Who doesn’t want a pirate’s life? I am not talking about the rogue Somalians who rob cargo and fishing vessels at gunpoint, like it was shown in the movie Captain Phillips. I am talking about the real pirates of the 16th century we all fell in love with after watching the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
It might be misleading to talk about pirates in a good light, as if they were the Queen’s Guard. We all know pirates were ruthless criminals who preyed on the weak and killed anyone who got in their way. Some folklores even suggest that they were so evil that the devil himself spat them out!
Still, there is something exciting about pirates and their life. It could be their atypical appearance—the eye-patch, peg leg, hook hand, and tricorne—that has become the hallmark of Halloween parties today. Or it could be the way they lived life: by the code of brethren, without any fear, and inviting mysterious stories in their wake. No wonder many wish to be like Captain Jack Sparrow, the pirate who led a life of adventure. To feed your fascination, Soulveda brings you the stories of the five most notorious pirates who lived glorious lives at sea.
Blackbeard, a legend among outlaws
Blackbeard was an English pirate who was hailed as the strongest and most feared of all time. He was popular for his unusual appearances during raids: he used smoke fuses in his long beard and his hair made him look like a demon from hell. His spooky appearance made winning fights rather easy for him.
Blackbeard had a fleet of three sloops, commanded by the flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge, and over 100 pirates, ready to kill anyone on their captain’s command.
To some, Blackbeard was a merciless pirate who would send sloops to the bottom of the sea, even when the enemies have yielded. ‘Scourge of the seven seas’, he was called. But, the ordinary people of Britain saw Blackbeard as a hero who fought against a corrupt and tyrannical government. According to historians, even his enemies respected him for his just nature. In several eye-witness accounts, there is not a single mention of him killing any pirate who yielded to him. Rather, it is said he would add them to his crew for a fat pay.
Anne Bonny, the woman pirate on the sly
Anne Bonny was born in a modest Irish family that owned a small plantation business. She grew up learning the business from her father, but she wasn’t happy. She craved adventure, thrill and uncertainty. So, when James Bonny, a young pirate asked for her hand in marriage, she saw it as an opportunity to escape her mundane life.
Anne married James Bonny and moved to a pirate haven called Nassau in the Bahamas. Her dream of living an adventurous life, without any fear of tomorrow, became a reality. But her whole world came crashing down when she found out that James was a ‘bilge rat’, a traitor who passed information about the whereabouts and the raid plans of the pirates to the governor.
Anne left James and joined the crew of a famous pirate called Calico Jack, disguised as a man—women were prohibited aboard a sloop. There, she became a fierce fencer who never shied away from a fight; no matter how big the opponent was. Later, she fell in love with Jack’s lieutenant, who turned out to be Mary Read, another courageous woman impersonating a man to live the pirate life.
In his first two years as a pirate captain, Roberts captured around 400 vessels off the coast of West Africa, Canada and the Caribbean.
Mary Read, the last woman standing
Mary Read was an English pirate who is remembered today as one of the greatest women to ever aboard a swoon in the pirate heydays. Mary was a runaway who wanted to start anew after a troubled teenage. She disguised herself as a man and boarded a merchant vessel that was on its way to the West Indies. The vessel was attacked and destroyed by Calico Jack. He asked Mary, unaware of her true identity, to join his crew; and Mary gladly agreed.
Aboard the vessel, Mary met Anne. It didn’t take her much time to realise that Anne was an impersonator too. Soon, they developed a mutual attraction for each other that lasted till the day they were attacked by a pirate-hunter, Captain Barnet. His sloop was bigger and stronger than Jack’s warship. After a few rounds of attacks, Calico Jack and his crew surrendered, except for Mary and Anne. On seeing their fellow pirates surrendering, the women are said to have shouted, “If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come out and fight like the men ye are to be.” When no one came out, both Anne and Mary stood their ground, fighting to their last breath.
Stede Bonnet, the ‘gentleman’ pirate
Unlike many pirates, Stede Bonnet was born rich. He was an educated military officer who served as a Major in the Barbados militia before turning to piracy after a few years of retirement. Bonnet bought a sloop with his wealth, named it The Revenge and hired 70 ‘hands’ to sail it across the Caribbean.
With no experience in burglary, Bonnet struggled initially to leave a mark in the pirate world. But he was one of the few pirates who knew how to leverage an experienced crew and make viable war strategies. In a short span of time, Bonnet successfully plundered several ships to the bottom without much viciousness, which earned him the nickname ‘the gentleman pirate’. His Jolly Roger soon became a symbol of destruction and fear on the Caribbean. Later, Bonnet joined forces with the infamous Blackbeard, and together, they fought in the siege of Charleston and South Carolina.
Bartholomew Roberts, a prisoner-turned-captain
Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart, was a simple man, leading an ordinary life as a merchant. His fierce nature was on par with many famous pirates, yet he chose to steer clear of the world of piracy. But everything changed the day his merchant vessel was attacked by pirates and he was taken aboard as a prisoner. Ironically, the crew was ambushed by another gang, making their pirate captain flee. When the defeat seemed inevitable, Roberts took the helm and led the pirates to safety. Impressed by his leadership and bravery, the pirates unanimously selected him as their new captain.
In his first two years as a pirate captain, Roberts captured around 400 vessels off the coast of West Africa, Canada and the Caribbean. His success was truly remarkable as no other pirate in history had ever amassed such numbers. His reputation earned him the name ‘Great Pirate Roberts’, which helped him increase his dominance and footprint further.
Roberts was also a peculiar dresser who loved wearing waistcoats, breeches and jewellery, especially during raids. His choice of clothing for fighting was a concern for his crew but his courage and leadership always eclipsed his quirks.