Some of Histories Most Notorious Pirates

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A pirates life was a life of adventure. Pirates had to steal, plunder, fight and kill to survive; they made enemies out of governments, empires and even other groups of pirates. Pirates were also not an isolated group, they started in the mid-1500s and have continued in modern times, coming from almost every major empire across the world. Listed below are some of the most notorious pirates out of the thousands of less-than-reputable characters.

William Kidd (Scottish, 1645 – 1701)
602719997-William-Kidd_02 A stylish Scotsman who had been a leading citizen of New York City, actively involved in the building of Trinity Church, Captain Kidd began his career as a privateer, originally commissioned to rid the seas of pirates. Only reluctantly, did he cross bounds into piracy (having been elected pirate captain by his crew), although his piracy itself may be questionable as his exploits may have been sensationalized. His greatest misfortune was attacking an East India Company vessel. When he learned that he was hunted for that deed, he buried some of his treasure on Gardiners Island, anticipating its usefulness as a bargaining tool. But, captured in Boston along with his wife, William Kidd was eventually sent to England for trial. He was sentenced to death, some said unjustly, and suffered a wretched execution – the noose by which he was hung broke twice, and after he was killed on the third hanging his body was doused in tar and hung by chains along the Thames River.

Edward Teach “Blackbeard” (English, 1680- 1718)
blackbeard Though there have been more successful pirates, Blackbeard is one of the best-known and widely-feared of his time. He commanded four ships and had a pirate army of 300 at the height of his career, and defeated the famous warship, HMS “Scarborough” in sea-battle. He was known for barreling into battle clutching two swords, with several knives and pistols at the ready. He captured over forty merchant ships in the Caribbean, and without flinching killed many prisoners. Though he had many unofficial wives, he was “officially” married to a 16 year old girl – whom legend has it he offered as a gift to his crew after she tried to reform him. After a fierce battle in which he made a stand with candle smoke rising from his beard, he was overtaken by the Royal Navy and beheaded. His head was then raised upon a stake as a warning to other pirates near Virginia’s Hampton River.

Bartholomew Roberts “Black Bart” (Welsh, 1682 – 1722)
roberts Roberts’ crew admired his adventurist courage, calling him “pistol proof” – though he had been forced into piracy, having once been an officer on board a ship that was captured by the pirate Howell Davis. After taking over, Roberts’ navigational skills, charisma, and bravado painted him golden the eyes of his men. He plundered over 400 ships, a grandiose record to be sure, and captained well-armored ships in every endeavor. He died in a vigorous battle against British Captain Chaloner Ogle; his death left many of his faithful followers and admirers reeling. Even the Royal Navy itself was stunned.

Henry Every “Long Ben” (English, 1653-unknown)
avery Every began his naval career in the British Royal Navy. He served on various ships before he joined a venture known as the Spanish Expedition Shipping in 1693. He became pirate captain through mutiny, leading to his renown as one of the most feared and successful pirates of the Red Sea. Though he didn’t take many ships, the two that he did capture were among the finest in the Indian Ocean (one of them being India’s treasure ship, bulging with gold and jewels). Upon his great wealth (he was the richest pirate in the world), Every retired – but he continued to be hunted far and wide, and his true whereabouts at the time of his death remain unknown.

Anne Bonny (Irish, 1700-1782)
MTI4ODM1ODA0NjA3ODE4Mzcx Having traveled to the New World with her family, Anne fell in love and married a poor sailor named James Bonny. But when she grew increasingly disappointed by her husband’s lack of valor, she began seeking out the company of many different men in Nassau. Among these men, was “Calico Jack” Rackham, captain of a pirate ship. She joined his crew whilst acting and dressing like a man (including drinking and fighting profusely). Thus, she fought under his command, and along with fellow female pirate Mary Read, she coaxed the crew onto even greater bloodshed and violence and became a formidable pirate herself. However, she was captured with Rackham’s crew and sentenced to death. Both she and Mary Read claimed pregnancy in prison, and their death sentences weren’t carried out (but Mary had the misfortune of dying in prison). No one is sure how the famous female pirate died, though there is speculation that she returned home to her husband or her father.

Sir Henry Morgan (Welsh, 1635-1688)
Henry_Morgan Captain Morgan is one of the most famous pirates who terrorized Spain’s Caribbean colonies in the late 1600s. Inconspicuously sanctioned by England, Morgan became the head of the Jamaican fleet and successfully undermined Spanish rule, hampering normalcy in the West Indies. He may have pillaged upwards of four hundred ships throughout his piracy career. His greatest achievement was capturing the very wealthy Panama City with thirty ships and 1,200 men, acquiring his largest plunder yet. It was due to his raid on Panama City that he was arrested and brought back to England, but because battle resumed between England and Spain, King Charles II knighted Morgan and released him as deputy governor of Jamaica. There, he lived a very well respected planter until his death.

Francois l’Olonnais (French, 1635-1668)
lollonais l’Olonnais humbly began as a poor man, working on a plantation in America as an indentured servant. After he turned to piracy, the Frenchman was known for the viciousness he showed to his vanquished, as well as his success in raiding many towns (he was one of the most successful pirates on land attacks) and capturing many ships. Amongst his most successful plunders was the town of Maracaibo, Venezuela, where he ravaged and stole his way into historical infamy, gaining some 200,000 Spanish dollars. His sadistic, bloodthirsty streak was predominant in his career, for he is said to have eaten a Spanish soldier’s heart during one of his many attacks. His own death, however, was equally as gruesome. l’Olonnais and his crew lodged their ship on a sandbar off the coast of Panama and weren’t able to break free. Upon venturing onto land in search of food, they were captured by the local tribe and devoured.

Jean Lafitte (French, 1780-1823)
Anonymous_portrait_of_Jean_Lafitte,_early_19th_century,_Rosenberg_Library,_Galveston,_Texas Jean Lafitte, despite his effeminate name and Frenchness, was an honest to goodness pirate king. He led an entire pirate island in Louisiana, capturing ships and smuggling stolen goods into New Orleans. He was so successful that when the Governor of Louisiana offered a $300 price for his capture (back when 300 bucks was half the national budget) Lafitte responded by offering a $1,000 reward for the capture of the governor. The media and the authorities painted Lafitte as a dangerously evil mastermind and mass murderer. Apparently his reputation spread across the Atlantic, because in 1814, Lafitte was approached by the British and handed a letter signed by King George III himself, promising citizenship and landholdings if he joined their side. Also, if he refused they would tear his little island to pieces, and sell it for scrap. Lafitte said he needed a few days to think about it … and ran straight to New Orleans and warned the Americans that the English were coming. Even though he wasn’t American, Lafitte watched the new country with great admiration and ordered his entire fleet never to attack an American ship. The one time a pirate disregarded his order, Lafitte killed the guy himself. He was also known for treating captured crew well and sometimes returning their ships if they weren’t fit for pirating. Lafitte was a hero among the people of New Orleans, since his smuggling operation allowed them to buy stuff they otherwise couldn’t afford. So how did the U.S. respond when he warned them about the English? Why, by raiding his island and locking up his men. It wasn’t until future president Andrew Jackson stepped in and pointed out that New Orleans wasn’t prepared for a British attack that the authorities agreed to release Lafitte’s men if they agreed to assist the U.S. Navy – which, at the time, consisted of a fraction of the ships in Lafitte’s personal pirate fleet. It’s a good thing, too, because the pirates were pretty much the only reason New Orleans didn’t fall to the British, which would have been a huge strategic victory. New Orleans could have given the British a place to gather their forces before attacking the rest of the country. Think about it: The U.S. might not even exist today if it weren’t for this unwashed French “terrorist.”

Stephen Decatur (American, 1779-1820)
stephen-decatur-large Stephen Decatur doesn’t really fall into the stereotypical image of a pirate, in that he was actually a respected U.S. Navy officer. Decatur was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the history of the navy. He was also the first American celebrated as a national military hero who didn’t play a role in the American Revolution – they even put his face on $20 notes. when the USS Philadelphia was captured by Tripolitan pirates in 1803, the 25-year-old Decatur gathered a group of men, disguised them as Maltese sailors and infiltrated the enemy harbor armed only with swords and pikes. They overtook the entire crew without losing a single man and set it on fire just so the pirates couldn’t use it. Admiral Horatio Nelson, the same man who had his arm removed so that he could get back to battle, called the raid “the most bold and daring act of the age.” Later, as Decatur was returning from seizing another ship with a crew twice as large as his, he learned that his brother had been shot while fighting the pirates. Even though the whole crew was exhausted from the latest raid, Decatur turned around and chased the enemy ship, which he and 10 other men proceeded to board. Disregarding everyone else, Decatur, went straight after the man who shot his brother and killed him. The rest of the crew eventually surrendered, leaving Decatur with 27 prisoners and 33 dead pirates in a single day.

Benjamin Hornigold (English, 1680-1719)
benjamin-hornigold While his protege went on to become the most famous pirate of all time, Hornigold went on to become a footnote in hundreds of books with the word “Blackbeard” on the cover. Hornigold started his career of piracy in the Bahamas with little more than a few canoes. A few years later, he had a huge fucking 30-gun warship, possibly the most heavily armed in the area. This made sailing over to merchant ships and stealing their goods and booze extremely easy. So easy, in fact, that he apparently did it just for shits and kicks. Which leads us to the story that, to us, is Benjamin Hornigold in a nutshell: Hornigold overtook a merchant ship in Honduras and the only thing he demanded was everyone’s hat. He explained to the puzzled crew that his pirates got drunk and lost their hats the night before, then took off without stealing anything else. Sadly, it looks like his crew didn’t share his priorities. Hornigold always considered himself a “privateer” rather than a pirate, and to prove it he refused to attack British ships. His men didn’t share this delusion and eventually deposed him, with a good part of his crew and ships going to that asshole Blackbeard. Who subsequently lost his head. Hornigold eventually retired as a pirate, but rather than simply moving to a condo and taking up golf (or whatever the 18th century equivalent of that was), he accepted a royal pardon and became a pirate hunter — being tasked with chasing some of the same guys he used to run with.

William Dampier (English, 1651-1715)
Oil on canvas, c. 1697-1698 Englishman William Dampier was a bit of an overachiever. Not content with being the first man to circumnavigate the world three times and becoming a celebrated author and scientific explorer, he also had a little hobby: raiding Spanish settlements and plundering other people’s ships. All in the name of science, of course. The Oxford English Dictionary cites Dampier’s writing over a thousand times, since he provided the first written example for words like “barbecue,” “avocado,” “chopsticks” and hundreds of others. Dampier has been called the first natural historian of Australia – he was the first person ever to describe things like the “large hopping animal” and the “midget bear with a fondness for humping trees.” Dampier’s contribution to Western culture is so massive that Darwin based his work on evolution off of his observations and Gulliver’s Travels specifically mentions how awesome he is. In 1688, when his first trip around the world was almost over, Dampier told his crew to leave and voluntarily marooned himself off the coast of Thailand, otherwise known as “the middle of nowhere.” He grabbed a native canoe and sailed off on his own, showing up in England three years later, completely penniless, carrying nothing but his journals … and, a tattooed slave prince. At this point he published his first book, which was an immediate success, also making a little money on the side by showing off his new friend.

Hayreddin “Redbeard” Barbarossa (Ottoman, 1478-1546)
n_59524_4 Barbarossa started out as a legitimate merchant sailor in the 16th century, but was forced to flee the Eastern Mediterranean after backing the wrong candidate for sultan. Becoming a pirate, he started attacking Christian ships around what’s now Tunisia until his enemies took his base, leaving him homeless once again. Tired of getting kicked out of countries, Barbarossa went ahead and started one for himself: the Regency of Algiers (present-day Algeria, Tunisia and parts of Morocco). He did this by pledging alliance to the Ottoman sultan and getting in return enough ships and weapons to fight whoever lived there before him. At one point, Barbarossa single-handedly defeated the combined forces of Venice, the Vatican, Genoa, Spain, Portugal and Malta during the Battle of Preveza (1538), and by “single-handedly” we mean it was just him and 122 ships he commanded.

Peter Tordenskjold (Norwegian, 1690-1720)
210px-Tordenskiold Peter Tordenskjold was a Dano-Norwegian nobleman and an eminent naval flag officer in the service of the Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy. He rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral for his services in the Great Northern War. Born in Trondheim, Peter Wessel travelled to Copenhagen in 1704, and was employed in the navy. He won a name for himself through audacity and courage, and was ennobled as Peter Tordenskiold by King Frederick IV in 1716. His greatest exploit came later that year, as he destroyed the supply fleet of Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Dynekilen. In one instance, Tordenskjold ran out of ammo and sent his enemy a letter thanking him for a great battle and requesting more ammo to continue it, the enemy was so impressed he sent him the ammo, the toasted each other’s health and went their separate ways. In 1720, he was killed in a duel. In Denmark and Norway he is among the most famous national naval heroes. He experienced an unusually rapid rise in rank and died when he was only 30 years old.