Do You Know… About Nathaniel North – Bermudian Pirate and Rajah in Madagascar?
by Horst Augustinovic
Nathaniel North from Tucker’s Town, left Bermuda in 1689 at the age of seventeen to work as a cook on a Bermuda sloop. On reaching Barbados he was impressed for a man-of-war of King William’s navy, but managed to make a quick escape by jumping overboard and swimming ashore. He spent the next few years smuggling and privateering, eventually capturing the 18-gun Brigantine Pelican with some shipmates. Having obtained a commission to attack French shipping near West Africa, they instead sailed to the Indian Ocean where they captured a Madagascar chief whom they managed to ransom for $1,000.
Having been elected quartermaster of the ‘Pelican’ by her crew, Nathaniel North, with two other pirate ships captured the Great Mohammed with a large booty of gold coins. Having apparently not fully joined the battle, the Pelican did not share in the booty and pursued her fortunes along the Malabar coast of India. There they captured three ships of which they kept one and renamed her Dolphin. During a hurricane the ‘Dolphin’ was badly damaged and Nathaniel North and his fellow pirates returned to Madagascar where they repaired the Dolphin and split their booty, with each pirate receiving around £700.
Becoming quartermaster of the Dolphin in 1699, they plundered a large Danish ship and sailed to St. Mary’s Island to divide their loot. When four British warships arrived, they decided not to surrender, but rather burn the Dolphin. While some of the pirates accepted a pardon, Nathaniel North did not trust the British and decided to flee in a small boat to Madagascar. Having overturned in a storm, he had to swim twelve miles to shore, losing everything he owned.
Nathaniel North then served on the Defiant and became its captain in 1704 and after a period of pirating, became the ruler of a pirate colony in Ambonavoula. In 1707 he sailed again as quartermaster of the Charles, capturing two British ships. When becoming captain of the Charles, he had the misfortune of wrecking her on a reef. A wealthy man, Nathaniel North then settled in Madagascar in 1709, living with the King of Maratan and finally acquiring an estate and ‘several wives and children’.
At some point during a native conflict, Nathaniel North was captured by the opposing natives and killed. It is also claimed, however, that he was murdered by the family of one of his young wives ‘for his poor treatment of her’. Either way it seems a predictable ending to the extraordinary life of this young man from Tucker’s Town.
This article is an excerpt from What You May Not Know About Bermuda, Volume 2, available from The Bookmart at Brown & Co.
About Horst: Horst is a passionate philatelist, history buff, collector and author who has published several books on Bermuda’s history, including the series ‘What You May Not Know About Bermuda’, and ‘The Golden Age of Bermuda’s Postcards’. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org