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Famous Pirates throughout History
Piracy is the criminal act of hijacking, attacking or destroying a vessel on the high seas. It can often include other acts such as stealing, kidnapping, or other unlawful activities. Prior to the 1900s, privateers were privately sanctioned by the government to take over ships, usually for the purpose of acquiring goods. When privateering became prohibited, some people continued to do so illegally and thus, became pirates. Many of these law-breakers listed below became well-known as highly feared pirates and ruled the seas during the 1600s and 1700s.
Anne Bonny was one of only a few famous female pirates. She was born in the late 1600s and married a small-time pirate, James Bonny. Soon after, the couple moved from Charleston to New Providence. Anne left James to join the pirate Calico Jack’s crew. Anne disguised herself as a man because pirate code forbade female crew members. The only person she shared her secret with was Calico Jack. She became pregnant after a year, gave birth and left the child in Cuba. In 1720, the ship was captured and the men aboard were hanged. Anne was granted reprieve due to another pregnancy but her final days are unknown.
Captain William Kidd
Captain William Kidd was the captain of the Blessed William, which attacked various French settlements and vessels. Kidd was known to deprive his crew of the rewards from missions. The crew rebelled by taking over the pirate ship and sailing away with everything the captain owned. After settling in New York, Kidd was commissioned to be a privateer with the mission of suppressing piracy and smuggling. Kidd sailed to Madagascar, knowing this was a pirate haven. His ship, the Adventure Galley, sustained so much damage that it was beached and burned. Kidd and his crew seized another ship and Kidd found out he was declared a pirate. Although Kidd believed in his own innocence, he was put to trial in 1701, and declared guilty of piracy and hanged.
John Rackham, or Calico Jack, joined the crew of a ship called The Treasure. The crew believed that its previous captain lacked the qualities of a good leader, so they made Rackham captain. Soon after, the governor of Jamaica sent vessels to capture Rackham and his crew. They escaped and sailed to New Providence, where they gained a pardon. It was there that Rackham allowed Anne Bonny, a female pirate, to join his crew. A few months later, the ship made a trip to Cuba for Anne to give birth to Rackham’s child and then returned to the sea and their piracy ways. A few years later, during the second trip to Cuba for Anne to give birth, the ship was captured. Rackham was tried and hanged for piracy in 1720. It is rumored that Rackham created the skull and crossbones logo and flag.
Mary Read is another well-known female pirate. She was born through an affair and her mother made her pretend to be a boy so she could work for money. She enlisted in the army, still dressed as a man, during her teenage years. After her time with the army, she met her husband. He died shortly after they were married and Mary once again found herself dressing as a man for money. She boarded a vessel as a crew member and when the vessel was taken over by John Rackham’s ship, Mary joined his pirate crew. Anne Bonny discovered Mary was a female and told Rackham. Much to Bonny’s surprise, Rackham did not mind another female aboard the ship. After Rackham’s ship was captured, Mary was spared the hanging of the men, but was sentenced to prison. She died in jail after contracting a high fever.
John Bartholomew Roberts
John Bartholomew Roberts, also known as the Great Pirate Roberts and Black Bart, was known to have captured the largest amount of ships in his time. It is thought that he overtook more than 400 ships in just four years. He attacked every vessel that came across his path and rarely spared lives. As a result, the shipping trade suffered and nearly came to a halt. Despite the fact that most officials refused to challenge the boats belonging to Roberts, his ship was attacked by a government vessel in 1722. Roberts was killed by a spray of grapeshot. The remaining crew members gave in to the attack and partook in one of the largest pirate trials in history.
Edward “Blackbeard” Teach
Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, worked as a privateer as a young man. At the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, Teach joined a group of pirates. It was not long before he became captain of his own ship. Teach and his crew terrorized ships of the Atlantic and Caribbean from 1716 to 1718. Then, he settled in North Carolina and preyed on ships for their goods, which he sold in the towns as cheaper imports. However, Blackbeard’s downfall was due to a wild pirate get-together, where he was captured by the navy sloops. Teach’s head was cut off and suspended from the bow of a navy sloop as a warning to other pirates.
- Biographies: More information on the lives of famous pirates.
- Pirate Articles: A collection of articles about the history, fame and evolution of piracy.
- Elizabethan Era: Famous pirates during the rule of Elizabeth I.
- Blackbeard: An article about the life and times of Blackbeard.
- Historical Pirates: The history of piracy and famous pirates.
- Anne Bonny: An in-depth biography of Anne Bonny’s life.
- Pirate History and Reference: An index containing information of famous pirates and privateers.
This resource was provided by Elise Schwartz. Elise works for www.buypiratecostumes.com and loves all things pirate.
DLTK's Pirate Section for lots of pirate crafts and activities.