5 Infamous Pirates Explained - Full of Brilliant Trivia for Teachers and their Lessons
Updated: Oct 5
Let’s face it, Pirates are totally awesome and are clearly the cool kid of the maritime world. Forget your submarine commanders and narrow boat enthusiasts; Golden Age Piracy is where it’s at. If you’re studying Pirates at school, or helping someone to study Piracy, then you’ll need to know all about some of the iconic characters of yesteryear that set sail over the seven seas. Time is doubloons, so let’s not waste any more of it. Here we go, Imagining History proudly presents: ‘5 Infamous Pirates Explained’
Blackbeard, or Edward Teach to his pals, is probably the most famous real-life pirate of all time. Sure, fictional felons Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver may have exceeded Blackbeard’s fame in recent years, but if you’re after a real life nautical naughty man, then Blackbeard is your pirate.
Born, probably, in 1680 in the English city of Bristol, we know little about the life of Edward Teach. We do know that after an early career as a Privateer during the ‘War of the Spanish Succession’, he really hit his Pirating stride in 1716. It was in 1717 that he captured and converted a French Merchant ship into a 40 gun monstrosity; The Queen Anne’s Revenge.
With his deadly flagship, Blackbeard caused havoc and outrage in the Caribbean Sea. He became super famous back home for his bad boy anticz, gathering the tabloid fame that would make even a Kardashian jealous.
However, his pillaging and plundering ways did not last for long. In 1718 he was tracked down and killed by a British naval force under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard. During his final battle, Blackbeard apparently fought like a deranged demon, he suffered ‘five gun wounds and 20 cuts by sword or cutlass’ but nothing could bring the bad lad from Bristol down.
That is until, with Maynard about to be killed at his feet, Blackbeard had his head hacked off by an unseen foe. Popular legend has it that when Blackbeard’s decapitated body was flung into the water where it swam around the ship several times before sinking without a trace.
Anne Bonny, like many pirates, had a mysterious and secretive origin story. Historians generally believe that she was born in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland in 1697. Violent and disturbing rumours followed young Anne wherever she went. Whilst living in Charleston, South Carolina in her teens, she supposedly killed a servant girl with a knife and put a young man in hospital after he tried to assault her. Despite her young years something was very clear; don’t mess with Anne Bonny!
After an unsuccessful marriage, Anne ranaway with the dashing swashbuckler Calico Jack Rackam – owner of the fabulous pirate ship ‘Revenge’. They did the whole pirating thing, you know plundering, murder, and whatnot, until they were joined by another famous female pirate, Mary Read. Mary and Anne became good friends and even better pirates. All was going swimmingly until one fateful night in October, 1820.
After having successfully managed to capture a Spanish Commercial vessel, Jack Rackham and the rest of his crew decided to get more than a little tipsy; they decided to get blind sloshed. It was whilst many were disgusted by the regurgitated contents of their stomachs that they were sneak attacked by Captain Barnet and the British Navy.
All the pirates promptly gave in, other than Anne and Mary, who fought on ferociously until they were eventually overpowered. The crew of the Revenge were taken to the city of Port Royal where they were all promptly found guilty of Pirating, the sentence was death by handing. The event was a tabloid sensation, especially when Mary and Anne revealed they were both pregnant and so, at the last moment, managed to avoid the hangman’s noose.
What happened to Anne? No-one’s really sure but there’s a compelling theory: Anne’s father eventually was able to pay for his daughter’s ransom and buy her freedom. She eventually settled down with a nice fella named Joseph Burleigh and had eight children. If this is true then she’s one of the few pirates who lived to see old age and had a happy ending.
Who was the most successful Pirate of all time? Without a doubt that would have to be Ching Shih. She was like some crazy pirate styled combination of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates; insanely rich and successful.
Born in 1775, Ching Shih went from humble beginnings as a prostitute to becoming the wife of pirate captain and leader of the ‘Red Fleet’, Zhèng Yi. The historical record is a little ambiguous as to how they came together but regardless, Ching Shih was not content to be a doting wife, she wanted power and influence and she knew how to get it.
The Red Flag fleet went from consisting of 200 ships to an absolutely stonking 1800 ships, with some 70,000 pirates under Zhèng Yi and Ching Shih’s command. This plentiful pirate posse took some work to organise, the massive fleet was colour coded in order to ensure there was discipline and order. How on earth you can organise 70,000 individuals with early 19th century communication technology is beyond me, but our criminal couple managed it.
In 1807 Zhèng Yi prematurely popped his pirate boots and died, leaving Ching Shih in charge. She more than rose to the occasion. Strict, extremely capable and organised, Ching Shih approached being a pirate lord like a modern day CEO.
She formed an ad-hoc pirate government and set out clear rules for her employees to follow; breaking the law was met with severe punishment. Including, but not limited to, flogging, quartering and having your ears cut off. Just not necessarily in that order.
Ching Shih crushed anyone who opposed her, Chinese, Portuguese, and British naval ships fell victim to the Red Flag. She was even dubbed "The Terror of South China”, in recognition of her brutally efficient reign.
So feared was Ching Shih that Chinese authorities eventually offered her and every pirate under her full amnesty. Chinig Shih was even permitted to keep all of her ill-gotten gains. She eventually retired and opened her own gambling house in Canton. What a legend she was.
From one of the most efficient, deadly and successful pirates of time to one of the most unlucky; William Kidd one ever managed the one act of piracy.
William Kidd was born in 1645, in Greenock, Scotland, and went on to become a successful privateer. A privateer is essentially a legal pirate, you do most of the things a regular pirate would do but you only do it to the ships of other nations, which makes your monarch a happy chappy or chappella.
William Kidd kicked off a successful privateer career in New York City, his achievements were so well regarded that he was invited to serve the new governor of New York and Massachusetts, Sir George Bellomont. Georgie, as he wasn’t known, gave Kidd command of the warship ‘Adventure’. His mission was two-fold and relatively simple: to hunt French ships and pirates.
Unfortunately things from here did not go well. Kidd’s crew – many of them unscrupulous individuals – wanted to attack just about anything insight. Kidd refused and, with few other successful raids, he crew were getting more than a little disgruntled.
Kidd was losing it, he was also losing his crew. To maintain command a hot and angry Kidd even shot dead his own gunner. A mutiny was only barely quashed by the skin of his teeth.
In a desperate attempt to keep the crew on side Kidd, in 1698, attacked and captured a treasure ship which held many goods belonging to the British East India Company. Silly man, if there’s anything viewers of Pirates of the Caribbean learnt, it’s that you don’t mess with the British East India Company – and that pirates that wear mascara are much cooler than pirates who don’t.
Kidd tried to appeal to wealth and powerful friends in New York but it was to no avail, Kidd was sentenced to death in 1701 and was hung three times - the rope broke the first and second time, hanging can be weird like that – shortly after.
The rumours were that Captain Kidd buried much of his loot before capture, which of course led to the cinematic myth that all pirates would bury their treasure.
Let’s finish this look at legendary pirates and their misdeeds with an infamous swashbuckler that we know little about; Christopher Moody.
Christopher Moody was born in 1694 and was most likely active as a pirate captain between 1713 and 1718. He had two distinctive qualities. The first was his glorious and unusual Jolly Roger.
The Jolly Roger is a flag that distinguishes a ship as being a pirate vessel, it also acts as a calling card of the captain; a way to spread both their fame and fear for their deeds. Moody’s red flag depicted a skull and crossbones, a white arm clutching a sharp dagger and a winged hourglass. The hourglass likely symbolises the limited time left that his victims to be had. That’s because Moody was infamous for leaving no survivors. That is his second distinctive trait, he killed everyone.
At least, that’s the story. To quote Captain Jack Sparrow “No survivors? Then where do the stories come from, I wonder?” The confusion seems to come from the deeds of another pirate, William Moody, being misattributed to our mate Christopher. Creating, if you will, a super pirate.
The mystery, and the fusing together of both fact and fiction that make up the legend of Christopher Moody, are an excellent representation of our perception of the pirate in the modern world. Equally part believable fiction and part unbelievable fact, it’s easy to see why Pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy continue to fascinate us today, and likely will far into the future.
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