John Derdrake

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John Derdrake card from the 1948 Leaf Pirate trading card set

John Derdrake, known as “Jack of the Baltic,” was a Danish pirate active in the 1700s. His story, if true, makes him one of the few pirates known to force his victims walk the plank.


After losing a dockyard job in Copenhagen due to drunkenness, Derdrake signed on to a London-bound vessel as a ship's carpenter. His parents soon died and left him a small inheritance, with which he purchased a brig with a copper-sheathed bottom. Hauling logwood proved unprofitable, so he offered his services to Peter the Great.[1] He was accepted into Russian service, but after killing a co-worker in a dockyard argument, fled back to his ship and sailed again for London.[2]

After selling the ship's cargo he left for Norway but was attacked by a Russian warship en route. He defeated the warship and took it for his own, manning it with 70[3] English, Danish, and Norwegian sailors and renaming it Sudden Death.[4] They captured and looted several vessels in the Baltic, selling their looted cargo in Sweden. Derdrake was known to drown all his captives, reputedly making them walk the plank. A captured captain escaped and reported Derdrake to the Governor of St. Petersburg, a General Shevelling. One of Derdrake's sailors went ashore and reported that Derdrake had killed the General's sister, who had been captured from a passing ship.[2]

The Governor sent two ships after Derdrake. They attacked and sank the Sudden Death, whose crew was hanged.[1] Derdrake escaped ashore and settled in Stralsund. Upon traveling to Stockholm, he was recognized and caught, where he was tried and hanged.[2]

Derdrake's story may be apocryphal: there was no Governor of St. Petersburg named Shevelling, while Peter the Great died in 1725 but copper sheathing was not extensively used or tested on wooden ships until the mid to late 1700s.[5]

See also[edit]

  • Stepan Razin - a more well-known Russian pirate from the century before Derdrake.


  1. ^ a b "John Derdrake". Brethren of the Coast. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Gosse, Philip (1924). The Pirates' Who's Who by Philip Gosse. New York: Burt Franklin. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  3. ^ "For those of a Piratical nature [Archive] - Sails of Glory Anchorage". Sails of Glory (accessed via Google Cache). Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  4. ^ Farndon, John (2016). How to Live Like a Caribbean Pirate. Minneapolis MN: Hungry Tomato. p. 30. ISBN 9781512419900. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  5. ^ Harris, J. R. (1966). "Copper and shipping in the eighteenth century" (PDF). The Economic History Review. 19 (3): 550–68. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1966.tb00988.x.[dead link]