Jamaica

Jamaica

Thomas Tew may have lived a good part of his life in Jamaica.  He was definitely there in the early  1680s.  Tew was identified as being on the Caribbean island in the year 1682.  

One of the few references to the early whereabouts of Thomas Tew comes from a man named John Graves.  The year 1682 can be inferred from testimony which Graves gave many years later in England to the “Council of Trade and Plantations.”  This organization, often called the Board of Trade, administered the British colonies in the Americas.  

Graves appeared before the Council in London in 1697.  He was there because he wanted to obtain a position as a government official in the Bahamas. 

By the time of  Grave’s appearance before the Council,  the maritime depredations of Thomas  Tew had made briefly made him the most famous English pirate on earth.  Tew’s piratical ventures were naturally of great concern to the British government. The members of the Council knew that Graves had many years of experience throughout the British colonies in the Americas.   He had already lived and worked in the Bahamas. Graves sailed from Jamaica to New Providence in the Bahamas in 1686.  He was appointed by the Lords Proprietors of the Bahamas as their Secretary for those islands in 1692.    Knowing of Graves’s fast experience in the English Atlantic, the Council members asked himabout Tew.  

The Council of Trade and Plantatations was a new body, which had only been created the year before.  Its half dozen members included formidable figures like William Blathwayt, Secretary of War, and the writer and philospher John Locke.   The Council had taken over management of the colonies from a body known as the Lords of Trade in 1696. Intellectuals like Locke were brought in to put the management of His Majesty’s dominions in the new world on a more professional basis.  The new organization was anxious to assert its authority, and paid particularly close attention to  matters such as piracy.   Anxious to ingratiate himself with this powerful organization, John Graves would therefore have been careful that any information he provided to the Council was accurate.On February 19, 1697, John Graves testified that:

“Two years ago last October I was travelling from New England to New York, when I saw three small vessels, a sloop, a brigantine and a barque, fitting out at Rhode Island. The name of the master of the sloop was Thomas Tue, whom I had known living in Jamaica twelve years before.”

This testimony first of all places Thomas Tew in Rhode Island in October of 1694. This was indeed accurate, as Tew was  indeed in Rhode Island in the autumn of 1694, preparing for a long sailing voyage. Acting as an admiral in charge of hundreds of men , Tew sailed in December of 1694 for  the Bab El Mandeb Straight, at the mouth of the Red Sea.    He had already sailed to Indian Ocean at least twice before.  

While Grave’s testimony makes it clear that Thomas Tew was in Jamaica in 1682. Unfortunately for the historical record, the English official did not provide any more information about what Tew was doing on that island at that time.  

It was completely sensible for a mariner like Thomas Tew to be living on the island of Jamaica in 1682.  Along with Barbados, Jamaica was  economically the most important English colony in the Americas.  More than any other city in the British colonies, the island’s capital, Port Royal, had a reputation as a home for pirates.  By 1682, however, Port Royal was already pasts its pirate heyday.   It was in that year that Sir Henry Morgan, considered by many to be the greatest English privateer of his age, went  into retirement. 

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