It was the golden age of piracy — that period from the mid-17th to mid 18th century during which such luminaries as Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd and Blackbeard terrorized shipping throughout the New World.
New Providence Island in the Bahamas, was nicknamed the Pirate’s Republic because it was infamous as a home base for so many ne’er-do-wells. It was here in 1718 that Jack Rackham, who became known as Calico Jack thanks to his colorful attire, first sailed into notoriety. Calico Jack’s career started as member of the pirate crew under Captain Charles Vane. After robbing several ships off the coast of New York, Vane and his crew encountered a French man-o-war which was twice their size. Calico Jack wanted to do battle with the French, arguing that if they captured the ship, it would give them not only a dandy bit of plunder but a nice big ship as well. Vane demurred, ordering his ship to sail away to fight another day, even though most of the crew agreed with Jack.
Shortly afterward, Rackham called a vote in which the men branded Vane a coward, impeaching but not keelhauling him, nor treating him to any other pirate punishments. In fact, they sent him away with a nice gold watch for his years of service. Calico Jack was swept into office with a pillaging and plundering mandate.
One of Calico Jack’s most famous adventures as spelled out in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, was an encounter with a Spanish warship. He and his men were docked in Cuba, refitting their small sloop, when the warship patrolling the Cuban coast entered the harbor, along with a small English sloop they had captured. Although the Spaniards spotted the pirates, low tide prevented their capture, so they remained in the harbor awaiting the higher tide of the morning. But during the night, that sneaky Calico Jack and his men rowed to the captured English sloop and overpowered its guards. Come dawn, the warship began firing at Calico Jack’s now vacated ship as Calico Jack and his men brazenly sailed past in their new ship.
Calico Jack and his men sailed back to Kingston where they promptly applied to the governor for a royal pardon, claiming that the devil Vane had made them do that pirate stuff. They received a pardon, but by 1720, Calico Jack and his new life partner Anne Bonny were back to plundering. Unfortunately, it was a short-lived comeback. They were captured on October 20 by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet. Calico Jack was hanged in November of the same year.
Calico Jack’s career was short but he will always be remembered for one important contribution to the world of piracy: the design of his Jolly Roger flag, a skull with crossed swords.
Please check out my humble contribution to the world of piracy — Terry and the Pirate — it’s got romance, adventure and plenty of gratuitous swashbuckling.