Pirates Who's Who


Stirring tales of adventure, romance, and danger seem to surround the the facts as well as the legends of the most famous, or rather infamous pirates from the Golden Era of Piracy. The image we have of these brave lads, in recent years is probably more the celluloid myth that was presented in such movies as Captain Blood or The Black Swan, and the latest Disney fare Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. We know that these modern day treatments are historical fiction at best. The movies were made to romanticize these cutthroats as a form of escapism for the viewing audience. When interviewed Johnny Depp, said he saw "pirates as the rock stars of their time" and then said he based his movie pirate, Jack Sparrow as Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. Such is the Hollywood view of pirates. While Privateers such as Morgan, Drake, and John Paul Jones and others were lauded as heroes by their host nations, most true pirates were feared as deadly cutthroats. If modern psychology existed at the time, many of the more notorious pirates would have been labeled anti-social psychopaths or mass murderers. Think of it this way, In real life for every Jack Sparrow, who was a good man and a pirate you would have crew of the Black Pearl filled with dozens of pirates who had sold their soul to the Devil.

So the "Real Story" of Piracy is much different! Or is it? Most of the historical accounts on piracy can be traced back to one or two sources, Primarily Defoe's (writing under the assumed name of Captain Charles Johnson) work titled A General History of Pyracy. Defoe is probably more famous for his book Robinson Crusoe.

Defoe treatise on piracy is suspect at best. His General History was written for consumption in the daily newspapers of London. It was not a scholarly work by any stretch. Most of his sources were never verified and it is quite possible that some of his stories were embellished to say the least. For instance, Bartholomew Roberts is often credited with plundering over 400 ships, yet he was a pirate for a mere four years. If you do the math, it means he was plundering a ship every 3 or 4 days. This is not a remarkable feat, its an almost impossible feat.

Defoe's account of Captain Mission and his crew was also included in some editions of the General History. According to Defoe, Mission was a French Pirate Captain and much of Defoe's account is included in Gosse's, A Pirates' Who's Who. The problem with the account is Defoe made it all up. There was no Captain Mission! In reality the story of Captain Mission was a thinly disguised political treatise made by Defoe supporting an end to kingdoms in favor of a socialist utopia. It is quite possible many of the other quotes attributed to a pirate's political beliefs were more the words of Defoe than the pirates themselves. Many scholars believe this to be the case of the long speeches delivered by such famous pirates and Stede Bonnet and Roberts.

The same can be said of the two female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny. They were minor players in the world of piracy, yet somehow over two hundred years later we have histories of their early childhood. In many ways we know more about some aspects of these two women than we do Sir Henry Morgan! (No they weren't lesbians, so stop asking).

So we see that if Johnny Depp is correct when he said "pirates were the rock stars of their day", they probably have their publicist, Daniel Defoe, to thank. The problem is, it is hard to separate the myth from fact and perhaps it is best if we don't try too hard and let these legends live on with as much color and dash that they can possess.

With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the wondrous tales of these most dangerous pirates. As you can tell from the list on the left side, these are not the most famous pirates in history. As a matter of fact, I've tried to look for colorful characters that are not well known to give you a feel of the average pirate. But it is hard not to at least glance at Black Beard, Henry Morgan, and Black Bart.