John Bowen was born on Bermuda and like most pirates started his career on a merchant ship. While serving as an officer on an English ship he was captured by French pirates. Fortunately the ship ran aground off Madagascar and Bowen and a number of other prisoners took the opportunity to steal a longboat and row to St Augustine. Bowen remained there for over a year before joining the crew of Captain Read
Read captured a large Indian ship and returned to Madagascar too sell his plunder. Bowen decided to join another pirate George Booth and was with him when he captured a 50 gun ship called Speaker. Bowen remained with Booth until Booth was killed in Zanzibar, at which point the crew elected Bowen captain.
On of his first successes as captain was to raid a fleet of 13 Moorish ships under cover of darkness stealing a prize worth over £100 000 (£ 8 million today). The port towns at the time were so corrupt that as long as Bowen paid the traders didn't care where his money came from and he was able to practice his trade with impunity. Unfortunately in 1701 the Speaker ran aground off Mauritius Bowen and the crew scrambling ashore to safety. They remained on Mauritius for three months before buying another ship and sailing back to Madagascar.
A year later Bowen and his crew seized a bigger ship, the Speedy Return and teamed up with another pirate Thomas Howard attacking a number of East Indiamen, the Pembroke and another ship which they renamed the Defiant.
By now the Speedy Return was showing her age and she was burnt, Bowen's main ship now becoming Defiant. Their latest adventures had netted the pirates £70 000 in plunder (over £5 million today). Bowen then decided he pushed his luck too far and after dividing the spoils retired to Madagascar. Unfortunately he did not live very long to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. He was dead six months later from an intestinal disease.