John Bowen (c. Unknown – 1704) was a pirate that sailed the seas during the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ and was of Créole background. Among his famous contemporary pirates were Nathaniel North and George Booth. North later succeeded Bowen on his last ship the Defiant as the captain while John Bowen served under the command of George Booth as a crew member aboard the Speaker.
During a period spanning over four years, John Bowen managed to grab goods and coinage worth £170,000. He finally retired and settled in the islands of Mauritius for a short period and died in 1704.
John Bowen’s birth years is unknown but it is known that he was born in the islands of Bermuda situated off the eastern coast of America. He traveled to the British proprietary colony in Carolina to join a British ship in the capacity of a petty officer. After an unknown period of time, his ship was attacked and he was taken as a captive by French pirates. The pirates were passing through the Atlantic Ocean to head towards Madagascar, but they had to run the ship aground at Elesa, south of the island of Madagascar.
Bowen along with some English merchant captains managed to escape in a longboat and they sailed 15 leagues or 45 miles before reaching St.Augustine. He remained in St. Augustine for the next 18 months and then started his career as a pirate by joining the crew of Captain Read. Before leaving the place Bowen was elected as sailing master by the crew of the ship, making him in charge of the navigation.
Capture of the Speaker and Death of George Booth:
After Captain Read captured a large Indian ship, John Bowen made a trip back to Madagascar to join George Booth as a crew member. In April 1699, Booth and his men grabbed hold of their most precious prize, the 45 ton slave ship the Speaker with 50 guns. John Bowen continued to sail as a crew member under the command of George Booth, before the later got killed by Arabians over a dispute about the resupplying of the Speaker in Zanzibar.
Career As a Pirate:
Bowen As Captain of the Speaker:
Bowen enjoyed success as the captain of the Speaker. He attacked a powerful fleet of Moorish ships consisting of 13 ships, and despite the escape of some ships in the dark, his men captured a prize worth £100,000. Shortly afterwards, in November 1701, Bowen attacked an English East Indiaman under the command of Captain Conway off the coast of Malabar in Southern India.
Despite the fact that he carried out attacks against merchant vessels, he openly traded at local ports and docks. After capturing East Indiaman, Bowen sold it to the native merchants in three shares at the close by port of Callicoon.
In the later part of the year 1701, while Bowen and his crew were traveling to Madagascar, the Speaker ran aground and got lost at St. Thomas’ Reef near the coast of Mauritius. Bowen and his crew managed to reach the island of Madagascar and after spending three months there, he purchased a sloop, converted it into a brigantine and renamed it as the Content. After Bowen left Madagascar, he returned there to form a town at Fort Maraton.
Bowen As Captain of the Speedy Return:
In early 1702, Bowen and his crew captured Speedy Return and an old brigantine under the charge of Captain Drummond. Drummond had plans to use the brigantine to transport and sell slaves from Île Sainte-Marie to cocoa plantationers in Africa. Bowen fitted Speedy Return so as to be ready for any battle, but burnt the old brigantine as it was of no use. Bowen left from Maraton with the Speedy Return and the Content, but then later ran aground on a ledge the very first night of the voyage. Bowen did not realize this fact and continued his voyage to Mascarane Islands to the east of Madagascar.
Bowen expected to see Rook Galley, as Drummond’s crew members mentioned to have seen her, but did not find anything. He sailed to Mauritius but still could not find Rook Galley, and refused to attack the ships on the harbor feeling they had some hidden strength. Bowen came across his lost ship, the Content, when he sailed to Augustine Bay and anchored at Port Daughin. As the Content was of no use to him, he transferred its crew to the Speedy Return and burned it.