Famous Pirates of Early America and the Caribbean

Stede Bonnet Pirate Icon


Blackbeard the PiratePsychological warfare was Blackbeard’s whole game plan. He played on the fears and superstitions of regular seamen by creating an image of himself as being in league with the devil. He was over six feet tall and in times of battle would place lit cannon wicks in his long black beard and under his hat so that the smoke would encircle his face. Most ships surrendered once they knew it was Blackbeard on the attack. This concept worked so well that we are still talking about him to this day.

Blackbeard was not as cruel as Charles Vane and some other pirates. He was however by no means a nice Captain. Shortly before his death, he is known to have cocked two pistols under the table in his cabin, blew out the candle and fired both barrels. One shot hit Israel Hands in his knee which crippled him for life. He then proclaimed, “If I don’t kill one of you now and then, you will forget who I am.” On another occasion, he took some of his crew below deck, closed all the hatches and lit pots of sulfur just to see how long they could stand the fumes. When Blackbeard opened the hatches, he was more than pleased that he was the last to come up for air.

Read more about Blackbeard…

Stede Bonnet

Stede BonnetStede Bonnet was a retired army officer who owned a large sugar plantation on Barbados. In 1717, he purchased his own ship and set out to be a pirate. It is said that he did so to escape a nagging wife. Bonnet knew little about commanding a ship and soon his crew lost their confidence in his leadership. It was in early March 1718 that Bonnet met up with Captain Teach. Teach invited Bonnet to come aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge and convinced him to form a partnership with him and his crew. With the consent of Bonnet’s crew, Teach placed Lieutenant Richards in command of Bonnet’s ship, the Revenge, while Stede stayed on board the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Over the next few months Captain Teach and Bonnet captured several more ships as they made their way up the coast toward Charleston, South Carolina. By the time they reached Charleston harbor near the end of May, Teach had about four hundred men under his command. The blockade of Charleston was their most brazen act of piracy.

Bonnet and Teach went their separate ways after the blockade and four months later Bonnet was captured in the Cape Fear River. He was put on trial in November of 1718 for piracy and was hung a month later. His body was left hanging for several weeks to warn any other would be pirates of their fate.

Charles Vane

Charles VaneCharles Vane was known to be one of the most ruthless of all the pirates and from 1716 to 1719 committed many acts of brutality. Vane rarely followed the pirate code by stealing from his own crew and killing sailors after promising them mercy.

On February 23, 1718 Vane and his crew were captured but claimed that they were on their way to accept the King’s Pardon. They were all granted a pardon on the spot and were set free. Vane had no intention of not pirating anymore and recruited forty men out of Nassau including Jack Rackham. In April of 1718, he captured twelve ships and treated the crews with cruelty even though they chose to surrender. Vane became the leader of those who refused the pardon, and soon began outfitting a vessel to become a weapon. He loaded his French prize, the Lark, with explosives and set it adrift as a fireship aiming right at the British blockade. When the magazines and gunpowder on the ship exploded, it created a massive fireworks display. As the fire tore away at the warships, Vane and his crew slipped away in the chaos on the Ranger, a six-gun sloop.

In the spring of 1719 Vane and his crew were captured in the Caribbean and on March 22 tried with many others. When it was Vanes turn to defend himself he called no witnesses and did not ask any questions. After his death his body was hung in a gibbet at Gun Cay right next to Jack Rackham who had mutinied against him back in November of 1718.

Jack Rackham

Jack RackhamJack Rackham was best known as “Calico Jack”. This was because the clothes he wore were always made of calico material. He sailed with Captain Charles Vane as his quartermaster and was on Ocracoke for the great pirate gathering in late September to early October of 1718. Blackbeard, Israel Hands, Charles Vane, Robert Deal and Jack Rackham were among the notable pirates who attended the festival. This gathering of pirates, also known as the “Ocracoke Orgy”, is said to have been the largest gathering of pirates on the shores of North America.

On November 24, 1718 Calico Jack branded Captain Vane a coward for his refusal to fight a French man-of war the day before. A vote was taken by the crew and a resolution was passed to oust Vane and install Rackham as their Captain. Over the next few months, Rackham was fairly successful as a pirate captain. In mid May, 1719, Calico Jack arrived in Nassau and received a pardon from Governor Woodes Rogers. It was during his stay in Nassau that he met and fell in love with Anne Bonny. It did not take long to spend all of his money and return to piracy.  Dressed as men, Anne and another female, Mary Read, sailed with Rackham until their capture in November 1720. Rackham and twelve of his male crew were convicted of piracy and on November 18, 1720 were hung on gibbits in chains to set an example for other would be pirates.

Anne Bonny & Mary Read

Anne Bonny

Anne Bonny

Born in London, England, Mary Read was raised as a boy. Disguised as a male, she served as a footboy, sailor, soldier, and pirate. Dressed as a man, Mary was on board a vessel bound for the West Indies when it was overtaken by the pirate, Captain “Calico Jack” Rackham. She accepted his offer to join the pirates on board his ship, the “Curlew”.

She now sailed under Captain Rackham, who had with him another woman pirate, Anne Bonny. They took a large number of ships belonging to Jamaica and from one of these took prisoner a young man with whom Mary fell deeply in love and would soon marry. This young man had a quarrel with one of the pirates and, as the ship lay at anchor, they were to go fight it out on shore according to pirate law. Mary, to save her young man, picked a quarrel with the same pirate and managed to have her duel at once. Fighting with sword and pistol, she killed him on the spot.

Mary Read

Mary Read

In October of 1720, the “Curlew” was attacked by an armed British sloop on orders from the Governor of Jamaica. While the rest of the pirate crew hid below deck, Read and her friend, Anne Bonny, and one other pirate took up the fight. Read shouted for the others to join them, but they refused. To scare them into action, Read fired her pistols down the hatch, killing one man and wounding others. But the pirates, including their husbands, still wouldn’t fight. Finally, the whole crew was captured and taken prisoner.

The following month, Read and the crew of the “Curlew” were found guilty of piracy and sentenced to hang. As Rackham went to the gallows, Bonnie told him, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hanged like a dog!” Both Read and Bonny were pregnant, so they were given a delay in execution until their babies were born. However, Read died from a high fever soon after the trial.