The Ultimate List of Famous Pirates, Raiders, and Buccaneers:
The Power and Influence of History's Most Infamous Maritime Marauders
Years Active: 3 Years
Most Notable Event: Successful raid on a 25-ship convoy of Grand Mughal vessels making their annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which included the treasure-laden Ganj-i-Sawai (a large, armed trading ship owned by the emperor of India.
Henry Every (1659—1696)
Alexander Selkirk (1676—1721)
Scottish buccaneer and navigator Alexander Selkirk’s experience as a castaway on an uninhabited island off the coast of Chile is the inspiration behind the legend of Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe is a novel written by Daniel Defoe and first published in April 1719. Selkirk’s story begins in September of 1704 when he was the sailing master (the naval officer responsible for navigation) of the Cinque Ports on a privateering expedition in the South Pacific. When his ship was infested with worms, which reduced parts of the hull to near pulp, Selkirk began to doubt the vessel was seaworthy. With the tyrannical Captain Stradling refusing to stop for repairs, Selkirk demanded that he be dropped off at the nearest island. Already tired of quarrelling about their location with Selkirk, the Captain immediately agreed. When Selkirk, after being dropped off in the surf, first reached the hot sand on the shore and set his few possessions on the beach, he began to have second thoughts. But it was too late, he suddenly turned around in a panic only to watch the ship and its crew sailing away toward the horizon. Selkirk hoped it wouldn’t be too long before another ship would pass by and he would be rescued. Not wanting to overlook any possibility of rescue, he spent the bulk of his days scanning the horizon hoping to spy a passing ship.
Learn more about Alexander Selkirk’s incredible experience as a castaway in Classic Influence Podcast (CIP) episode #006: Prosper Where You’re Planted: The Legend Behind the Story of Robinson Crusoe
Country of Origin: England
Years Active: 1709—1710
Most Notable Event: Serving as governor, and suppressing the activity of the pirates in the Caribbean.
Woodes Rogers (1679—1732)
Years Active: 1716—1721
Most Notable Event: Taking a stand against England’s Governor of Nassau, Woodes Rogers.
Charles Vane (1680—1721)
Charles Vane was known for his cruelty and lack of respect for the pirate code. He often beat, tortured, and murdered his captives. Vane operated out of the Bahamas toward the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. Born in England, Charles Vane began his career as a pirate off the coast of Florida under the leadership of Henry Jennings during his attack on the salvage crew of the wrecked Spanish Treasure Fleet of 1715. For a time, Charles Vane worked together with another famous pirate known as Jack Rackham or “Calico Jack.”
Edward Teach "Blackbeard" (1680—1718)
Captain of Queen Anne’s Revenge, Edward Teach (or Thatch) was an English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the east coast of North America.
John "Calico Jack" Rackham (1682—1720)
Samuel "Black Sam" Bellamy (1689—1717)
“Black Sam” Bellamy started out as an impoverished colonist living in America, who turned to piracy to make a living and support a family. Fed up with British oppression, Bellamy was considered the Robin Hood of pirates. He stole from wealthy British merchants to give to the poor. He was also dubbed “Sam the Good,” for he freed slaves and rules his fleet democratically.
Capturing some 53 ships in little more than a year, history also reports “Black Sam” Bellamy as the wealthiest pirate in the entire Golden Age of Piracy. Lashing out against the corrupt elites of England, who robbed the poor under the cover of the law, Bellamy famously said:
“I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea and an army of 100,000 men in the field; and this my conscience tells me! But there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure.”
Pirate or Privateer? Corsair, Sea Dog, or Buccaneer? What’s the Difference?
- Pirates: Illegal criminals who attack any vessel or village. Some pirates remained loyal to their home country. Pirates have also been known as sea-rovers or freebooters.
- Privateers: Legally commissioned to attack enemy vessels or villages. In practice, privateers were not very different from pirates. The big distinction was that they operated with a thin veneer of legitimacy in that they were commissioned by a government to attack foreign ships or raid foreign settlements. Nevertheless, they were still primarily about stealing wealth as opposed to eliminating enemy combatants in war. Privateers usually possessed a “letter of marque” papers issued by their government granting them permission to attack enemy merchant ships and take their goods by force.
- Sea Dogs—Sea Dogs was a term used by Elizabeth I of England to refer to her supplementary navy. Sea Dogs were English privateers who attacked French ships around England and the Spanish Main. Famous Sea Dogs include Sir Martin Frobisher and Sir Richard Hawkins.
- Dunkirkers—Privateers or commerce raiders working for the Spanish monarchy.
- Grey Area:
- Buccaneers: Buccaneer was the term originally applied to hunters who earned their living by selling meat to passing Spanish ships, (term comes from the French word “boucan” which was used to smoke meat). When these hunters later turned to piracy the term buccaneer evolved to mean pirate, but was still generally applied to those pirates (and privateers) who operated in the Caribbean Sea, particularly around Tortuga, Jamaica, and Hispaniola (the island which today includes the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic)
- Corsairs—Also known as Barbary Pirates or Tripoli Pirates,corsairs were pirates or privateers who operated in the Mediterranean Sea or off the Barbary Coast of North Africa. Corsairs were often Muslim privateers authorized by governments in the Ottoman empire, including near major ports such as Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers.
List of Famous Pirates, Raiders, and Buccaneers:
- Awilda—Daughter of 5th century Scandinavian king
- Sayyida al Hurra (1485—1561)—known as “The Pirate Queen of the Western Mediterranean”
- Sir Henry Morgan (1635—1688)—
- Cotton Mather (1663—1728)—a New England clergyman, Cotton Mather was a fierce and outspoken anti-pirate. He is also famous for his participation in the Salem Witch Trials.
- Mary Read (1685—1721)—one of the few female pirates in recorded history. Born in England, Mary dressed in men’s clothes and went by the name Mark so that she could become a pirate. She joined the crew of Jack Rackham, along with Anne Bonny, another female pirate and the partner of Rackham.
- Stede Bonnet (1688—1718)—known as “The Gentleman Pirate,” Bonnet was born in Barbados to a wealthy English family.
- Edward Low (1690—1724)—the viciously violent pirate was born into poverty in Westminster, England.
- Howell Davis (also “Hywel Davies”(1690—1719)—operated out of New Providence and Coxon’s Hole in Honduras. Davis was known for his intelligence, and he often used tricks and stratagems instead of relying only on firepower and fear.
- Anne Bonny (1697—1721)—one of the few female pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy, Anne Bonny was born in Ireland and operated throughout the Caribbean. She was the partner and lover of Calico Jack Rackham. Most of what is known about Anne Bonny and many other pirates of this period comes from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most Notorious Pyrates (1724)
- Edward England—
- Paulsgrave Williams—
- Emanuel Wynn—First pirate to fly the Jolly Roger
- Witch of Eastham—lover of Sam Bellamy
- Black Caesar—Black Caesar was a former slave who later became a part of Blackbeard’s crew. He quickly rose to become one of Blackbeard’s lieutenants. He later became a pirate captain in his own right, operating off the Florida Keys. Today, there is a small island in Biscayne National Park in south Florida named after Black Caesar. It’s called Black Caesar’s Rock or just Caesar’s Rock and it is in the middle of Caesar Creek which is also named after Black Caesar.
- Peter Easton—
- Christopher Contend—
- Cheung Po Tsai—
- Christopher Moody—known for adopting the gruesome “leave no prisoners alive” policy.
- Captain Henry Jennings—
- Grace O’Malley—
- Captain William Kidd—
- Benjamin Hornigold—
- Thomas Tew—
- Francis Drake—
- Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts—
- Madame Ching—a Chinese pirate leader, Madame Ching operated in the South China Sea for nearly a decade, beginning in 1801. Ching married a pirate named Zheng Yi at age 26, but when he died in 1807, she took over the confederation of pirates. At the height of her power, Madame Ching commanded some 400 ships and somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 pirates. He fleet was powerful enough to threaten more than a few major powers including England’s infamous East India Company. She died at the age of 68 and she remains one of the most successful pirates in history.