Forget ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and learn about these real famous pirates
Ahoy, Matey! Pirates have always been fascinating historical figures. They’re known for roving the high seas in search of loot, with their signature eyepatches. They would often capture criminals and make them “walk the plank.” They were barbaric, but some pirates have resonated throughout history more than others.
You probably know about Blackbeard, but there are more pirates who sailed in all conditions in search of their desired treasure. This includes Benjamin Hornigold, Batholomew Roberts, and, surprisingly, a female pirate—Mary Read.
Working with Blackbeard
Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, is probably the most famous pirate ever to exist. He operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of Great Britain’s North American colonies. He was known as a shrewd leader who relied on his fearsome appearance to elicit a response from those he robbed.
But even the great Blackbeard couldn’t do everything by himself. He required necessary assistance from his friend, Captain Benjamin Hornigold. The pirate most likely served on a privateer during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. He turned to piracy after the war ended.
By 1716, Hornigold was roving the Bahamas with Blackbeard among his crew. The pair captured several ships off the American coast, seizing a French ship loaded with gold and precious jewels. Then, in 1718, Hornigold and Blackbeard parted ways and Hornigold decided to stay in New Providence. He continued to hunt ships, robbing other pirates of their valuable treasures.
In 1719, Hornigold was sent to Mexico on a trading voyage. His ship apparently struck a reef during a hurricane. He perished, but five of his crewmen were able to escape by a canoe. But following tradition, as Captain, Hornigold sank into the water with his beloved ship.
The most successful pirate
Bartholomew Roberts deserves more fame in history. He was an expert at plundering ships, an act in which he would rob ships by using extreme force. He plundered around 400 ships from 1719 to 1722, making him one of the most successful pirates ever to exist.
Roberts, also known as Black Bart, could credit his boldness as a contributing factor in his ability to rob so many innocent sailors. He terrorized every ship he encountered throughout the Caribbean Sea. When other pirates and sailors saw his ship in the far distance, they would go to great lengths to avoid him. They knew if Roberts caught up to them, they were in trouble.
Like many other pirates, Roberts didn’t choose to become a pirate. He was a tall, well-dressed, attractive man, and he loved expensive clothes and jewelry. While serving on a British Slaver “Princess” as a Third Mate, a pirate, Howell Davis, captured the ship and enslaved Roberts. The young sailor was forced to join Davis’s crew. Roberts was hesitant towards his new lifestyle, but he eventually realized piracy was the best opportunity for him to have everything he ever wanted: money, jewels, and lavish clothing.
The most unique pirate
Calico Jack might not have been a great fighter, but he’s regarded as one of the most unique pirates to ever sail the Caribbean Sea. He wasn’t entirely successful, but he had other qualities that allowed him to be a remembered pirate.
John “Jack” Rackham earned his famous nickname, Calico Jack, because he always wore calico clothing. His brief career, from 1718 to 1720, didn’t earn him much wealth, but he managed to have two female pirate crew members, making him more unique than his competition. His cunning mind and tendency to “backstab” other pirates allowed him to safely rove the Caribbean Sea.
But Calico Jack perhaps isn’t famous for his loot. Instead, he’s recognized for his large impact on the modern image of pirates, specifically on ship flags. Prior to him, pirate flags featured full human skeletons with a weapon. Calico Jack, on the other hand, promoted his iconic Jolly Roger flag: a black flag with a white human skull and two white crossed skulls beneath it. He may not have achieved much success as a pirate, but he invented a design that is still memorable to this day.
Women were pirates, too
Contrary to what you probably think, pirates weren’t just men. Women were pirates, as well. This includes Mary Read and Anne Bonny. Both were fearless leaders from 1718 to 1720 and competed right alongside male pirates.
It wasn’t difficult for Read to work alongside men. When she was a child, her father and half-brother died, and she and her mother lived with her paternal grandmother. Her mother kept the death of Read’s brother a secret from his grandmother, so Read pretended to be her older brother. She was raised as a boy and was destined to one day serve as a ship’s crewman.
On the way to the Caribbean, Read’s ship was captured by Calico Jack and she unwillingly became a pirate. While onboard the ship, she met Calico Jack’s woman, Anne Bonny, who would become the most famous female pirate of all time. Bonny was way ahead of her time. She was strong, independent, and quickly befriended Read, as they were the only two women on Calico’s ship.
Bonny knew she didn’t have many rights. On any ship, she wasn’t treated with equal respect. She didn’t have the same job responsibilities as other crew members, but she still enjoyed life at sea. Just like any pirate, Bonny (and Read) knew sea life better than most. They searched for treasure and the world was shocked when the real identities were revealed of two of the most daring, fearless pirates ever to sail the open sea.