending their religious freedom and liberating their homeland from the oppressive rule of the Russians. In 1771, he was captured by the Russians, who sentenced Beniowski to lifelong exile in Siberia as punishment for his political actions. However, in a matter of a few months he managed to escape from the frozen wastelands of Siberia by organizing his fellow prisoners to revolt and capture the fort where their Russian commander dwelt.

Once he had fought for his freedom and won, Maurycy Beniowski took to the high seas. His first journey was what he called a 'pleasurable trip' through Japan and Macao, ending up eventually in France, where he approached King Louis XV about the possibility of colonizing Madagascar. The King, in partnership with several American businessmen, funded Beniowki's journey to the island, with the hopes that he would establish a small settlement, or possibly a trading post. However, Maurcy had greater plans, and when he arrived in Madagascar in 1774 he conquered the whole of the island with the help of his armed brigade. Louis made him a Count, and named him Governor of the island. Beniowski was not satisfied with that title, or with being attached to the French Government, so he cast off his relationship with Louis and became an independent power. Some historians say that the locals whom he 'liberated' named him the King of Madagascar in 1776. Other sources show that Beniowski may have audaciously taken the royal title upon himself.

Under Beniowski's ambitious eye, what could have been a mere trading post blossomed into a hub for pirates. Madagascar was on a major sea route to India, making it an ideal stop for pirates trafficking in a variety of merchandise. Pirates frequented Madagascar to stock up on supplies that were plentiful on the island, including fruit, goats, and native women, many of whom were captured and became part of harems for the pirates. Stolen goods were freely swapped amongst pirates who pulled their ships into port on Madagascar, although no pirate landed on the island's shores without taking the risk of having his loot thieved from him by another criminal. King Beniowski himself was said to have pillaged several of the ships that ventured near the island.

King Maurycy Beniowski died in the spring of 1786, in the land that he ruled. Long after his death, one of the nearby islands was named Mauritius in his honor. Throughout his life, Beniowki kept a careful diary of his adventures and tribulations, which were later published as a best-selling book in English (1790) and in Polish (1797). His own careful records, made with an eye towards history, are the primary reason why we know so much more about the life of this pirate King than we know about the lives of many of his contemporaries.

Copyright 2006 CleverMedia
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