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Another Jewish Pirate

Lawrence Bush
September 7, 2017

Moses Cohen Henriques, a Sephardic Portuguese pirate, helped the Dutch West India Company capture a Spanish treasure fleet in the Battle of Matanzas on this date in 1628. The capture took place in Cuba’s Bay of Matanzas, with sixteen Spanish ships intercepted, four fleeing galleons trapped in the bay, and numerous other ships forced to surrender. The Dutch took an enormous amount of booty, without any bloodshed, and permitted the Spanish crews, with supplies, to march to Havana. The “gold and silver bullion amounted to a staggering 11,509,524 guilders,” writes Gil Stern Zohar in the Jerusalem Post, “worth around US$1 billion in today’s currency. It was the Dutch West Indies [sic] Company’s greatest heist in the Caribbean.” Henriques went on to lead a Jewish contingent in Brazil when it was ruled by the Dutch, and established his own treasure island off the Brazilian coast. When Portugal took back Recife in 1654, Henriques left South America and ended up serving Henry Morgan, the leading pirate of the day.

“Henriques was a different kind of pirate. He discussed his targets thoughtfully, gathered intelligence in great detail, abhorred any more violence than was necessary and was generous to his captives, refusing to sell them as slaves but releasing them at the nearest safe port. His great claim to fame was that he was the only pirate in fifty attempts over two hundred years to capture a Spanish treasure galleon, taking its incredibly valuable cargo without harming a soul on board. He also went on to be a friend and adviser to the great pirate Henry Morgan.”--Jon Katz,

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.