Other Facts

February 14, 1750: Luke Ryan, according to a parish registry produced by the king’s prosecutor at Ryan’s trial for piracy, is born in Rush, Ireland, to a Michael and Mary Ryan of Kenure. At his trial, Ryan’s attorney will produce an official registry from the Curate of Gravelines, France, to prove that Ryan was in fact born in France to a Joseph and Mary Ryan (Joseph Ryan served in France’s Dillon Regiment as a lieutenant). Ryan’s nationality will become a critical issue later at his trial…

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February 19, 1779: The smuggler Friendship and its crew are captured by British revenue cutters off Dublin. The ship, with its rich cargo of contraband, is taken to the King’s Customhouse at Poolbeg and impounded. The crew is jailed in Dublin’s infamous Black Dog. By luck, the ship’s 25-year-old master, Luke Ryan, is on land when his ship is seized. Ryan is ruined and in hiding. But instead of running, Ryan hires more men, breaks his crew out of jail and then, in a daring midnight raid, the Irishmen sneak aboard their ship, subdue the British guards and set sail for France…

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May 19, 1779: Benjamin Franklin, America’s Minister Plenipotentiary to France, issues a privateering commission, or letter or marque, to the warwhip Black Prince (which is the Friendship renamed). Ryan knows that Franklin would never issue a commission to an Irish outlaw like himself and so he dupes Franklin by making Franklin think he is giving the commission to an unemployed ship’s master, an American, named Stephen Marchant. But,  unbeknownst to Franklin, Ryan is the Prince’s true captain.

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April 17, 1781: Ryan, now in command of the French frigate Calonne, takes the Englishg brig Nancy as a prize off St. Abb’s Head but runs into the powerful British 74 gun Berwick and her escort, the frigate Belle Poule. Severely outgunned and pinned against the coast, Ryan is forced to surrender, bringing his two-year reign of terror finally to an end. The event is reported in The Annual Register, or A View of the History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1781 (Third Edition).

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March 30, 1782: Ryan’s trial for piracy and treason begins at the Old Bailey Courthouse, the same courthouse where William Kidd was tried and convicted 80 years earlier for piracy. The trial was much publicized and is reported in the April issue of Thomas Walker’s Hibernian Magazine or Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge.

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June 18, 1789: Ryan, as reported in the The Gentleman’s Magazine: For June 1789 (under Obituary of considerable Persons; with Biographical Anecdotes at page 578), dies from blood poisoning in the King’s Bench Prison, a debtors’ prison in London, at the approximate age of 39. Some in France dispute this and claim that Ryan died in France much later after serving in the French navy.

Ryan’s Obituary:

“In the King’s Bench prison, Luke Ryan, captain of the Black Prince privateer during the war, who captured more vessels belonging to Great Britain than any other single ship during the war. The various scenes he went through are astonishing. He sailed firm the port of Rush, in Ireland, early in the year 1778, in the Friendship, a smuggling cutter of 18 six-pounders, whose name he afterwards changed to the Black Prince, and did more injury to the trade of these kingdoms than any single commander ever did. He was taken in 1781 by one of our ships of war, tried as a pirate at the Old Bailey, condemned, and four different times ordered for execution, but reprieved; and on peace being made, obtained his pardon through the Court of France. In 1781 he had realized near 20,000l. by his piracies, and lodged this sum in his bankers hands; but having trusted a woman passed her on them as his wife, they suffered her to draw the whole out on his conviction, and she defrauded him of every shilling.” [Emphasis Added.]

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