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An English slave mounts a rebellion on a corsair

The story we have just received from his descendant, Lee Lewis, is based on a plaque in a 17th century church in Cornwall, which records Fitzpen’s exploits. The historical background of his rebellion is this -

During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Muslim pirates hunted men and women living in Europe or travelling on the Mediterranean and enslaved them. Before he was ransomed, and wrote Don Quixote, Cervantes was one of those slaves. It is estimated that there were 1.25 million others. Most of them were not fortunate enough to be ransomed.

Owen Fitzpen was born in England in 1582. At the age of seven he lost his father. Boys went to sea when they were very young, and Fitzpen became an apprentice seaman to help support his widowed mother, sister and brothers. On board ship he was schooled in mathematics, astronomy, reading, writing, and seamanship. Fitzpen became a successful English merchant, but his good fortune ended when he was 38 and Barbary pirates seized him and his boat, and made him a slave. He endured seven years of bondage.

In 1627 he and ten Dutch and French slaves were placed on a corsair off the coast of what is now Algeria. Somehow they saw their chance. With Fitzpen leading, they rose in rebellion against the 65 Turkish sailors.

After a three-hour struggle, and the loss of five of their men, Fitzpen and the remaining five forced the Turks to surrender the ship. (Oh how I wish we had more details about this.) All we know is that the slaves became free and with Owen's navigational expertise, sailed it to Cartagena, Spain, where Owen sold the corsair for £6,000 pounds sterling, a nice sum in those days, declined the offer of a captaincy from the King of Spain, and returned to Cornwall. Perhaps not surprisingly, he retired from the sea.

A plaque remembering him can be seen in St. Mary's Church, Truro.

In the Liberty Timeline we've described many heroes who defended freedom. It's wonderful to find that there are many more whose stories we are only just hearing about - 'ordinary' people who defended their liberty as valiantly as they could.

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