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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Rais Hamidou, A Real Regency Era Pirate

Rais Hamidou. Rais Hamidou. During my recent visit to Algeria, this name was everywhere. Not only was there a city named after him, but every town had a restaurant, a street, and a neighborhood named for him too.

At first, I assumed he was some long ago head of state. But then one day, I saw an inflatable boat floating far out from shore. I hesitate to use the word “floating” because “floundering” was a more apt description of what they were doing. There had to be at least 12 children in a boat designed for four adults, and it was sagging. “Do you think they’re in trouble?”I asked the Algerian standing next to me.

He scoffed. “No. They’ll be fine. They are descendents of Rais Hamidou.”

So I had to ask. Who was this Rais Hamidou? And why did everyone love him so? From the locals’ descriptions, it sounded like he was some kind of Robin Hood of the sea, a Barbary Coast corso who captured treasure from foreign ships and brought the bounty home to the common man.

A real regency era pirate.

The kind romance novels are written about.

Historians will take exception over the use of the word pirate. Rais Hamidou was an Admiral of the Algerian Navy. He worked for the Dey, and his ill-gotten gain went straight into the state coffers. His reputation was such that most kings preferred to pay him a tribute for safe passage rather than fight him on the open sea.

But his backstory is pure romance. Born a tailor’s son, he ran away from home when he was ten years old to pursue his love of the sea. Known for his naval skills and charismatic personality, he worked his way up until he had control of the entire Algerian Navy. The people loved him, and he became so powerful that even the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire complained about having no control over the pirate who was supposed to be his vassal.

In 1817, Rais Hamidou was shot and killed during a battle with an American fleet which sought free access to the Mediterranean Sea. But his legend lives on.

Tomorrow, I will post pictures from the Palace of the Rais in Algiers.
Meanwhile, please tell me, who’s your favorite real-life pirate? Would you ever consider using him/her in a romance novel?


  1. Clarissa, this is fascinating. I have to admit, I've never researched pirates--so I don't have any favorite pirates that were real. For now, I think my favorite has to be Captain Jack Sparrow. LOL.

  2. ....but what about the floundering boat?

  3. Thanks for the comments Cat and Chat Noir. The floundering kids were fine. Apparently, descendants of Rais Hamidou do not sink. :)

  4. What's most fascinating to me is that his story sounds a lot like that of John Paul Jones, the pirate -- *COUGH* -- excuse me, privateer who founded the U.S. Navy. I wonder how often that sort of thing happened in the nation-building years at the end of the 18th century.

  5. I'm with Catherine in that I've not ever researched pirates and don't really know any imtimately enough to name one as my favorite. But you have peeked my interest with this tale. Maybe I'll write a pirate romance someday. Thanks for a great blog!

  6. This was great -- I think a lot of those we consider "founders" had a "contrary streak", or they wouldn't have been able to change the status quo. LOL

    I've started a Regency-era pirate story -- sorry, he's a privateer. LOL I think it was a way for resourceful people to gain advantages in a world where it was hard to move UP, so that's why it has such a romantic air to it.

    Oh yeah, and the cool costumes. LOL


  7. Great blog, Clarissa. There is something romantic about pirates.

    Oh, oh, oh! My most favorite pirate ever is Jean Lafitte. I love, love, love him. In fact, he is one of the reasons I adore New Orleans. *sigh*

    But he's an ocean away from all of my characters, so I don't see me giving him a cameo in any of my stories. ;)

  8. Oh, I LOVE stories like this! And you're right - it's perfect for romance writers. I haven't really researched one particular pirate as much as researching their habits, daily lives, etc. My favorite pirate will always be the onen I created in my story "After The Loving"...if only I could get that baby published so others could read. lol

    Tell me...when you think of pirate, do you think of a 'sweet' romance or no? lol


  9. I live in Eastern NC, and all the pirate lore out here is about Edmund Teach, aka Blackbeard. In fact, the Maritime Museum in Beaufort has some artifacts on display that were recovered recently from the "Queen Anne's Revenge," Blackbeard's ship that was wrecked off the coast. Great blog!

  10. Hi Clarissa,
    Great post! I've always been fascinated by pirates, though I have to admit I don't have a real-life favorite. Captain Jack Sparrow will always rank first in my heart where fictional pirates are concerned :)


  11. I believe if anyone has read one of my blogs here before than they have discerned my love of the sea and the golden age of piracy. It is simply not only a love affair for me but a lifetime fascination that began when I was just six years old.

    Contrary to popular belief piracy was not romantic in any way shape or form. Real historians know they were brutal, crude, and cruel. Life aboard ship was messy, with very little privacy if any at all, disease was rampant and most men were lucky to live past thirty. Despite all that I believe its a love of the sea that drew men, the freedom it represents and being able to "be your own man."
    Which pirate do I love the most? Hmm so many... probably Bartholomew Roberts simply because of his meticulous genius. He was the most successful pirate of his time. Would I ever write him into a story? No, probably not. I'm not certain I could ever do thier stories justice, so I will stick with my fictional characters.

    I love this story btw Clarrissa. He is not one I had heard of, of course, my time period is a bit before yours. Piracy like prostitution is one of the oldest proffessions and we will still likely have it hundreds of years from now. It is just as brutal today as it was two hundred years ago. Wonderful post and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now its time to look him up! lol

  12. What a great story! I've never thought about writing about a pirate, my thing is cowboys, but this certainly peaks my interest.

  13. John Paul Jones, Jean Lafitte, Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts...You all have given me a lot of names to look into. But I think Jack Sparrow is still in the lead. If I ever write that pirate story, I'll have to be sure to include some humor. Thanks so much for commenting!

  14. Great blog! I love pirates! From fiction: the Dread Pirate Roberts of Princess Bride fame, Captain Jack Sparrow, & Captain Blood. From fact: The gallant Bartholomew Roberts (Black Barty), Captain Henry Morgan, Jean Lafitte, Jack Rackham and Grace O'Malley.

    And if I do say so myself, I'm in love with my hero in PIRATE BY NIGHT, the foppish Percival Avery desguised as pirate, Thomas Sexton.

  15. Fantastic blog Clarissa. I haven't a clue about pirates but they are now on my "to research" list. Fascinating stuff!