The 4 Most Infamous Pirates in History

Updated on June 15, 2020
angela_michelle profile image

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else be destined to repeat it.

Pirates of all different kinds of nationalities.
Pirates of all different kinds of nationalities. | Source

All-Time Favorite Pirates

Throughout history, many pirates have sailed the open seas. Pirates went by many different names depending on the period they sailed and where they originated. Some of these names included corsair, buccaneer, Viking, and privateer. Regardless of what they called themselves, they all plundered merchant ships while sailing on the ocean.

Many of these men became not only well known during their own time but are still infamous today. "Well-known" did not always translate into being the most successful or wealthiest pirate that ever lived; instead, they stood out due to their unique characteristics. One had a demonic presence, another burned down an entire city, one was a woman, and another allowed women on his ship. They were all dangerous, they all stole, and they all are remembered hundreds of years after their death.

Captain Henry Morgan, 18th-Century Pirate of the Caribbean
Captain Henry Morgan, 18th-Century Pirate of the Caribbean | Source

Pirate Henry Morgan: The Buccaneer King

Captain Henry Morgan was a Welsh Buccaneer, also known as the Buccaneer King. He was born in 1635 to a farmer, which seems a very unremarkable beginning for a ruthless man.

In his teenage years, he became an indentured servant. Back then, a white servant was treated worse than a black or Indian slave because it was harder to sell them. Indentured servants usually left servitude penniless, which may be his inspiration for eventually becoming a Buccaneer.

He joined his first pirate crew at the age of 20, and it did not take him long to realize that pirating could be profitable. He stole for most of his life until 1682, then died six years later in 1688.

Very early as a pirate, he impressed his companions, and they chose him as captain. His fame skyrocketed during his last battle in 1671 when he inadvertently burned down the entire city of Panama, which at the time was the second-largest city in the Western Hemisphere

He was well-respected as a captain. When he announced that he wanted recruits to help him in his attack on Panama, 2,000 men and 37 ships showed up, which was in part due to his generous hand, as well as his exceptional leadership abilities. During this particular raid, he requested only one percent of the loot for himself, since his quest was political, not financial.

Despite the large turnout, the war began with his men heavily outnumbered, three to one. Within hours the pirates had killed 600 of Panama's men and injured or maimed scores more. Unfortunately, many of Morgan's men were also killed or wounded in the attack.

He told his men not to drink the liquor in case it was poisoned. The truth was more likely that he did not want his men drinking, in fear of drunkenness inhibited their ability to fight. After days of fighting, the city went up in flames and continued to smoke over four nights.

At first, many thought Morgan requested to burn the city down, but he had nothing to gain and lots to lose by burning the town.

Despite his years of killing and pillaging, he ended his life as a semi-respectable man. He was pardoned and became governor in Jamaica. He was governor for two years and married his cousin, Mary Elizabeth. He died a rich man four years later with his wife by his side.

Anne Bonny an 18th Century female pirate
Anne Bonny an 18th Century female pirate | Source

Female Pirate: Anne Bonny

Female pirates were very uncommon, since having a woman on board was thought to be unlucky. Therefore, when there was a female pirate, they became well known, such as in the case of Anne Bonny. She was born in 1697 as a result of her father having an affair with a housemaid named Peg Brennan. Her father, William Cormac, admitted to the relationship and, after being ostracized, separated from his wife. He then took Anne and her mother to South Carolina. Anne's mother did not live very long, and when she died, Cormac raised his daughter on his own. Anne was a very uncontrollable, rebellious child.

When she got older, her father disowned her when she married an ex-pirate and sailor named James Bonny. Ironically, her father, James, worked as an informant who turned in pirates for a bounty. Through him, she met many pirates. One, in particular, was John Rackham, aka Calico Jack. She ran off with him in 1719.
Soon after they met, she became pregnant. Jack left her on land to have the baby.

No one knows for sure what happened to her baby after it was born; what we do know is that she rejoined Calico Jack's ship after she gave birth without the baby. Onboard Anne dressed as a man, to either hide her identity or to gain respect.

There she met a fellow cross-dressing female pirate by the name of Mary Read. There are rumors that the two became lovers, although it is certain that they were good friends.

They did not sail long together, for the ship was soon captured. All the men on board were hung. The women either feigned pregnancy or really were. In either case, they were spared and were allowed to give birth before being hung. Her friend Mary Read died in prison a month after the capture, never having the baby.

Although not proven, some thought Bonny's father paid officials to keep quiet of her escapement. She returned to South Carolina, where she gave birth to Rackham's second child. She later married Joseph Burleigh and had five to eight children with him. If this story is true, she died in her eighties and buried in York County in Virginia. There are many contradictions to her time after being captured.

Jack Rackham was nicknamed Calico Jack.
Jack Rackham was nicknamed Calico Jack. | Source

Calico Jack: John Rackham

Rackham, Anne Bonny's lover, received the nickname Calico Jack because he often wore the clothing from bright Indian Calico cloth. Calico cloth was very cheap, named because it was made in Calico. Little is known of his youth, although his pirating years were well-known, due to being one of the only captains to allow women on board. He did not believe that women brought a ship bad luck, although his adventures do not support his belief. He allowed two that are known for sure: Anne Bonny and Mary Reed.

He was not very successful due to his poor judgment, although he had great courage. Poor judgment and courage are not the best combinations, especially in a pirate captain.

Rackham led two crews during his years as captain; each time they were caught. The first time he was caught, they did not harm the men. He sought a pardon and received one from governor Woodes Rogers. He retired briefly.

It was at this time that he began his love affair with Anne Bonny. Her husband threatened his life several times. Yet, Jack, with his boldness, eventually paid her husband to annul the marriage. Unfortunately for the couple, the annulment was not acknowledged, which is why they ran off. He went back to pirating, and she joined piracy herself.

The second crew he led, eventually were caught by privateers on the coast of Jamaica. They captured the men quickly because they had been celebrating a great plunder from the night before. The only two that fought against the capture were the two women: Anne Bonny and Mary Reed. Most likely, because they were the only sober ones, all of the crew were brought into custody and found guilty. On November 18, 1720, they hung all of the men at Gallows Point in Port Royal.

Edward Thatch, more commonly known as Blackbeard, was one of the most ruthless pirates that ever was.
Edward Thatch, more commonly known as Blackbeard, was one of the most ruthless pirates that ever was. | Source

Edward Thatch: Blackbeard

Edward Thatch is one of the most infamous pirates of all time. Not because of his success or his riches, but because of the pure demonic presence, he would portray when attacking a ship. He tied hemp in his long black beard, then light it on fire as he hopped aboard a merchant ship. The beard would sputter and smoke, causing him to look inhuman.

Once people saw his large frame and glowing beard with a massive amount of weaponry strewn across his body, most merchants would hand over their loot without even a fight.

Many feared him on and off the land during his reign of terror from 1716 to 1718. Once, he even captured a few men and demanded medicine from a nearby town as ransom. Once the little town north of Charleston harbor was aware of his prisoners, they sent him the medicine. Once he received his loot, he kept his word and released the men back to land.

It was not the things he plundered during his life that put his name in history. Instead, it was Blackbeard's death and the moments after. On November 22 of 1918, the infamous pirate fought his final battle.

Captain Maynard was hired to capture and kill Thatch, then bring proof. He brought many of his men to where Blackbeard and his crew had been partying, catching them off guard. Most of Blackbeard's men were nowhere in sight, most likely drunk from the night before, putting Blackbeard at a significant disadvantage.

As Blackbeard saw Maynard's men approach, he lit off his cannon's killing many of Maynard's men. Maynard sent the remaining men below deck except for himself and two of his best men, which fooled Blackbeard into believing that he succeeded in killing the majority of those on board, which caused him to approach Maynard's ship despite being very ill-equipped and with very few men. Once Blackbeard hopped aboard, the men came from below and met him with hand-to-hand combat.

Legend states that Blackbeard received 25 stab-wounds and shot five times by a gun before finally being beheaded. Once beheaded, they threw his body overboard and hung his head on the bowsprit of the ship. Rumor has it, that the body swam around the boat three times before sinking, and still haunts that bay today.

All of these men and women were some of the most infamous people in history. They fought, killed, and stole for their survival. Yet, we often look at them with admiration rather than contempt due to their ability to cause fear and the choices they made in their unique positions.

What was the most important quality of a pirate?

See results

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz


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    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      7 years ago from United States

      Yes, please share... When you can.

    • vox vocis profile image


      7 years ago

      It's a fantasy novel based on Celtic mythology. Too early to reveal the details, yet but once it's finished I'll be happy to share more information. Thank you for your interest :)

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      7 years ago from United States

      Oh wow, what is your novel about?

    • vox vocis profile image


      7 years ago

      Not really, but I'm doing some research on pirates for my novel. Loved reading your hub :)

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thank you so much. You sound well educated on piracy!

    • vox vocis profile image


      7 years ago

      Edward Thatch was one of the rare pirates who were men of their word. Anne Bonny and Mary Reed were spared because they were both pregnant at the time of capture, but Mary died of illness before her child was born. I wonder what happened to Anne - it has remained a mystery until present day. Great hub, voted up!

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      7 years ago from United States

      Thank you!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Pirates seem to capture our imagination like highwaymen, wild west outlaws, maybe bikers. Good overview about pirates.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      Cunningness is my vote for the best pirate trait. I think Depp has added to this character for today's view of pirates. Great read on these characters, wow -- a female pirate too. Voted up.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I certainly enjoyed this hub! Why do we so love pirates? Criminals? I can't help but think it's all about the outfits - but in reality, they must have been a scurvy lot, no baths, no laundry facilities.

    • kat_thurston profile image


      7 years ago

      Never really knew that much about pirates this was a very interesting read. I will save this one because my boys would love reading up on this. Thanks for the hub.

    • angela_michelle profile imageAUTHOR

      Angela Michelle Schultz 

      7 years ago from United States

      I think it would have been amazing to see him in action... from a very far distance...

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      7 years ago from southern USA

      Fascinting hub!!! I would not have wanted to come within 100 miles of that Thatch character. He sounds horrifying to say the least. Really enjoyed this read. Voted up, awesome and interesting In His Love, Faith Reaper


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