July 31, 2018
The perception of pirates nowadays has been built around the British accent of rum-loving Jack Sparrow. But real-life pirates couldn’t be further from the swashbuckling character portrayed by Johnny Depp (aside from the rum part). We’re going to sail back across the ship-filled seas and discover the lives of pirates and buccaneers, and we’ll also learn more about who first raised those black sails.
The late 17th Century and the start of the 18th were known as the Golden Age of Piracy, and the most notorious pirate of that time was Blackbeard. Of course, his name wasn’t actually Blackbeard: it was Edward Thatch – spelled a number of ways, like ‘Teach’, ‘Thach’, ‘Thache’, and ‘Tack’.
He was a man of heavy build and tall height, and wore a long, brightly coloured coat with knee-length boots and carried a sling containing six pistols. His nickname of Blackbeard derived from his exceptional beard, which contained twisted strands of ribbon – he certainly knew how to conjure up the villainous image of a legendary pirate (in fact, he pioneered the look!).
Blackbeard fought against the French in Queen Anne’s War, and four years after the war had ended he remained battling with the French under the vessel called Queen Anne’s Revenge. From this, he built a fleet of at least eight ships and overturned any ships that crossed his path.
Blackbeard’s most famous voyage was the blockade of Charleston in South Carolina. Blackbeard and his crew defeated nine ships in a single week! It was soon after that triumphant victory that he was eventually defeated by the crew of HMS Jane. The legendary Blackbeard was shot five times and suffered over 20 sword wounds, and his head was hung from the opposing ship’s bowsprit.
He wasn’t the most successful pirate in history but his fearsome reputation still has sailors shaking in their boots. Blackbeard didn’t leave any treasure behind, so we suggest not to go on the hunt for his lost gold – you won’t find any!
Nicknamed “Black Bart” because of his hair, Mr Roberts was actually the most successful pirate of the Golden Age. Roberts’s successful lootings often went unnoticed to be overshadowed by more exciting tales of aggression and violence.
Black Bart didn’t want to be a pirate in the first place, but he rose quickly through the ranks and, because of that, was nominated by his fellow shipmates to take over as captain – his first task being to avenge his previous captain’s death.
Described as tough, brazen, and cruel, Black Bart once set alight a ship with over 80 souls on board because the captain refused to pay him loot. From that, he and his crew went on to loot more than 400 vessels, defeating fleets from all around the world. No other pirate of Roberts’s era even came close to his success.
Forget the long beards and the fearsome muscles; the most accomplished pirate in history was a woman – her name was Madame Cheng, previously called Ching Shih before taking her late husband’s name.
Cheng was a woman ahead of her time. She was fearless, ambitious, and driven – all of this shown through the deal she made with her husband, whereby she made sure that she shared equal power with him before they were married.
Her intelligence was incredible, having appointed someone else as “battle captain”, who led their fleet into battles so that she herself could stay back and focus on military strategy and business. This worked in her favour, as she commanded more than 300 ships with around 35,000 pirate followers.
Normally you’d expect a pirate of such a notorious background to meet a violent end, but not Cheng – she was too smart for that. Instead, she was the one of very few pirate leaders who retired by taking amnesty in 1810. Due to the vast amount of fortune she collected along her adventures, Cheng opened up a gambling house and enjoyed her loot! She died at the very impressive age (for that time) of 69 – what a woman!
Like all pirates, L’Olonnais jettisoned his real name, which was Jean David Nau. He was known not for his loot or far travels, but for his ruthless, brutal, and wicked actions towards prisoners.
The most harrowing of all his tortures on prisoners hails back to the time his crew was in San Pedro (in Honduras). A party of rival pirates tried to ambush L’Olonnais’s crew but failed. The unlucky prisoners who were captured remained in silence, causing L’Olonnais to grow more and more frustrated. The frustration built so much that L’Olonnais drew his sword and cut out the heart of a prisoner and began to eat it – all to show he meant business.
Infamous for his savage murders and antics, L’Olonnais eventually met his end when captured and killed by the Native Americans of Panama.
Arrrrr You Ready?!
If the history of piracy has you fascinated with the lifestyle of buccaneers and bootleggers, then it’s time for you to meet some real pirates so they can tell you their own tales.
Immerse yourself in the history of these sea warlords and listen to their ghost stories in the old caves where real pirates hid their contraband. You can stay up to date with all the latest pirate news on Twitter and on Facebook. Get those eye-patches at the ready, those parrots on your shoulders, and arrrr’ing up to par!