TYPICAL DUTCH GIFTS

Piet Hein

The Dutch pirate

Ship Captive to Ship Captain:
The Remarkable Story of Piet Hein

Piet Pieterszoon Hein (also spelled Heyn) had a remarkable life. His journey from a ship captive to ship captain and leader of one of the biggest heists in history is just simply extraordinary and shows that once you have a goal and ambition you can achieve anything. He is credited to have said: “The way to grow grand is not to demand. In life’s every field, you are what you yield.” He did is best and went on to become a folk hero of the Dutch.

As a captive

The son of a sea captain, Piet Hein was born in November 1577 in Delfshaven, now part of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He turned to the sea at a young age becoming a sailor as a teenager. He was since captured twice by the Spanish. The first time, he was held as a slave on a Spanish galleon for four years before being freed in a prisoner exchange. He was again captured off the coast of Cuba and held between 1603 and 1607. Hein joined the Dutch East India Company in 1607 and left for Asia. He returned to the Netherlands five years later as a Captain, settled in Rotterdam, and became a member of the local government.

In 1623 Hein joined the Dutch West India Company (WIC) as Vice Admiral and sailed to the Caribbean. Between 1623 and 1627 he captured over thirty Portuguese ships laden with sugar, as well as the Portuguese colony of Salvador. Though classified as a pirate by many, Piet Hein was a privateer in the eyes of his home country having been given a “Letter of Marque” by the Dutch West India Company to undertake privateering activities. The work of a pirate and a privateer is the same – raiding and plundering enemy ships – but privateering involves an individual, ship or company commissioned and sanctioned by the respective country to carry out such activities.

As a captain

The greatest heist

Hein’s greatest heist came as he was a Naval Officer in the Dutch West India Company in what was the only successful capture of a Spanish treasure fleet. During the Eighty Years War, at the battle of the Bay of Matanzas in 1628, he successfully led the capture of the Spanish Silver Fleet consisting of nearly twelve million guilders of gold, silver and other trade goods such as cochineal and indigo. He returned to the Netherlands as a hero. Not that Hein was overly impressed with the reception that he received for having captured the Silver Fleet, stating that he had done more heroic exploits that were never recognised. He resigned from the WIC after being rewarded only 7,000 guilders for his efforts. However, the money from his capture of the Spanish Silver Fleet went a long way in aiding the efforts of the Dutch in freeing the southern Netherlands from Spain.

His Legacy

The son of a sea captain, Piet Hein was born in November 1577 in Delfshaven, now part of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He turned to the sea at a young age becoming a sailor as a teenager. He was since captured twice by the Spanish. The first time, he was held as a slave on a Spanish galleon for four years before being freed in a prisoner exchange. He was again captured off the coast of Cuba and held between 1603 and 1607. Hein joined the Dutch East India Company in 1607 and left for Asia. He returned to the Netherlands five years later as a Captain, settled in Rotterdam, and became a member of the local government.

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