Pirates of the Caribbean
October 20, 1720: Calico Jack’s career ends. John Rackham, aka Calico Jack, was born in 1682. Little is known of his early life. It is known that he was English. The first mention of him is as quartermaster (helmsman) for Charles Vane aboard the sloop Ranger. The ship was operating out of New Providence island in the Bahamas which at the time (1718) was known as the Pirates’ republic. Vane had led the men in the capture of several ships outside New York. They encountered a French man-of-war which was twice the size of their sloop. Vane wanted to escape to avoid capture. Rackham led a call to attack the larger ship for two reasons. First there was a good likelihood of riches aboard and secondly if they captured the ship, they would have a much larger ship for their own use. The men held a vote and of the approximately 90 men aboard, only 15 sided with Vane. He called captain’s privilege and fled.
On November 24, 1718 a vote was called by Rackham and Vane was removed as captain and Rackham was given command of the ship. They made a habit of pirating in the Caribbean and stayed mostly close to shore. They were able to capture Kingston, a small Jamaican ship, and made it their flagship. They continued on this path for a time, robbing, plundering, and escaping capture themselves. When attacking other than British ships, the government turned a mostly blind eye to the pirates. Calico Jack began an affair with Anne Bonny, wife of a sailor employed by Governor Woodes Rogers of Nassau. They were found out and Anne eventually ran off with the pirate. In September 1720, Governor Rogers issued a proclamation declaring Calico Jack to be a pirate, essentially a warrant for his arrest.
Governor Nicholas Lawes of Jamaica had Captain Jonathan Barnet lead two sloops to hunt down Calico Jack. Tyger was the more heavily armed and crewed with Royal Navy sailors and some British Army troops. Around 10 PM on this day, Tyger found William, Calico Jack’s ship, anchored in Dry Harbor Bay. Most of the men aboard were drunk and sleeping when Barnet extinguished all lights and approached. As Lawes neared the ship, he called for their surrender. The pirates were awakened and fired a few shots at the larger ship whereupon Lawes ordered a broadside return and to close in and board the pirate vessel. William tried to flee but was unsuccessful. The British boarded the ship and the pirates were soon captured (and without much of a fight). A few of the British were wounded, but there were no deaths.
Calico Jack is most noted for designing the Jolly Roger flag, symbol of pirates today. It was he who created the black flag with the white skull and crossed swords. He was also noted for having two female crew members. His lover and Mary Read who fought more daringly than many of her male counterparts. When captured, he had managed to accrue booty worth about $1.6 million in today’s currency and ranks 19th in a list of wealthy pirates. Calico Jack was brought to trial and executed in Port Royal on November 18, 1720. Most of his crew was also hanged in February 1721. Both women aboard ship declared they were pregnant and given stays of execution. Read died in April 1721, probably due to childbirth. There is no record of what happened to Bonny.
Drinking rum before 10 AM makes you a pirate, not an alcoholic. – Earl Dibbles, Jr.
It is a glorious thing to be a pirate king. – WS Gilbert
Life’s pretty good, and why wouldn’t it be? I’m a pirate, after all. – Johnny Depp
People build up a picture of Johnny Depp as being some sort of weird pirate character. In reality he’s incredibly nice… one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. – Freddie Highmore
Also on this day: Subway Vigilante – In 1987, Bernard (Bernie) Goetz was sentenced.
What Big Feet You Have – In 1967, a film of Bigfoot was taken – maybe.
Football Fiasco – In 1851, Johnny Bright was injured on the field.
Kragujevac – In 1941, the Kragujevac massacre began.
Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion – In 1944, a section of Cleveland was leveled.