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Jack Shaftoe
AKA "Half-Cocked Jack"
Ali Zaybak
King of the Vagabonds
Year Born c. 1660
Origin Isle of Dogs, London
Relatives Bob Shaftoe

Jack "Half-Cocked Jack" Shaftoe (also known to the French nobility as L'Emmerdeur, to the Turks as Ali Zaybak, and Quicksilver) was an English vagabond who became a mercenary before abandoning the trade to wander once more. His reputation among his peers was so high that he was unofficially titled King of the Vagabonds.

Jack Shaftoe - a.k.a. Ali Zaybak, a.k.a. King of the Vagabonds. Circa 1714.


Jack (born circa 1660) and his half-brothers Dick and Robert were raised by their mother, a prostitute, in a shack on the Isle of Dogs until Dick was seven years old. Mother Shaftoe, having only six fingers, could no longer remember his age and sent the three out into the world. The three became wanderers and banded together with other boys to steal goods off of ships. On one such venture, Dick, attempting to tie a rope around a ship's anchor, got his ankle caught in a loop of the rope and drowned. The surviving brothers then make a safer living dangling from the legs of men condemned to death by hanging (the boys' added weight provides a quicker death, preventing a lengthier and more painful death by strangulation). Though illiterate, the boys develop their native intelligence and become quite articulate due to their repeated attendance at the theater. Later, both boys serve John Churchill on the battlefield but, whereas brother Bob becomes a career soldier, brother Jack is influenced by "the Imp of the Perverse" and goes off to seek greater adventure.

Syphillis and Disfigurement[]

Jack suffers from syphillis and sought a cure to the disease with a disreputable physician. The physician botched the job, removing a portion of Jack's penis with a hot poker. This gave rise to Jack's first nickname and most reliable means of proving his identity. It also resulted in Jack devoting more effort to improving himself and taking advantage of opportunities of a non-carnal nature, because he knew he could not avail himself of the pleasures of the flesh. When he met Eliza after the Siege of Vienna and began an affair with her, however, her Kama Sutra training in the harem of the Grand Turk resulted in her finding a way to give Jack sexual release and solidified the love between the two. Before contracting syphilis, Jack fathers two boys, Danny and Jimmy.

King of the Vagabonds[]

After enlisting in the unit which would eventually become the King's Own Black Torrent Guards under John Churchill, Jack deserts and begins to wander about Europe. He takes advantage of opportunities to pilfer the home of a rich man in a plague-stricken French city and abandons the area before the authorities show up, and then enlists in another military troop seeking to participate in the Siege of Vienna. There, Jack again deserts to loot the city, and, while chasing an escaped ostrich for its valuable feathers, he meets and rescues Eliza. Traveling with a stolen warhorse that Jack names Turk, he and Eliza nearly freeze and starve en route from Vienna to Leipzig, but Jack always finds a way to protect Eliza and earn his reputation as King of the Vagabonds; for example, he provides a feast of fish for the starving locals by blowing up a well-stocked pond. When the two encounter Gottfried Leibniz, Eliza begins to develop her financial acumen but Jack does not similarly benefit from his encounter with the real-life savant. However, while Jack does not credit the sound advice he receives from the fictional alchemist Enoch Root, he does, as later adventures prove, accurately note Enoch's method of making phosphorus. When Jack and Eliza move on to Amsterdam, Eliza continues to gain financial knowledge and skill but Jack becomes bored. He goes on to Paris to sell the ostrich feathers and discovers that his adventures have gained notoriety in broadsheets and tabloids, where he is titled "L'Emmerdeur," or "the guy who gets shit on everything." While in Paris he is befriended by the extended Esphahnian family, and is eventually captured by the Duc d'Arcachon while trying to sell Turk. Jack escapes captivity and stumbles into the Duke's masquerade ball, where he is mistaken for Louis XIV; because Jack is nervous he runs his horse in to the Duke's son, Etienne d'Arcachon, who is humiliated by this trifling impertinence and cuts off his own hand before the real Louis XIV enters. Jack then escapes, along the way learning of a dark secret concerning the Duke. He returns to Amsterdam to reunite with Eliza, whereupon the two have a falling-out concerning an ill-advised proposed commercial venture.


Following Jack's departure from Amsterdam, he is captured by Barbary pirates and made into a galley slave. During his captivity, he falls deeply ill and runs high fever, which according to his fellow slaves, cures him of syphilis. He befriends several other slaves and together they form a group calling themselves the cabal, and agree to collaborate with the Sultan of Algiers and through him, the Duc d'Arcachon, to steal a silver-laden Spanish treasure ship from the Viceroy of Mexico. After a daring raid on the ship at the port town of Bonanza, Jack and the cabal members discover that the ship is loaded not with silver, but with gold, and they proceed to Cairo where they obtain their freedom from slavery, confront the Duc d'Arcachon, narrowly escape and become scattered. Jack is later found in wretched condition by cabal member Surendranath, uses Enoch Root's phosphorus recipe to defeat the fearsome Marathi, earns a three-year stint as a king of the Great Mogul, and reunites with other cabal members who had been enslaved by Malabar pirates.

He subsequently builds a ship the Minerva with backing from the Queen of the Malabar coast and Queen Sophie Charlotte of Prussia, and uses the unusually heavy gold as defouling plating under the waterline. Enoch Root and The Shaftoe boys join the cabal in sailing to Japan to purchase quicksilver and then the Americas, where they sell the quicksilver to silver refining operation in Mexico and Peru. After falling afoul of and escaping the Inquisitional powers of Spain in Mexico city, they rendez-vous with the Minerva in the Caribbean, and sail to The British Isles, where Jack is Captured by Etienne, now Duc, d'Arcachon.

After a Forced Reconciliation in Paris at the command of the Sun King (who demonstrates respect for the 'King' of the vagabonds), Jack takes up a mission from the King to engage in Debasing the coinage of The English. He Does so, and is captured, and hung, his body carried away by the crowd, and eventually revivified, leaving him to enjoy a simple retirement with Eliza. He is last seen in 1715, in good health and hunting with Louis XIV.

America "Amy" Shaftoe, circa 1999

Twentieth-Century Descendants[]

Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe, son of Bobby Shaftoe and Glory Altamaria.

Bobby Shaftoe, circa 1940

Apparently through his sons Danny and Jimmy, Jack Shaftoe has as his descendants in Cryptonomicon the characters Bobby Shaftoe, Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe, and his daughter America (Amy) Shaftoe.

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