Famous pirates of the Bahamas
BLACKBEARD: One of the most notorious pirates of all time was Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. An unusually large man, he struck terror into the hearts of his own crew, never mind those he attacked. Before battle, Teach would weave hemp into his long, black beard and light it. The sight of his smoking form standing on deck – brandishing a multitude of swords, knives and pistols – was enough to make many merchantmen surrender before any shots were fired. If they gave up without a fight, Blackbeard would confiscate their valuables and weapons and let them sail away without bloodshed. However, if the crew showed any resistance, he would either kill or maroon them, abandoning them on a deserted island. When Blackbeard lived in Nassau, his fellow pirates appointed him magistrate of their ‘Privateers’ Republic’. He enforced his own style of law and justice until Royal Governor Woodes Rogers arrived in 1718. Blackbeard was out to sea when Rogers drove the pirates out of Nassau, so he moved to another island and continued his raids. In 1718, a British ship trapped Blackbeard’s vessel on a sandbar off the coast of Virginia. A bloody battle ensued, in which Blackbeard received five pistol balls and twenty cutlass wounds before he expired. The Royal Navy captain then decapitated Blackbeard and displayed his head on the ship’s rigging. Although his pirating career only lasted about five years, it is believed that Blackbeard captured 40 ships, and his legend lives on today.
CALICO JACK: The pirating activities of John Rackham, or Calico Jack as he was known in reference to the striped trousers and coat he wore, began when as quartermaster, he seized control of his captain’s ship. Charles Vane, unfortunate pirate captain of the ship Treasure, had failed to attack a French man-of-war, which so infuriated Calico Jack, he set up a protest, and supported by his fellow crew members, placed Vane and his allies on a small sloop and sent them on their way. Sometime later, Calico Jack met Anne Bonny on the island of New Providence. He persuaded her to leave her husband and she joined him on his ship dressed as a man. A second female pirate, Mary Read, was already part of Calico Jack’s crew, and like Anne, dressed as a man. Anne and Mary were both on board when a pirate-hunter under the orders of Royal Governor Woodes Rogers’, attacked their ship in 1720. During the fight, Calico Jack cowered in the hold along with the crew, leaving Anne and Mary to fend off the attackers on deck. They lost the battle and Calico Jack was sentenced and hanged.
SIR HENRY MORGAN: A Welsh privateer, was famous for his exploits against the Spanish. He led his crew on many successful and profitable raids, including a spectacular attack on Panama City in 1670 that earned him a knighthood. A few months later, Morgan settled in Port Royal, Jamaica, as its deputy governor and became a rich sugar plantation owner. On the Bahamian island of Andros, the highest point on the island is called Morgan’s Bluff in tribute to the famous buccaneer. Although it is highly unlikely, some say Henry Morgan once hung a lantern there to lure a ship onto the reefs and plunder it after it wrecked.
ANNE BONNY AND MARY READ: Dressed as men, Anne Bonny and Mary Read sailed under pirate captain Calico Jack Rackham. Well known for their short fuses and hot tempers, they were both said to be as fierce as the men who fought alongside them. Anne’s pirating days began when she met Calico Jack on the island of New Providence and abandoned her husband, James Bonny, for him. Disguising herself in men’s clothes, she joined Jack on his ship and soon earned a reputation for being as ruthless and fearless as the other pirates on board. Remarkably, there was another female pirate on the same ship. Disguised as a man, Mary Read, a woman known to have craved adventure from childhood, had joined Calico Jack’s crew sometime earlier. By the time she met Anne Bonny she had been in the regiment of a man-of-war, been a sailor on a shipping vessel and been part of the crew on a privateer. In 1720, Captain Burnet, a pirate-hunter commissioned by Royal Governor Woodes Rogers, attacked their ship. The crew, who were drunk at the time, huddled in the hold while the two women bravely fought off the attackers. Their efforts were were unsuccessful however, and every member of the crew was tried for piracy and sentenced to death. Claiming to be pregnant, Anne and Mary avoided being immediately hanged, although Mary eventually died in her prison cell from a fever. Anne gave birth to her baby and, for some reason, was granted a reprieve after which she disappeared and was never heard of again.
To see more on Pirates and where you can find them when you’re in The Bahamas visit The Pirates of Nassau Museum