[PIRATE'S CHEST]. [TEW, Thomas]. A heavily painted iron strong box, probably 17th century, probably German, the exterior decorated with painted florals, birds and the occasional angel in a Spanish style, the flat recessed hinged lid carrying a large and elaborate internal lock mechanism working independent bolts and covered by a plate engraved with sprays and mermaid[?] figures, operated with a key through a central keyhole at the top, a dummy keyhole on the front panel, twist drop handles on either end, the interior painted orange and with a smaller locking compartment along one side. 470 x 835 x 460 mm.
A PRACTITIONER OF PIRACY WITHOUT TEARS
Iron strong boxes of this style are typically of the style used to transport valuables during the 17th and 18th centuries and much more ably designed for the purpose than the wooden chests of lore. Newspaper articles with the present lot record its 1957 purchase by the library for the Driscoll Collection, from Robert Nesmith, author of "Dig for Pirate Treasure." Nesmith had earlier obtained the trunk from the descendants of Rhode Island's Captain Thomas Tew.
The Tew family settled in Newport in 1640 and Thomas Tew's grandfather Richard Tew was named in the charter granted in 1663. Prominent family behind him, it did not take the young Tew long after his arrival in Bermuda in 1691 to secure a privateering commission from the governor there. He obtained a crew and sloop, but quickly tired of his official assignment to attack the French in Gambia and instead easily enlisted his crew in more profitable pursuits. (Defoe/Johnson's History of the Pirates relates his crews' reaction to his offer of turning pirate as "A gold chain or a wooden leg-- we'll stand by you.") His first target was a heavily-laden Arab vessel in the Strait of Babelmanded, which yielded each man a share of over 3000 pounds sterling. Tew's adventures continued, with his joining the democratic pirate settlement on Madagascar, "Libertatia", under the "Piracy without Tears" banner of the French Captain, Misson. While in the pirate enclave, a dispute between the French and English pirate crews led to a duel between their commanders, Tew and Misson. A defrocked priest turned pirate settled the dispute amicably and Tew eventually became an admiral in their fleet.
Upon his return to New York, Tew was able to pay back his Bermuda investors handsomely, at 14 times their initial investment, and later obtained similar privateering commissions from Rhode Island (though it cost him £500). The captain became quite a celebrity in New York and it was said that the rumours of his preparing for another voyage had sons, rich and poor alike, running away to sneak on board his ship. Tew's success in raiding Eastern shipping was such that for a time Arabian Gold was common in New York.
In contrast to popular ideas on the cruelty of pirates, Tew was by most accounts quite humane in his treatment of prisoners and more than one instance has been recounted of ships giving in without a fight when they learned their assailant's identity. In 1696 Captain William Kidd received a king's commission to capture pirates with Thomas Tew being mentioned by name in the document. Kidd quickly turned pirate himself. Thomas Tew was able to escape Execution Dock, he was mortally wounded attacking a ship of the Great Mogul and died a fitting pirate's death.
The present lot is featured in the Time/Life publication The Pirates, being illustrated on the title page.