Secret Lives of Interns: Ahoy Vey!

Posted on August 9, 2010 by

Were you aware of it? Jewish Piracy!

A blog post by Melina

One of the best things about working in an archive is the treasure trove of strange and interesting information you may come across while organizing boxes full of letters, articles and documents from times past. My internship here at the JMM is specifically related to organizing the archives of the Baltimore Hebrew University, which encompasses everything from reimbursement receipts for 70¢ bottles of soda, to deans’ and professors’ correspondence, to file folders full of loosely organized research material. In a file labeled ‘Sephardim: History’ by one Professor Daniel J. Elazar, I discovered buried treasure: an article entitled “An Episode of Piracy” from 1962, by Leon M. Zeldis. Naturally, I stopped everything and proceeded to read the article, which begins: “It is not widely known that Jewish buccaneers once roamed the high seas, in search of gold-laden Spanish galleons.”

‘Ahoy Vey! By Melina’

The article primarily concerns the 17th century pirate Captain Subatol Deul, the early history of whom is unknown, but who was known to be the son of a prominent Jewish physician and explorer of the New World, Sudel Deul. Sudel Deul is said to have brought potatoes back from the Americas and introduced them to Europe!

According to Zeldis, there was widespread piracy in the early 17th century, particularly directed against Spanish ships, and “it is not surprising that some of the Spanish Jews, expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella, derived a special satisfaction from the capture of Spanish ships, loaded with gold and precious goods from the new world.” Subatol Deul became involved in this profitable and satisfying career sometime in the late 16th century, and in the early 17th century he formed the buccaneer alliance ‘the Brotherhood of the Black Flag’ with Henry Drake, the son of Sir Francis Drake. The Brotherhood was active near the Chilean coast until 1640, when they were defeated by the Spanish navy. Deul fled to a tribal village and married the chief’s daughter, eventually inheriting the title of Chief himself. As chief, he supervised the mining of much Chilean gold, and he and his tribe prospered for the rest of his life.

It is said that Deul and his buccaneers buried 6000 pounds of stolen Spanish gold, and even more silver, near the Chilean harbor of Guayacan. The treasure has never been found, but documents written partially in Hebrew, perhaps by Subatol Deul himself, have been discovered in the search.

Naturally, we JMM interns were inspired by Subatol Deul to try piracy for ourselves, so we booked tickets on the pirate ship Fearless for Baltimore’s Urban Pirate Cruise. We all had a great time, but ultimately decided that full-time piracy isn’t for us.

Intern Rachael G in full costume!

Aaaaarrrrr! The piratical interns.

For more Jews on the water, check out the Jewish Maritime Historical Society!

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