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6 real pirates of the Caribbean

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Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard

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Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard

Words by Kelly Sanford

When you’re vacationing or enjoying a luxury yacht charter on the tranquil Caribbean Sea, imagine that 300 years ago the most notorious gangsters of the seas sailed these same waters, dropping hook in the same coves.

Here we reveal six real pirates of the Caribbean that certainly were not the affable swashbuckling miscreants of the Silver Screen.

1. Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard

Born in Bristol, England, Teach came to the Caribbean as a privateer. Following the end of Queen Anne’s War, Teach converted a captured warship into a pirate ship he would call Queen Anne’s Revenge and continued his reign of terror along the U.S. eastern seaboard and throughout the Caribbean.

Although Blackbeard was considered an extremely brave man, by modern standards he was nothing short of psychotic. In battle, Teach would place lit matches under his hat and in his beard so his enemies would think his head was on fire. If victims would hesitate in handing over jewelry, Blackbeard would simply brandish a cutlass or ax and take the entire appendage. Teach once shot his own first mate so that people would remember his name and just how cruel he could be. During Blackbeard’s reign in the Caribbean, his only adversary was disease. Teach once put the town of Charleston, South Carolina, under siege — holding a prominent citizen hostage — to gain a ransom of medicine to treat himself and a number of his crew for syphilis.

In 1718, a military force led by Lt. Robert Maynard was sent to dispatch Blackbeard. The two men came to blows near Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, and legend has it that the hand-to-hand battle lasted 40 minutes. It is said that Maynard stabbed Blackbeard more than 20 times and shot him no less than five times before Blackbeard finally died of blood loss.

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Jean-David Nau, aka François l’Olonnais

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Jean-David Nau, aka François l’Olonnais

Nau is widely considered one of the most ruthless and barbaric pirates ever to set sail in the Caribbean. Nau arrived in Martinique from France as an indentured servant child. Following his period of servitude, Nau relocated to Hispaniola where he joined the Buccaneers. Having won favor with the French Governor of Tortuga, Nau was given command of his own ship. Sanctioned by the French government to attack Spanish enemies, he would develop an insatiable blood-thirst and penchant for torture (particularly against the Spanish), which prolonged his reign of terror well into times of peace between France and Spain.

As word of Nau’s unspeakable cruelty spread, his successes became fewer. Spanish ships would fight to the death rather than surrender to the merciless Nau. Partnering with freebooter Michel de Basco, Nau was able to amass a fleet of eight ships and 400 men and managed to seize the towns of Gibraltar and Maracaibo in the Gulf of Venezuela, where the townspeople endured unimaginable atrocities. The invading pirates garnered more than 260,000 pieces of eight (aka Spanish dollar), as well as other booty, but these spoils soon vanished into the pockets of Tortuga’s tavern keepers and prostitutes.

Desperate for treasure, Nau continued his assaults on Spanish ships and the colonies. With faltering success, his hatred of the Spanish intensified. Fearful of their psychotic captain, Nau’s crew mutinied and left him with a single craft that ran aground off Las Petras Islands. While trying to recruit a new crew, Nau was attacked and captured by local natives. It is said that the Indians tore Nau apart, throwing pieces of his body in a fire and scattering the ashes so no trace of the horrible pirate would remain.

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Jack Rackham, aka Calico Jack

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Jack Rackham, aka Calico Jack

Jack Rackham was not an especially ruthless pirate nor was he notably successful. What keeps Calico Jack in the forefront among his peers is that two of his crew — and likely the fiercest — were women. Rackham met Anne Bonny, the wife of a smuggler, in The Bahamas. The two fell in love, and when attempts to buy Bonny from her husband failed, Bonny joined Rackham’s crew as a pirate. Rackham and his crew soon captured a ship and gave that crew the option of joining him. Among the new additions was a magnificent swordsman. Over time, Bonny and this new crewman would forge a close relationship. When Rackham’s jealousy drove him into a rage, Bonny divulged that the new sailor was also a woman named Mary Read.

History has well documented that Rackham attacked several ships where Bonny and Read fought viciously and openly as women. The pair quickly became legendary throughout the Caribbean. As Rackham’s notoriety started to pale in comparison to his unusual crew, he began to succumb to alcohol. At the time of Rackham’s defeat, an already drunken crew (with the exception of Bonny and Read) panicked when the main mast was shot down. With defeat eminent, the crew dashed belowdecks to finish off the rum, knowing it would be the last they would ever have.

It is reported that Rackham was granted a last request to see Bonny before his execution. Still seething, she is quoted as saying, “I’m sorry to see you here, but had you fought like a man, you needn’t hang like a dog.”

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