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11 Buccaneers: the Most Infamous Pirates in Seafaring History

Image of a map of the Carribean for a blog post anout the most infamous pirates in history.

The most infamous pirates in history have captured our imaginations with their daring exploits, ruthless tactics, and flamboyant personalities.

From the golden age of piracy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries to modern-day pirates off the coast of Somalia, these seafaring bandits have struck fear in the hearts of sailors and left a lasting impact on maritime culture.

This article will delve into the lives of history’s most infamous pirates, exploring the legends and the reality behind their infamous reputations.

While some pirates are remembered for their ruthless brutality, others are celebrated for their cunning and wit.

Despite their criminal nature, these swashbuckling outlaws have become romanticized figures in literature and pop culture, with tales of hidden treasure, daring adventures, and even a certain code of honor among thieves.

As we dive into the stories of the most infamous pirates in history, from the fearsome Blackbeard to the legendary Captain Kidd, we will uncover the truth behind the myths and discover what made these individuals the scourge of the high seas.

List of 11 History’s Most Infamous Pirates Explained

Meet Blackbeard, the notorious pirate who kicks off our list of 11 infamous buccaneers.

Known for his fearsome appearance and ruthless tactics, Blackbeard’s legacy looms large in maritime history.

Image of blackbeard the pirate in battle for a blog post covering the most infamous pirates in history.

1. Blackbeard (Edward Teach)

Blackbeard, born Edward Teach or Thatch, was an infamous English pirate who operated during the early 18th century, specifically during the golden age of piracy.

This period, lasting from the late 17th century to the early 18th century, was marked by rampant piracy in the Caribbean, along the American eastern seaboard, and the West African coast.

Blackbeard’s reign of terror spanned from 1716 to 1718, and he quickly became one of history’s most feared and notorious pirates.

With a thick black beard and lit fuses tucked under his hat, his imposing figure struck terror into the hearts of sailors, merchants, and even colonial governments.

Blackbeard began his pirating career as a privateer during the War of Spanish Succession.

In 1716, he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, another infamous pirate, and quickly gained a reputation for his ruthless tactics and cunning strategies.

In 1717, after capturing a French slave ship, Blackbeard renamed the vessel “Queen Anne’s Revenge” and equipped it with 40 guns, transforming it into a formidable warship.

His most infamous exploit occurred in May 1718, when he blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina, holding the city hostage for several days until he received a ransom.

Later that year, Blackbeard was killed in a battle with British naval forces led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

Despite his relatively short career, Blackbeard’s legend continues to captivate the world, solidifying his place as one of the most notorious pirates in history.

Image of a pirate and guests aboard ship
Captain Kidd aboard his ship in New York Harbor

2. Captain Kidd (William Kidd)

Captain Kidd, also famously known as Captain Kidd, was a Scottish privateer and pirate who sailed the seas during the late 17th century.

He was born in 1645 in Greenock, Scotland, and started his career as a legitimate privateer, commissioned by the British government to attack French ships.

However, he later turned to piracy and became one of the most notorious pirates in history.

Kidd’s most famous act of piracy was the capture of the Quedagh Merchant ship, which he claimed had been sailing under a French flag and was, therefore, a legitimate target.

However, the ship belonged to an Indian merchant, which led to Kidd’s downfall and eventual execution in 1701.

Image of buccaneer Anne Bonny's Jolly Roger pennant
Pirate Anne Bonny’s Jolly Roger ensign

3. Anne Bonny

Anne Bonny was a notorious pirate who terrorized the waters of the Caribbean in the early 18th century.

Born in Ireland in 1698, Bonny moved to the British colony of South Carolina as a child.

By the time she was a teenager, she had become known for her fiery temper and rebellious streak.

In 1718, she met the pirate Calico Jack Rackham, and the two began a romantic relationship that would lead to their infamous partnership as pirates.

Bonny and Rackham were known for their daring raids on British and Spanish ships.

They often dressed in men’s clothing to disguise themselves and were feared by many sailors.

However, in 1720, their luck ran out when the British navy captured them.

Bonny managed to avoid execution by claiming to be pregnant, but Rackham and many of their crew were sentenced to hang.

Bonny’s ultimate fate is unknown, but her legacy as one of history’s most famous female pirates lives on.

Image of Henry Morgan in a hammock talking to volunteers
Privateer Henry Morgan “interviewing” volunteers for an attack on the Spanish

4. Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan was a Welsh pirate born in 1635 and died in 1688.

He is most well-known for his exploits in the Caribbean during the 17th century.

Morgan was a pirate licensed by the English government to attack and plunder Spanish ships and settlements.

He was part of a group of pirates known as the Brethren of the Coast, who operated in the Caribbean during the late 1600s

Morgan became famous for daring raids on Spanish ports and capturing Panama in 1671.

He was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1674, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Despite his reputation as a ruthless pirate, Morgan was known for his strategic thinking and ability to lead men in battle.

Despite his reputation as a pirate, Morgan was eventually knighted by the British government for his services to the Crown.

Today, he is remembered as one of the most successful and notorious pirates of the Caribbean.

Image of a pirate trading card of buccaneer William Fly for a blog post covering the most infamous pirates in history.
William Fly trading card produced by the tobacco company Allen & Ginter (c. 1888)

5. William Fly

William Fly operated in the waters off the coast of New England during the early 18th century.

He was born sometime in the late 1690s, and little is known about his early life.

Fly’s career as a pirate began in 1726 when he joined forces with another pirate, John Green, and together they embarked on a series of daring raids on merchant ships in the Caribbean.

Fly soon became known for his brutality, and many Spanish colonists feared him.

In July 1726, Fly and his crew took a ship called the Elizabeth, carrying valuable sugar and molasses cargo.

The ship’s captain, John Foy, refused to surrender, and Fly responded by brutally murdering him and several of his crew members.

This act of violence earned Fly a reputation as one of the most ruthless pirates of his time.

However, his reign of terror was short-lived, as British authorities captured and executed him in 1726.

Despite his relatively brief career as a pirate, William Fly remains a notorious figure in the annals of piracy.

Image of Mary Read winning a sword duel
Infamous pirate Mary Read ends a duel with an unknown opponent

6. Mary Read

Mary Read was a notorious pirate in the late 17th century, known for her fearless and ruthless nature.

She was born in England in the late 1600s and was raised as a boy by her mother, who disguised her as a male to inherit a family fortune.

Mary spent much of her early life disguised as a man, serving in the army and working as a sailor.

Eventually, she found her way to the Caribbean, where she became a pirate.

Mary Read was known for her fierce fighting skills and her willingness to do whatever it took to survive.

She was a crew member of the infamous pirate Calico Jack and fought alongside him and another female pirate, Anne Bonny.

In 1720, the Royal Navy captured Mary and Anne and sentenced them to hang.

Mary died in prison before her execution, but her legacy as one of history’s most famous female pirates lives on.

Image of a stone marker with a story about local pirate Stede Bonnet
A stone marker in Charleston, South Carolina, tells of how Stede Bonnet met his end

7. Stede Bonnet

Stede Bonnet was an unlikely pirate.

Born into a wealthy family in Barbados in 1688, Bonnet was an educated man with a comfortable life as a plantation owner.

However, in 1717, at 29, he inexplicably decided to become a pirate.

He purchased a ship, the Revenge, and set out to sea with a crew of around 70 men.

Despite his lack of experience, Bonnet quickly gained a reputation as a ruthless pirate. He captured several ships and amassed a small fortune, but his luck eventually ran out.

In September 1718, he was captured by the Royal Navy and brought to trial in Charleston, South Carolina.

Despite his claims of insanity, Bonnet was found guilty and hanged on December 10, 1718.

Despite his short-lived career as a pirate, Stede Bonnet has remained a popular figure in pirate lore, and his story has been immortalized in numerous books and films.

Artists drawing of a Barthlomew Roberts with ships in the background
Engraving of Pirate Bartholemew Roberts with his ship and others recently captured (c. 1724)

8. Bartholemew Roberts

Bar Roberts, also known as Black Bart, was a notorious Welsh pirate who operated in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy between 1719 and 1722.

Roberts was born in 1682 in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and began his career at sea as a merchant sailor.

However, in 1719, his ship was captured by the pirate Howell Davis, and Roberts was forced to join the pirate crew.

Roberts quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the captain of his own ship, the Royal Fortune.

He was known for his intelligence, charisma, and tactical abilities, and his crew respected and admired him.

Roberts was also known for his strict code of conduct, which included rules against gambling, fighting, and stealing from fellow pirates.

He was feared and respected by his allies and his enemies, and his successful raids on British and Portuguese ships made him one of the most successful pirates of his time.

Roberts was killed in a battle with the Royal Navy in 1722, but his legacy as a legendary pirate captain lives on.

Image of a trading card with pirates in battle
Calico Jack Rackham trading card produced by the tobacco company Allen & Ginter (c. 1888)

9. Calico Jack Rackham

Calico Jack Rackham was an infamous pirate who operated in the Caribbean during the early 18th century.

He was known for his distinctive appearance, wearing colorful clothing and a large feathered hat.

Rackham’s most famous crew member was Anne Bonny, a notorious female pirate who was said to be his lover.

Rackham’s career as a pirate was relatively short-lived, lasting only a few years.

His most notable act was capturing a British ship called the Kingston, which he turned into his own flagship.

However, Rackham’s success was short-lived, as he was eventually captured by the British navy and sentenced to death by hanging.

Despite his relatively small impact on the world of piracy, Rackham remains a popular figure in popular culture, appearing in numerous books, movies, and TV shows about pirates.

Portrait of the pirate Jean Lafitte
Portrait of the Pirate Jean Lafitte drawn approximately 80 years after his death

10. Jean Lafitte

Jean was a French-American pirate who operated in the Gulf of Mexico during the early 19th century.

He was born in France in the mid-1780s and moved to Louisiana with his family.

Lafitte soon became involved in piracy, smuggling, and other illegal activities.

He and his brother, Pierre, established a base on the island of Barataria, which served as a port for their operations.

During the War of 1812, Lafitte offered his services to the United States government, providing vital intelligence and naval support.

In return, he was granted a full pardon for his past crimes, although he continued piracy afterward.

Eventually, the American government turned against Lafitte, forcing him to flee to Texas.

He died in the mid-1820s, but his legend lives on, and he remains a popular figure in pirate lore.

Image of one of the most infamous pirates in history, the brutal François l'Olonnais
François l’Olonnais trading card produced by the tobacco company Allen & Ginter (c. 1888)

11. François l’Olonnais

François l’Olonnais was a French pirate who operated in the Caribbean during the late 17th century.

He was known for his brutality and cruelty towards his victims, often torturing them to extract information about their treasure.

Some reports claim that he once ate the heart of a Spanish captive in a fit of rage.

Despite his reputation for violence, l’Olonnais was also known for his cunning and strategic thinking.

He is said to have captured and looted dozens of Spanish ships and settlements along the coast of Central America, including Maracaibo and Gibraltar.

He became one of the most successful pirates of his time and amassed a vast fortune in gold and jewels.

Unfortunately for l’Olonnais, his success did not last long.

He was eventually captured by the Spanish in 1668 and reportedly died a gruesome death at their hands.

Despite his brutal legacy, l’Olonnais remains a notorious pirate figure known for his ferocity and cunning.

Image of a pirate flag
The pirate flag of Robert Teach, aka Blackbeard (c. 1718)

Wrap-up: History’s Most Infamous Pirates

In conclusion, the lives and exploits of these notorious pirates may be romanticized in popular culture, but it’s important to remember that piracy is a serious crime that has caused much harm and suffering throughout history.

These pirates were not just swashbuckling heroes but were also brutal and ruthless individuals who caused destruction and terror in their wake.

Learning about their stories is fascinating, but we should not forget the human cost of their actions.

The legacy of these infamous pirates lives on, not just in the stories and myths passed down through generations but also in the modern-day piracy that still exists in some parts of the world.

As we reflect on the lives of these notorious figures, we should also consider the ongoing efforts to combat piracy and ensure the safety and security of those who work at sea.

While piracy may be a thing of the past for some, the lessons and legacies of history’s most infamous pirates continue reverberating through our culture and society today.

For more historical pillage and plunder, check out my articles Rogue Marauder: 10 Interesting Facts About Charles Vane and 9 Famous Vikings Who Shaped History Through Exploration.

Image of the dreaded Blackbeard commemorated on a Bahamian postage stamp for an article covering 11 of history's most infamous pirates.
The notorious pirate Blackbeard commemorated on a Bahamian postage stamp

FAQs: History’s Most Infamous Pirates

1. What’s the backstory behind the name ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge’ for Blackbeard’s ship?

Ah, the name “Queen Anne’s Revenge” carries much historical weight!

The ship was originally a French slave vessel named La Concorde before Blackbeard seized it in 1717.

After taking control, he rechristened it “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” historians have been speculating about the reasoning behind the name ever since.

Queen Anne was the British monarch from 1702 until she died in 1714.

She oversaw the union of England and Scotland into Great Britain and was a key figure in the War of the Spanish Succession, a big European conflict at the time.

Now, why would Blackbeard name his ship after her?

There are a few theories:

Political Statement: Some think that by naming the ship “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” Blackbeard might have been making a political point, perhaps indicating his support for the Stuart claim to the British throne, which had been lost to the Hanoverians after Queen Anne died without an heir.

Personal Vendetta: Another idea is that the name was a form of revenge against the British government for their actions against privateers and pirates.

Blackbeard was once a privateer, essentially a pirate sanctioned by the government to attack enemy ships.

However, the end of the War of the Spanish Succession led to a decline in privateering opportunities, forcing many into piracy.

So, the name could be seen as saying, “This is what you drove me to.”

Intimidation Factor: Let’s not forget the plain old scare tactic.

Naming his newly armed ship after a Queen known for her military engagements could have been a strategic move to strike fear into the hearts of those who heard it was coming their way.

General Nostalgia: It’s also possible Blackbeard just liked the historical or dramatic flair the name gave his ship, elevating it above common pirate vessels.

While it’s fun to speculate, the true reason behind the name remains lost to history.

But one thing’s certain: “Queen Anne’s Revenge” certainly adds an extra mystique to Blackbeard’s reputation.

2. What actions led to pirate Henry Morgan being knighted?

Sir Henry Morgan is a character of great paradox—both a pirate and a knight!

Morgan was a Welsh pirate who made quite a name for himself attacking Spanish settlements and ships in the Caribbean during the 17th century.

But here’s the kicker: he did it all with the unofficial blessing of the English government.

This form of “authorized piracy” was known as privateering, which was essentially state-sanctioned piracy against rival nations, in this case, mostly Spain.

Morgan’s big claim to fame came in 1671 with the sack of Panama City.

Though the invasion violated a peace treaty between England and Spain, it was a feat of such daring and reward that it cemented his status as a hero back in England.

He overcame a much larger Spanish force and seized incredible amounts of treasure.

After the Panama adventure, Morgan was arrested and shipped back to England due to the political fallout from attacking Panama City while England and Spain were technically at peace.

However, public opinion and the English government were generally on his side, seeing his actions as patriotic.

So instead of facing the gallows, he was knighted by King Charles II and given the title “Sir Henry Morgan.”

After his knighthood, Morgan returned to Jamaica as the Deputy Governor.

In this role, he helped establish British law in the colony and even hunted down other pirates, believe it or not!

Morgan’s knighthood was essentially an acknowledgment from the English Crown that he was a valuable asset to British naval power and colonial governance, despite his “pirate” status.

So, Morgan transitioned from being a feared pirate to an enforcer of British colonial rule, all while enjoying the title and privileges of a knight.

Quite the turn of events, wouldn’t you say?

3. In what ways did pirate Jean Lafitte assist the United States during the War of 1812?

This is an intriguing chapter in U.S. history, especially regarding the War of 1812.

Jean Lafitte was a French pirate and privateer operating around the Gulf of Mexico, and he ran a smuggling and pirate base called Barataria Bay near New Orleans, Louisiana.

When the U.S. and Great Britain found themselves at odds during the War of 1812, Lafitte saw an opportunity.

Initially, the British approached Lafitte with offers of money, land, and a commission in the Royal Navy if he would assist them in their campaign against the United States.

However, Lafitte chose a different path.

Instead of siding with the British, Lafitte assisted the Americans.

Why did he do that?

Some historians think Lafitte saw greater long-term benefits in allying with the U.S.

It could legitimize his operations, offer him protection against the British, and maybe even get him a pardon for his piracy.

Here’s how he helped:

Intelligence: Lafitte gave the Americans valuable information about British plans to attack New Orleans.

He essentially played the role of a spy.

Manpower and Artillery: Lafitte persuaded his men to fight for the United States and offered up his stash of artillery.

His skilled gunners and artillery were crucial in the defense of New Orleans.

Local Knowledge: Knowing the swamps and waters around New Orleans like the back of his hand, Lafitte provided strategic advice to American commanders, including General Andrew Jackson.

The result? A stunning American victory at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.

Though the battle occurred after the Treaty of Ghent had officially ended the war, news hadn’t yet reached the combatants, and the victory significantly boosted American morale.

For his efforts, Lafitte and his men received full pardons for their past crimes from then-U.S. President James Madison.

The pirate had turned into a war hero.

So, Jean Lafitte went from being a notorious pirate to an American hero, playing a surprisingly key role in one of the United States’ early military triumphs.

It’s one of those quirky footnotes in history where fact really does seem stranger than fiction!