Barbarossa Pirates

The pirate brothers Barbarossa were Aruj Barbarossa who died in 1518, and Khayrad’din Barbarossa who died 1546. Both were born on the island of Lesbos to a Janissary soldier Yaqub, who had been granted land on the island, and the widow of a Christian priest.

Yaqub had four sons of whom Aruj was the eldest and Khizr the youngest, and two daughters. The father became an established potter and had a boat of his own to trade his products. Aruj helped with the boat while Khizr helped with pottery.

The Greek born Barbarossa (‘redbeard’) brothers founded the power of the Barbary corsairs in the 1500’s, attacking Christian shipping and coastal towns around the Mediterranean. It was Aruj the elder who had the red beard, which became their nickname and not the younger Khizr, who became better known as Khayrad’din and carried a brown or an auburn beard.

Corsair pirates were both Muslim and Christian who operated in the Mediterranean Sea between the 15th and 18th-centuries. Muslim corsairs, such as the Barbarossa brothers, had bases along the Barbary coast of north Africa. They built several strong fortresses to defend the Barbary ports of Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, and paid the sultan of Tunisia one fifth of their booty to use Tunis as pirate headquarters.

The Muslim pirates operated from bases in North Africa. During the Crusades (1095 -1295), Muslim pirates plundered the ships carrying the Crusaders and pilgrims and sold many Christians into slavery. For hundreds of years, the Muslim pirates collected “tribute” as protection against attack from the European powers. Usually, Christian Europe found it easiest just to pay the tribute

Christian corsairs were based on the island of Malta. Muslim and Christian corsairs alike swooped down on their targets in swift oar-powered boats called galleys to carry off sailors and passengers. Unless these unfortunates were rich enough to pay a ransom, they were sold as slaves or put to work as oarsmen on the corsair galleys. Christian corsairs carried razor-sharp rapiers into battle and often wore metal helmets and breastplates.

By the 16th century the corsairs had established a pirate empire, the Barbary States, in the countries of northern Africa. The pirate governments were supported by selling Christians into slavery and by taking heavy tribute as protection money from other countries. By 1510, Aruj was one of the richest men in the Mediterranean and he with his brother Khizr; the masters of eight well built galleons’ and owning vast property and slaves.

During 1512, Aruj had his left arm shot away by a Spanish canon while leading the charge against the Spanish fort outside Bougie. He was rushed to Tunis for surgical treatment with his left arm in tourniquet. Khayrad’din brought his eleven ships back and en route by a stroke of luck captured a large Genoese ship deep laden with jewelry and other treasures.

The incident moved greatly Louis XII of France under whose domination was Genoa at that time. But it was the Genoese Senate, which immediately dispatched a squadron of twelve large galleys to take care of Aruj.

After many violent clashes with crusader knights and Spanish soldiers, Aruj Barbarossa was killed in 1518. Khayrad’din vowed to avenge his older brother’s death and went on to become the ruler of Algiers.

In 1518 Khayrad’din Barbarossa became the sultan’s official representative in Algeria and Algerian corsairs dominated the Mediterranean with Ottoman protection for centuries. He seized Algiers in 1529, expelled the Spaniards, and placed Algiers under the authority of the Ottoman sultan. Barbarossa’s efforts turned Algiers into the major base of the Barbary pirates for the next 300 years.

The European powers made repeated vain attempts to quell the pirates, including naval expeditions by the Holy Roman emperor Charles V in 1541 and by the British, Dutch, and Americans in the early 19th century. Piracy based in Algiers continued, though much-weakened, until the French captured the city in 1830.

With this information at hand, it is highly unlikely that any Caldwell sailed with the Barbarossa brothers unless they were captured as slaves and not as ship captains. In the context of what we know about Caldwells is that if they were captured as slaves, they most likely would have been ransomed back.

What makes much more sense is that these Caldwells would have sailed against the brothers Barbarossa as Christian crusader Knights or Mercenaries.

The pirate story could be just a concoction of Gustave Anjou that has never been filtered out, or there may be some truth to it. If there were Caldwells sailing the Mediterranean at the time of the Barbarossa brothers, any “escape” would have been from the clutches of the Muslim corsairs of Barbarossa, and any “return to France” to “protect fleets” would have been reward for their service to France against the Barbary corsairs.