Rais Hamidou is one of the most famous corsairs of the Regency of Algiers. He was and still is very popular among Algerians mainly because he was a very powerful corsair who won many battles (and captured many ships and prisoners), because he was the last great Rais before Algeria’s invasion, and because he was a local (tawa3na) unlike the other major corsairs who came from Europe.
Albert Devoulx, who wrote a lot about the Regency of Algiers, could retrieve many documents related to Rais Hamidou and wrote therefore a book about his life. You can download it from the second link I provided here.
Rais Hamidou ben Ali was born in El Casbah of Algiers in the 1770s. His ancestors being Kabyles from the Isser district in Boumerdes. He started training to become a tailor like his father, but the stories he hears on Algeria’s corsairs ignited his thirst for adventure and pushed him to leave the training and sail in a Regency’s ship at the age of 10 or 11.
The Bey of Oran was the first to give him a Chebek before appointing him as the commander of the beylik’s naval forces as an award for all his successes. And following a victory against some Genovese vessels the Dey of Algiers (Hassan Pasha) decided to hire him as the commander of one of the Regency’s chebeks.
An accident near the coasts of El Kala broke the chebek (Hamidou however saved the crew), and fearing the Dey’s reaction, Rais Hamidou fled to Tunis then to Constantine before being forced back to Algiers. The Dey forgave him and gave him another chebek before promoting him around 1797 as the commander of the Regency’s biggest corvette. In 1802, Rais Hamidou captured a Portuguese vessel with 40 cannons. This helped promote him to the rank of commander of the Regency’s fleet.
Devoulx’s book provided a detailed list of the activity of the Rais between 1797 and 1808. In 1808, the new Dey exiled Hamidou to Beirut because, it is alleged, he considered him as a threat. Hamidou’s exile lasted less than 2 years as he was called back by another new Dey (Deys back then didn’t live long as the janissaries assassinated most of them relatively quickly).
Back in Algiers, Rais Hamidou resumed his activities and went even to the Atlantic ocean. There he captured several vessels, mainly Portuguese, and his bravery and smart moves added to his fame. He also took part in some battles and was key in the Regency’s victory against Tunis.
On 17 June 1815, Rais Hamidou met a powerful American squadron (under a Spanish flag) and got killed by a bullet at the beginning of the battle. The Algerian fleet was defeated and it’s said that Rais Hamidou’s body was thrown into the sea, but his life remained in the Algerian people’s memory as depicted by a song one can read translated in French in the above mentioned book.