Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, the Dutch Barbary Pirate


Janszoon’s transformation into Murat reis took place after he was captured by the Barbary pirates during a raid on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Janszoon was taken to the city of Algiers, where he was extremely impressed by what he saw

Janszoon in Algiers

Algiers was an overcrowded, overheated, squalid old town which together with two other corsair territories, Tripoli and Tunis, was the principal seat of pirate government for the Barbary coast..

Janszoon soon saw for himself the vast value in goods and slaves that passed through this thriving trade centre. He decided on the spot that this was the ideal center for his pirating activities.

Once installed in Algiers as Murat reis, Janszoon established his family there and lost no time going to sea. He first sailed as quartermaster to Sulayman reis, another Dutchman turned pirate, whose original surname was Van Veenboer. Sulayman, an admiral of the Algerian pirate fleet, retired the following year and Murat reis took over his vessels.

Murat reis, pirate and politician

Murat quickly discovered that loot was not the only advantage of piracy. Several political plums were also on offer.

In 1619, peace was signed between Algiers and France and several other European nations. Piracy was discontinued and shortly afterward, Salé in Morocco became a semi-independent pirate state and a base for the corsairs.

Murat reis was elected Admiral and President of Salé city. He had already prepared to resume operations by building a fleet of 17 fast ships and in 1622, the year he converted to Islam, he went ‘a-pirating’ once again.

Running up the Moroccan flag on his masthead, he claimed diplomatic immunity from attack and sailed in November 1622 for the Dutch port of Veere, in Zeeland, where he wanted his ship repaired. While in harbour at Veere, Murat reis was joined by a number of Dutch sailors, despite strong protests from the Netherlands government.

Officials arrived at the docks in Veere with Murat’s wife and children in tow to persuade him to go home to Salé, but the pirate refused to budge.

Once the repairs to his ships were complete and the time came to leave Veere, the first thing Murat did was to attack a number of French vessels.

Murat reis in Rekjavik

Four years later, Murat reis staged his most unusual expedition when he raided Reykjavik, in Iceland, and the nearby Vestmanaeyjar (Westman) islands. Wet, windy, changeable and subject to eruptions from more than 100 volcanoes, Iceland could hardly have been more different from the heat and lushness of the Mediterranean.

Murat reis had obviously done his homework well, for the raid took place at a most favourable time in Iceland, between 4 and 19 July, when these far north latitudes enjoyed round-the-clock daylight. Murat hired a Danish pilot, possibly captured in a previous raid and afterwards sold as a slave. He guided the three pirate ships out into the Atlantic and around western Europe until they reached their far north destination.

Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, was something of a disappointment. It seems that the ship the pirates attacked in the harbour yielded only some salt fish and animal hides. The pirates moved on to towns on the south coast.

In one of them, Grindavik, the inhabitants were able to run away across the lava fields and hide until the attackers went away, but the people of Heimaey, which was remote and secluded, were not so lucky.

Attacks on Icelandic Towns

The pirates killed some 30 people on Heimaey, and carried off another 400 as slaves. Then, they set about burning the church and the local warehouse. Most of the captives were never seen again, but 27 were ransomed in 1637 and returned to Iceland.

One returnee, a woman called Guðríður Símonardóttir, who was seized from her home in Heimaey, bought her own way back from the slave market in Algiers to Iceland through Tunisia, Italy and Denmark. The ‘Turkish Raid’, as it was termed, made a profound impact in Iceland.

Soon after it took place, a law was passed which stated that any Turk found in Iceland must be killed on sight. No Turk ever met this fate, but almost 350 years passed before anyone thought to repeal this law.

The “Turkish Raid” on Ireland

Murat’s next recorded pirate venture took place four years after the ‘Turkish Raid’ at Baltimore in Cork, Ireland. The pirate ships descended on this small coastal village in 1631 and few villagers escaped capture.

Murat reis did moderately well out of the Baltimore raid: he returned to Algiers with 108 captives for sale in the slave market. In 1635, he was taken prisoner on the Mediterranean island of Malta by the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem but escaped after five years in confinement.

Now in his mid-sixties, Murat decided it was time to retire from active piracy. He disappeared from the historical record, presumed dead, in 1641.