The tales of Pirates are the stuff of legend, but who were these pirates that terrorized the Spanish Main and the Caribbean? Did they really leave buried treasure and what were they like? The pirates were real and they actually did sail off of the southern and eastern coasts of what is now the United States. Here are five real life pirates and some of their swashbuckling deeds.
Sir Henry Morgan
Put down your Captain Morgan rum and listen up. This is the real Captain Morgan from where your drink comes from. This Welshman began life as a simple sailor and became the commander of the Royal fleet in Jamaica. He was a privateer working for Britain to fight the Spanish. He was given his first ship in 1661 and plundered the Mexican coastline. From there, he built up his command and terrorized the Spanish for 25 years. Morgan’s life was filled with daring escapes and swashbuckling battles. Many of the great pirate movies (Captain Blood, The Black Swan, and The Pirates of Tortuga) are based upon Morgan’s exploits. Additionally, the “Pirate Code” portrayed in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series is based upon Morgan’s own rules of conduct.
His real name was Edward Teach (or Thatch) and he terrorized the Caribbean Sea from 1713 to 1718. At the height of his power, Blackbeard – who was named for his braided, long facial hair – commanded over 50 ships. The most famous of these ships was his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. The image of Blackbeard is what we most commonly think of when we imagine a pirate. He wore a feathered tri-corner hat, a long jacket with multiple swords and guns attached to his uniform. It is thought that he was initially a sailor fighting in the War of Spanish Succession, but turned to piracy after England left the war. Blackbeard retired from piracy after England offered him a pardon. However, the governor of Virginia wanted him dead, so hired a Lieutenant Robert Maynard to track him down. They caught Blackbeard by surprise with a crew of only 19 with him. He was killed off the coast of North Carolina in a hand to hand battle with Maynard. Some say he was shot five times and stabbed more than 20 when they decapitated him. Legend has it his headless body swam around the ship several times before sinking into the sea.
William Kidd was a Scottish sailor who is mainly famous for his execution. The British hired him as a privateer and he was only in a handful of skirmishes that took him all over the world. He was friends with many governors in the British Empire as travelled in his ship, The Blessed William, attacking pirates and the French along the American coastline, Africa, and in the Indian Ocean. For his reward, he was given half of the treasure he captured. However, it was said that he kept more than he was supposed to and was decreed a pirate. He spent the remainder of his life trying to clear his name, but was finally captured and returned to England where he was hung. Rumors have it that Captain Kidd left buried treasure and is the reason for the Robert Louis Stevenson book, Treasure Island. It is believed his treasure was either buried off the coast of Canada, on one of the islands of Japan, or near the Dominican Republic. No one has ever found the famous treasure.
Not much is known about Anne Bonny other than the account written about her in Charles Johnson’s, A General History of Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, written in 1724 (Charles Johnson is considered to be a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe of Robinson Crusoe fame). She was born in Ireland and lived in South Carolina with her father who was a plantation owner. She married a pirate by the name of James Bonny who had hoped to win her father’s estate. She ended up moving, with her husband, to the Bahamas where she began an affair with “Calico Jack” Rackham, the captain of the Revenge. Together, they pillaged the area around Jamaica. Anne Bonny is one of the most famous pirates to have never commanded a ship. The fact that she was a woman pirate who fought alongside men added to her fame. Another woman, Mary Read, was also upon the same ship, and it is rumored that the two were lovers. In 1720, the Revenge was captured without much of a fight and all of its crew was sentenced to hang. Both Bonny and Read plead for their lives on account they were pregnant. Read died in prison and no one knows what happened to Anne Bonny.
Lafitte and his family were French pirates and smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. They made their base in New Orleans and smuggled goods to American merchants. He got into trouble with the new American government and was hunted for crimes of piracy. This, however, changed, during the War of 1812 when the American forces needed help during the Battle of New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson realized his forces there were horribly outnumbered by the British and offered Lafitte and his whole crew amnesty if they helped to fight for the young American forces. He agreed and the Battle of New Orleans went down in the history books as one of the greatest American victories of all time. Lafitte later went on to spy for the Spanish in the War of Mexican Independence (1816-17) and it was rumored he was killed in the Yucatan around 1825. Piracy was ending and he was amongst a dying breed in the Americas.