Jan Janszoon

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Jan Janszoon
Grand Admiral of Salé
In office
Governor of Salé (ceremonial)
In office
Appointed by Sultan Zidan Abu Maali
Governor of Oualidia
In office
Appointed by Sultan Mohammed esh Sheikh es Seghir
Personal details
Born Jan Janszoon van Salee / Van Haarlem
c. 1570
Haarlem, County of Holland
Died 1641 or later
Nationality Dutch, Moroccan
Children Lysbeth Janszoon van Haarlem, Anthony Janszoon van Salee, Abraham Janszoon van Salee, Philip Janszoon van Salee, Cornelis Janszoon van Salee
Occupation Admiral
Military service
Allegiance Morocco
Rank Grand Admiral (Reis)

Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, commonly known as Murat Reis the Younger (c. 1570 – c. 1641), was the first President and Grand Admiral of the Corsair Republic of Salé, Governor of Oualidia, and a Dutch Barbary pirate, one of the most famous of the "Salé Rovers" from the 17th century.

Early life[edit]

Jan Janszoon van Haerlem was born in Haarlem, a city in the Habsburg ruled province of Holland in 1575. The Eighty Years War between Dutch rebels and the Spanish Empire under king Philip II had started seven years previously and lasted all his life. Little is known of his early life, except that he married Soutgen Cave in 1595 and had two children with her, Edward and Lysbeth. He married Margarita, a Moorish woman, in Cartagena around 1600. They had four children; Anthony, Abraham, Phillip, and Cornelis.


In 1600, Jan Janszoon began as a Dutch privateer sailing from his home port, Haarlem, working for the state with letters of marque to harass Spanish shipping during the Eighty Years' War. Working from the Netherlands was insufficiently profitable, so Janszoon overstepped the boundaries of his letters and found his way to the semi-independent port states of the Barbary Coast of north Africa, whence he could attack ships of every foreign state: when he attacked a Spanish ship, he flew the Dutch flag; when he attacked any other, he became an Ottoman Captain and flew the red half-moon of the Turks or the flag of any of various other Mediterranean principalities. During this period he had abandoned his Dutch family.[1]

Capture by Barbary corsairs[edit]

Sail plan for a Polacca, first built by the Barbary pirates around the 16th century, many scholars believe the Polacca was extensively used by Jan Janszoon. The ship could sail with a large crew of 75 and was armed with 24 cannons

Janszoon was captured in 1618 at Lanzarote (one of the Canary Islands) by Barbary corsairs and taken to Algiers as a captive. There he turned "Turk", or Muslim (as the Ottoman Empire had some limited influence over the region, sometimes Europeans erroneously called all Muslims "Turks"). It is speculated by some that the conversion was forced.[2] Janszoon himself, however, tried very hard to convert his fellow Europeans who were Christian to become Muslim and was a very passionate Muslim missionary.[3] The Ottoman Turks maintained a precarious measure of influence on behalf of their Sultan by openly encouraging the Moors to advance themselves through piracy against the European powers, which long resented the Ottoman Empire. After Janszoon's conversion to Islam and the ways of his captors, he sailed with the famous corsair Sulayman Rais, also known as Slemen Reis (originally a Dutchman named De Veenboer[4] whom Janszoon had known before his capture and who,[5] as Janszoon himself, had chosen to convert to Islam) and with Simon de Danser.[citation needed] But, because Algiers had concluded peace with several European nations, it was no longer a suitable harbor from which to sell captured ships or their cargo. So, after Sulayman Rais was killed by a cannonball in 1619, Janszoon moved to the ancient port of Salé and began operating from it as a Barbary corsair himself.

Republic of Salé[edit]

Salé in the 1600s

In 1619, Salé Rovers declared the port to be an independent republic free from the Sultan. They set up a government that consisted of 14 pirate leaders, and elected Janszoon as their President. He would also serve as the Grand Admiral of their navy.[6] The Salé fleet totaled about eighteen ships, all small because of the very shallow harbor entrance.

Even the Sultan of Morocco, after an unsuccessful siege of the city, acknowledged its semi-autonomy. Contrary to popular belief that Sultan Zidan Abu Maali had reclaimed sovereignty over Salé and appointed Janszoon the Governor in 1624, the Sultan merely approved Janszoon's election as President by formally appointing him as his ceremonial governor.[7]

The walls of Marrakesh and El Badi Palace, by Adriaen Matham, 1640.

Under Janszoon's leadership, business in Salé thrived. The main sources of income of this republic remained piracy and its by-trades, shipping and dealing in stolen property. Historians have noted Janszoon's intelligence and courage which reflected in his leadership ability. He was forced to find an assistant to keep up, resulting in the hiring of a fellow countryman from The Netherlands, Mathys van Bostel Oosterlinck, who would serve as his Vice-Admiral.[8]

Janszoon had become very wealthy from his income as piratical admiral, payments for anchorage and other harbor dues, and the brokerage of stolen goods. The political climate in Salé worsened toward the end of 1627, so Janszoon quietly moved his family and his entire piratical operation back to semi-independent Algiers.

Plea from Dutch family[edit]

Janszoon would become bored by his new official duties from time to time and again sail away on a pirate adventure. In 1622, Janszoon and his crews sailed into the English Channel with no particular plan but to try their luck there. When they ran low on supplies they docked at the port of Veere, Zeeland, under the Moroccan flag, claiming diplomatic privileges from his official role as Admiral of Morocco (a very loose term in the environment of North African politics). The Dutch authorities could not deny the two ships access to Veere because, at the time, several peace treaties and trade agreements existed between the Sultan of Morocco and the Dutch Republic. During his anchorage there, the Dutch authorities brought to the port Janszoon's Dutch first wife and his Dutch children to persuade him to give up piracy; the authorities did the same to many of the pirate crews, but they utterly failed to persuade the men.[9] Janszoon and his crews left port not only intact but with many new Dutch volunteers despite a Dutch prohibition of piracy.


Dutch captives[edit]

He was instrumental in securing the release of Dutch captives while in Morocco from other pirates.[10]

Franco-Moroccan Treaty of 1631[edit]

Knowledgeable of several languages, while in Algiers he contributed to the establishment of the Franco-Moroccan Treaty of 1631 between French King Louis XIII and Sultan Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik II.[10]

Notable raids[edit]

Ólafur Egilsson was captured by Murat Reis the Younger


In 1627 Janszoon captured the island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel and held it for five years, using it as a base for raiding expeditions.[11]


In 1627, Janszoon used a Danish "slave" (most likely a crew member captured on a Danish ship taken as a pirate prize) to pilot him and his men to Iceland. There they raided the fishing village of Grindavík. Their takings were meagre, only some salted fish and a few hides, but they also captured twelve Icelanders and three Danes who happened to be in the village. When they were leaving Grindavík they managed to trick and capture a Danish merchant ship that was passing by means of flying a false flag.[citation needed]

The ships then sailed to Bessastaðir, seat of the Danish governor of Iceland, to raid there but were unable to make a landing - it is said they were thwarted by cannon fire from the local fortifications (Bessastaðaskans) and a quickly mustered group of lancers from the Southern Peninsula[12] and decided to turn away and sail home to Salé, where their captives were sold as slaves.

Two corsair ships from Algiers, possibly connected to Janszoon's raid, came to Iceland on July 4 and plundered there. Then they sailed to Vestmannaeyjar off the southern coast and raided there for three days. Those events are collectively known in Iceland as Tyrkjaránið (the Turkish abductions), as the Barbary states were nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire.[13]

Accounts by enslaved Icelanders who spent time on the corsair ships claimed that the conditions for women and children were normal, in that they were permitted to move throughout the ship, except to the quarter deck. The pirates were seen giving extra food to the children from their own private stashes, and that a woman who gave birth on board a ship was treated with dignity, being afforded privacy and clothing by the pirates. The men were put in the hold of the ships, and had their chains removed once the ships were far enough from land. Despite popular claims, Icelander accounts failed to mention any rapes inflicted on slaves.[14] Guðríður Símonardóttir and a few others are known to have returned to Iceland.

Sack of Baltimore, Ireland[edit]

Having sailed for two months and with little to show for the voyage, Janszoon turned to a captive taken on the voyage, a Roman Catholic named John Hackett, for information on where a profitable raid could be made. The residents of Baltimore, a small town in West Cork, Ireland, were resented by the Roman Catholic native Irish because they were settled on lands confiscated from the O'Driscoll clan. Hackett would direct Janszoon to this town and away from his own. Janszoon sacked Baltimore on June 20, 1631, seizing little more than 108 persons whom he doomed to be sold as slaves in north Africa. Janszoon took no interest in the Gaels and released them, only enslaving English. Shortly after the sack, Hackett was arrested and hanged for his crime. "Here was not a single Christian who was not weeping and who was not full of sadness at the sight of so many honest maidens and so many good women abandoned to the brutality of these barbarians"[15] Only two of the Irish villagers ever saw their homeland again.[16]

Raids in the Mediterranean Sea[edit]

Murat Reis chose to make large profits by raiding Mediterranean islands such as the Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, the southern coast of Sicily. He often sold most of his merchandise in Tunis where he became a good friend of the Dey. He is known to have sailed the Ionian Sea. He fought the Venetians near the coasts of Crete and Cyprus with a vibrant Corsair crew consisting of Dutch, Moriscos, Arab, Turkish and Elite Janissaries.

Capture by Knights of Malta[edit]

In 1635, near the Tunisian coast, Murat Reis was outnumbered and surprised by a sudden attack. He and many of his men were captured by the Knights of Malta where he would spend the next five years in the islands' notorious dark dungeons. He was mistreated and tortured, the effects of his imprisonment costly to his health and wellbeing. In 1640 he barely escaped after a massive Corsair attack, which was carefully planned by the Dey of Tunis in order to rescue their fellow sailors and Corsairs. He was greatly honored and praised upon his return in Morocco and the nearby Barbary States.

Escape and return to Morocco[edit]

He returned to Morocco in 1640 and was appointed Governor of the great fortress of Oualidia, near Safi, Morocco. He resided at the Castle of Maladia. In December, 1640, a ship arrived with a new Dutch consul, who brought Lysbeth Janszoon van Haarlem, Janszoon's daughter by his first Dutch wife, to visit her father. When Lysbeth arrived, Janszoon "was seated in great pomp on a carpet, with silk cushions, the servants all around him"[17] she had also noticed that Murat Reis the great Corsair lord had become an old and feeble man. Lysbeth stayed with her father until August, 1641, when she returned to Holland. Little is known of Janszoon thereafter; he likely retired at last from both public life and piracy. The date of his death remains unknown.

Marriages and issue[edit]

In 1596, by an unknown Dutch woman, Janszoon's first child was born, Lysbeth Janszoon van Haarlem.

After becoming a privateer, Janszoon met an unknown woman in Cartagena, Spain, who he would marry. The identity of this woman is historically vague, but the consensus is that she was of multi-ethnic background, considered "Moorish" in Spain. Historians have claimed her to be nothing more than a concubine, others claim she was a Muslim Mudéjar who worked for a Christian noble family, and other claims have been made that she was a "Moorish princess."[18] Through this marriage, Janszoon had four children: Abraham Janszoon van Salee (b.1602), Philip Janszoon van Salee (b. 1604), Anthony Janszoon van Salee (b.1607), and Cornelis Janszoon van Salee (b. 1608).

It is speculated that Janszoon married for a third time to the daughter of Sultan Moulay Ziden in 1624.[10]

Popular culture[edit]

In 2009, a play based on Janszoon's life as a pirate, "Jan Janszoon, de blonde Arabier", written by Karim El Guennouni toured The Netherlands.[19] "Bad Grandpa: The Ballad of Murad the Captain" is a poem about van Haarlem published in 2007.[20]


Janszoon was also known as Murat Reis the Younger. His Dutch names are also given as Jan Jansen and Jan Jansz; his adopted name as Morat Rais, Murat Rais, Morat; Little John Ward, John Barber, Captain John, Caid Morato were some of his pirate names. "The Hairdresser" was a nickname of Janszoon.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Karg and Spaite 2007: 36
  2. ^ "Murad Rais", Pirate Utopias, p.96, Retrieved 29 sept 2009.
  3. ^ Stephen Snelders, The Devil's Anarchy: The Sea Robberies of the Most Famous Pirate Claes G. Compaen, p. 24, After his conversion, Jansz. proselytized actively for his new faith, trying to convert Christian slaves... 
  4. ^ "De Veenboer", Zeerovery, Retrieved 29 sept 2009.
  5. ^ "Murad Reis", p. 36
  6. ^ "Murad Reis", Pirate Utopias, p. 97, Retrieved 30 September 2009.
  7. ^ "Murad Rais", p.98
  8. ^ "Murad Rais", p. 98
  9. ^ "Murad Rais", p.99
  10. ^ a b c d "VAN SICKELEN & VAN HOORN LINES continued", Michael A. Shoemaker. PCEZ. Accessed 9 september 2011
  11. ^ Konstam, Angus (2008). Piracy: the complete history. Osprey Publishing. pp. 90–91. ISBN 1-84603-240-7. Retrieved 2011-04-29. 
  12. ^ Vilhjálmur Þ. Gíslason, Bessastaðir: Þættir úr sögu höfuðbóls. Akureyri. 1947.
  13. ^ The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson.
  14. ^ "Murad Rais", p. 129
  15. ^ Ekin, Des (2006). The Stolen Village. OBrien. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-86278-955-8. 
  16. ^ "Murad Rais", p. 121, 129
  17. ^ "Murad Rais", p.140
  18. ^ "Anthony Jansen van Salee", Pirate Utopias, p. 206, Retrieved 29 sept 2009.
  19. ^ "Jan Janszoon knipoogt naar het heden", 8 Weekly, Retrieved 30 sept 2009.
  20. ^ "Bad Grandpa: The Ballad of Murad the Captain", Jim Billiter. Accessed 9 september 2011


External links[edit]