Sam Willis explores the golden age of piracy during the early 18th century and charts the devastating impact pirates had during an era of colonial expansion.
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Of all the renegades in Britain's age of outlaws,
pirates were the most pursued.
Hunted down on the high seas,
their bloody exploits would be followed by an appalled
but enthralled public.
In May 1701, the corpse of a convicted pirate
was brought downriver from Execution Dock
to the lower reaches of the Thames,
here, at Tilbury Point.
The body was tarred to preserve it,
and then hung in chains above the shoreline.
The body was that of Captain William Kidd,
whose exploits and downfall had so captivated the country.
Kidd's corpse was displayed here
as a dire warning to all seafarers entering the great port of London
to resist the temptations of piracy.
Kidd was the product of an era of feverish mercantile expansion,
powered by a vast network of seaborne trade.
By plundering this global movement of commodities and riches,
pirates became the most wanted outlaws in the world.
With flamboyant names like Blackbeard,
Calico Jack and Black Bart,
pirate captains would become infamous beyond the seas.
And through ballads, plays and books,
they would be transformed into legend.
And that transformation from reality to mythic outlaw
is one of the most enduring historical puzzles of the period.
I'm going to take to the seas
to explore just how this change happened...
..and examine the devastating impact of these swashbuckling adventurers.
Captain Kidd's tarred corpse would rot away here over several years,
until the birds had picked his carcass clean.
But this warning went unheeded,
for the golden age of piracy was only just beginning.
For a man who would come to be seen as heralding an age of piracy,
Captain Kidd had never set out to be a pirate at all.
By the late 1690s with the escalation
of the Nine Years War against France,
Kidd, as a highly experienced sailor,
saw the opportunity to make his fortune.
Not as a pirate, but as a privateer.
Piracy was outright robbery on the high seas,
but privateers were mercenaries,
issued with a licence by the government
to loot the merchant ships
flying the colours of England's enemies at sea.
Their licence was issued in the form of a letter of marque and reprisal.
And this one, dated 11th December 1695,
is Kidd's own privateering commission,
granted and signed by no less than the King of England himself,
But this wasn't quite as it seemed,
because there was a second commission.
This one to hunt down pirates in the Indian Ocean
whose plundering was seriously disrupting trade with the East.
Now, this venture was cooked up by a shady syndicate
of some of the most powerful men in England
who would all share from the spoils of Kidd's enterprise.
And with the king himself due to get a 10% share in the profits,
the stakes were very high.
Failure was not an option.
And yet Kidd's misfortune was to begin almost as soon as he set sail.
As his ship, the Adventure Galley,
slipped down the Thames here at Greenwich,
Kidd, armed with a new-found arrogance
from having an actual royal commission,
believing himself above the law,
refused to dip his flag and fire a salute
at a royal yacht as he passed,
which was against all custom.
And when, outraged,
the captain of the yacht fired a shot as a reminder,
Kidd's crew responded with a surprising display of impudence.
They climbed the yards and slapped their backsides in disdain.
The response was harsher than they could have ever expected.
Because of Kidd's failure to salute,
the captain of the naval yacht retaliated by boarding his ship and
press-ganging most of his carefully hand-picked men into naval service.
With only a skeleton crew, Kidd set course for Madagascar,
known to be the great pirate bolthole of the Indian Ocean
for its good anchorage,
and strategic position on important Mughal trade routes from India,
then being exploited by Europe's maritime powers.
We're talking about an age of tremendous colonial rivalry.
France, Spain, Holland and England, all endeavouring
to create colonies and to conquer land.
And so you've got a lot of merchant ships of different nations
competing to get more money out of the Caribbean,
or India and from the Far East.
And pirates aren't fools,
they gather where the trade routes are narrowing,
and they can pounce.
Within sight of Madagascar, Kidd suffered a major setback
when a third of his crew perished with cholera,
and the only new recruits he could find
turned out to be former pirates.
Men who had already turned to piracy,
and expected Kidd to do the same.
Kidd's bad luck persisted.
After several more months without plunder or prizes,
and facing the very real prospect of returning home empty-handed,
Kidd made the grave decision to leave the Indian Ocean
and head for the Red Sea,
a rich area full of Mughal merchants
and wealthy pilgrims travelling to and from Mecca.
Kidd's presence there
all but announced that he had turned to piracy.
After a devastating raid on an Indian Mughal fleet
by a pirate named Captain Henry Every two years before,
the East India Company, whose monopoly on trade
with the Indian subcontinent depended on the continuing patronage
of the vastly rich Mughal Empire,
was extremely wary of it happening again.
But Kidd's crew now put increasing pressure on him to take prizes,
no matter what flag they sailed under.
In desperation, Kidd attacked a Mughal merchant convoy,
technically his first foray into piracy.
But when he was repelled,
tensions between Kidd and his crew spilled over.
The ship's gunner, William Moore,
claimed that he had brought the crew to ruin and desolation,
upon which Kidd picked up a heavy iron hooped bucket
and brought it down on Moore's head with such ferocity
that he fractured his skull, and Moore later died.
Admiralty law allowed captains a degree of leeway
in the use of violence,
but this was murder.
Kidd remained unrepentant, though,
confident that his good friends in England
would save him from prosecution.
And still feeling empowered by his letter of marque from the king,
he now grew more and more reckless.
In January 1698, after some minor successes,
Kidd took his greatest prize.
A 400-tonne Armenian ship called the Quedagh Merchant,
which was sailing with French passes
for which Kidd had a licence to attack.
However, when he discovered that its cargo was owned
by a Mughal nobleman,
he tried to hand the ship back,
but his crew refused.
Wishing to avoid a full mutiny,
Kidd relented and kept his new prize.
But when news reached London,
various naval commanders were sent out
to pursue and seize the said Kidd and his accomplices
for the notorious piracies that they had committed.
Now a wanted man with several English men-of-war in pursuit
and with the East India Company baying for his blood,
Kidd made sail for Boston, where his friend, Lord Bellomont,
the governor of New York, had promised him safe refuge.
But Kidd was sailing into a trap that would land him in the dock.
This here is a letter from Lord Bellomont
which he had sent to Captain Kidd.
Lord Bellomont had financed all of Kidd's expeditions
and they had been friendly with each other.
You can see in the language of the letter here, he's saying,
"Do not be discouraged by the false reports of ill men".
-Don't believe what people are telling you.
"Yes, you may be assured of my having interest employed
"to do you all the service that I can."
He's going to do everything he can to help him.
But actually, he was luring Captain Kidd to Boston
to get him arrested.
Lord Bellomont did not want to be associated with piracy at all,
So he used that previous friendship to get Kidd.
But unfortunately, when he arrived in Boston,
he was thrown in prison.
Do we think Kidd was a bit gullible here?
Was he just relying on a sense of trust that had existed before?
I think Kidd was desperate at this point, to be honest.
I think he knew that, unbeknownst to him,
somehow he had been accused of piracy
when he did not believe he was a pirate,
and so he was going to take any means he could
to try to protect himself.
It seems clear to me
that Kidd hasn't been unfairly labelled as a pirate,
he was clearly a pirate.
He attacked the ships of a nation, and didn't have a licence to do so.
I think Kidd was a pirate, but I think above everything else,
he was a scapegoat.
And this is because just a few years before,
a pirate named Henry Every had disrupted trade between the Moguls
and the East India Company.
And then, just a couple of years later,
Captain Kidd does the same thing.
The Moguls then threatened to cut off all trade,
which would have practically bankrupted the East India Company.
Britain had to make Kidd an example to the Moguls
that yes, they would take care of piracy in the most brutal fashion,
so they could show the world exactly what would happen to a pirate
if they threatened trade and the British economy.
So what we have here is an indication
of just how much of a show trial this was.
This lengthy document that I'm holding
is the actual trial transcription, verbatim,
of Captain Kidd's trial.
-And this sold out, because it sold so many copies.
At this point, pretty much everybody knew who Captain Kidd was
because his crimes had been reported in newspapers for several years
on both sides of the Atlantic.
People were fascinated with pirates because these were maritime outlaws
committing their crimes thousands of miles away.
They didn't declare allegiance to their formal countries,
they were these people who had social mobility
that nobody else had.
And people wouldn't be able to see them until their execution.
What was the scene like at Kidd's execution?
Well, actually, I can show you that, Sam,
because there's a picture here, in The Newgate Calendar.
So this here is a pirate being executed at Execution Dock.
This is how Captain Kidd would have been executed.
You can see the noose is around his neck.
Here's the crowd of people.
And here we have the admiralty marshal
sitting on his horse.
And in his hand,
you can see right here the silver oar of the admiralty.
The silver oar was always present at these executions.
-I've actually got the silver oar...
-..that was used
-at Captain Kidd's trial and execution.
Let's have a look.
-There it is.
-So there it is.
As you can see, it's got all the symbols.
That's definitely the Tudor arms.
This is the garnet and coronet of James Stuart, the Duke of York.
That's very clearly the fouled anchor
-which was the symbol of the admiralty.
A very powerful symbol of maritime authority.
It was, yes, definitely.
Everyone who would see it would know exactly what it meant.
However, there's one further and even more compelling artefact
from Kidd's darkest days.
And it's this, a letter from Captain Kidd to Sir Robert Harley,
the leader of the Tories.
It's Kidd's last desperate attempt to save himself from the noose.
And what's particularly interesting are these few lines.
"That in my late proceedings in the Indies, I have lodged goods
"and treasure to the value of £100,000,
"which I desire the Government may have the benefit of."
It's a massive bribe and the promise of an enormous stash of loot.
This is Kidd's real legacy,
the founding myth of buried pirate treasure.
The secret location of Kidd's treasure, if it ever existed,
has never been found,
even though there continue to be claims of its discovery
up to this very day.
Kidd had highlighted not only the easy seduction of piracy,
but also how privateers quickly
became a hindrance and were shut down by the Government
when they ceased to serve the interests of the nation
and its expanding empire.
The Government's attitude to piracy changed
because of the exploits of Kidd,
because they damaged British trade,
and Britain's future was going to be a great maritime nation,
this was accepted already.
This was the way that a small island could get global power.
So obviously, piracy, which people had winked at before
cos it simply damaged the Spanish, or other people
that people didn't really care about,
now it was a problem, and it had to be suppressed.
But far from suppressing the pirate menace,
Kidd's very public humiliation
only served to heighten the fascination
with these maritime outlaws
and, in particular, it now rekindled a feverish interest
in the elusive Captain Henry Every, the one pirate who had got away.
Every had made the most profitable pirate raid in history
when, in September 1695, he captured the Ganj-i-Sawai,
a heavily-armed Mughal trading ship
carrying over £600,000 worth of precious metal and jewels,
the equivalent of £52 million in today's money.
For his actions, a bounty of £1,000 had been put on his head,
leading to the first worldwide manhunt in recorded history.
But unlike Captain Kidd, Every slipped the net,
and rumours abounded for years
that he had ended up in a pirate republic called Libertalia.
As the story goes, Libertalia was a place where people were equal,
and goods were shared, and laws were fair.
And the pirates flew a white flag as opposed to a black flag
to show that, you know, there was no threat
and people were free under this flag.
And stories like that, of course,
are a great threat to society back home,
which is tremendously unequal and very harsh.
Fugitive outlaws had always caught the public imagination,
and Every was no exception.
Stories of his big prize,
his vanishing act, and his pirate utopia
passed between deckhands across the oceans
and returned to England in the form of popular ballads.
And this one was purportedly penned by Every himself.
# Now, this is the course
# I intended for to steer
# My false-hearted nation
# To you I declare... #
If Every was indeed the author of this ballad,
then he was not only fuelling his own infamy, but spreading sedition.
Ballads were very dangerous things.
They were banned in periods of political unrest
because you could turn a populace like that by singing ballads.
It doesn't seem likely to us today.
Ballads particularly appealed to the lower classes.
They were very accessible, they were sold on the streets
and they were just printed on single sheets of paper on one side.
And if you couldn't read very well,
well, the balladmonger would sing the ballad
in order to attract a crowd and make their sales.
For the price of a few pennies,
or nothing at all if you could remember it,
you were up-to-date with the latest news.
# I have done thee no wrong
# Thou must me forgive
# The sword shall maintain me
# As long as I live. #
Whilst pirates clearly had mass appeal,
what was now surprising was that,
amongst the chattering classes,
swashbucklers like Every and tales of his remarkable disappearance
became the fashionable new topic.
And it was a play based on Every which did much to foster
the legend of the pirate as a brave outlaw.
The Successful Pirate
opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1712.
Set as a tragic comedy,
it cast Every as a self-styled king of the pirates
and features a rum bunch of incompetents
hotly debating the virtues of piracy.
Come on now, sir, I'll oppose you with his faults.
Is he not extremely violent and intemperate with his desires?
Granted. A hero should be, though.
That immoderate desire for power,
that unquenchable appetite for rule
that has long been dignified
by the slaves of tyrants.
But he is no tyrant!
Therefore, 'tis virtue in him to desire power.
The public absolutely loved it,
much to the irritation of the critics,
one of whom was outraged by the way that it glamorised villainy
in making a swabber, a mere deckhand,
into the hero of a tragedy.
Notwithstanding all you've said,
he is still only an overgrown thief!
Why, the worst you hypocrites of order can say,
and it is to his immortal honour,
is that he has leapt the pale of custom and is a royal outlaw!
But for one member of the audience,
the writer and journalist Daniel Defoe,
the play was proof enough of the pirate's broad cultural appeal.
With his customary journalistic chutzpah,
Defoe was to capitalise on the pirates' appeal
and their ambiguous morality,
not only in Robinson Crusoe but in several of his books,
making him, in effect, the first pirate novelist.
But there was another book published in this period
which surpassed all others in chronicling the lives
and exploits of the pirates of the great golden age.
Now, I was brought up on stories of real pirates,
and they were all inspired by this book.
As titles go, it's pretty difficult to beat.
A General History Of The Robberies And Murders Of The Most Notorious Pirates.
This was the pirate brilliantly packaged and neatly presented,
and the public absolutely loved it.
The book tapped into a growing vogue for criminal biography,
but its author, a Captain Charles Johnson,
remains a mystery figure, as elusive as many of the pirates themselves.
Johnson displayed such a detailed knowledge of the life
and language of the sea,
that it was thought by many that he must have been a retired sea captain,
that he'd perhaps attended pirate trials,
or even interviewed pirate crewmen.
But there has also been a long-standing
and far more intriguing belief
that Johnson was merely a pseudonym for our old friend,
Within that slim volume are the detailed lives
of 20 or so celebrated pirates.
And it has become a sort of touchstone for piracy.
And it's been used as the basis, really,
for the golden age of pirates.
And what I've found fascinating over the years,
as I've done research in different areas,
is it all checks out.
The capture of ships,
and what the various pirates did with the crew and with the ships:
And one of the most surprising details of Johnson's book
is its account of a democratic code of conduct,
or the Pirate's Code, as it was generally known.
The Pirate's Code provided rules for discipline
for the fair division of plundered loot,
and it even set aside specific sums of money
for injuries sustained to different parts of the body.
For example, in pirate currency,
the most highly valued part of your body was your right arm,
for which you received 600 of these.
Pieces of eight.
Your left arm was valued at 100 less,
and your legs at 100 less again.
Bizarrely, a finger and an eye were equally valued at 100 pieces,
but I suspect that you had to make your own eye patch.
Seamen had a very harsh life.
They worked for long hours for years for very low pay.
When tales came back about pirates running their ships
on more democratic lines, made joint decisions and decisions in common
and shared their supplies,
this would never have happened on a navy ship or a merchant ship.
And this is egalitarian.
So, a pirate crew could easily find its numbers swelled by sailors
desperate to escape an oppressive ship,
and more than happy to switch allegiance
and sail under the black flag.
And the lure of the black flag was to become far greater
following the end of the War of the Spanish Succession
which not only saw Atlantic trade resume,
but also witnessed thousands of British seamen
relieved of military duty.
The result was a large number of idle but highly trained sailors
at a time of considerable seaborne trade,
as all of the European maritime powers
sought to expand their colonial empires.
Now, a great deal of money could be made transporting goods
on this network.
But if you knew that network,
you could of course just steal it,
which is why peacetime provided so many opportunities
for the maritime outlaw.
This was especially so in the seas around the West Indies,
with its lucrative trade in sugar,
and, more notoriously, slaves.
There were ships all over the place, merchant ships,
waiting to be plundered.
So you had in the Bahamas a whole lot of unemployed seamen,
adventurers, out-of-work privateers and pirates,
all waiting for action.
It became so full of people looting and raping and whatever
that it became, in a way, what we would call now a failed state.
During the War of the Spanish Succession,
Nassau, in the Bahamas,
had been utterly ransacked and left in ruins.
By 1715, still ungoverned and undefended,
it had become a pirate haven.
By the following year, the pirate population outnumbered
Nassau's law-abiding citizens by ten to one.
It had become, in effect, a pirate republic,
a sprawling encampment of carousing, fornicating sailors,
funding their profligate lifestyles with plunder.
It seemed as though Captain Every's mythical pirate kingdom
had come alive.
One of the rising ringleaders of this new encampment of renegades
was a tall, robust Englishman from Bristol named Edward Teach.
By March 1717, Teach had formed a company of 70 men
aboard his six-gun sloop,
and had begun to cultivate a formidable reputation.
His flag was soon the most feared on the horizon.
And with his mane of coarse, dark locks,
he now went by the catchy new name of Blackbeard.
The skull and crossbones has been a symbol of death
since the Middle Ages.
And in this great period, the pirates adopted it
as their own menacing symbol,
with each captain having his own version.
And unsurprisingly for Blackbeard, who was obsessed with his image,
his flag had it all.
If ever there was a symbol to strike fear into the heart of your victim,
then this was it.
A skeleton holds an hourglass in one hand,
to show you that your time is running out,
and a spear in the other,
threatening to draw blood from your heart if you do not surrender.
And if this wasn't enough,
Blackbeard added horns and cloven feet to his skeleton
to signify that he was in league with the devil.
Sailors during the early 18th century
were almost universally superstitious.
And aside from the sight of Blackbeard's flag,
the sight of the man himself
was enough to cause the crews of merchant ships to surrender.
His reputation rests entirely on his appearance,
which was vividly recorded in Captain Johnson's book.
"This beard was black
"which he suffered to grow of an extravagant length.
"As to breadth, it came up to his eyes.
"He was accustomed to twist it with ribbons and small tails,
"and turn them about his ears.
"In time of action, he wore a sling over his shoulders
"with three brace of pistols hanging in holster like bandoliers
"and stuck lighted matches under his hat,
"which appearing on each side of his face,
"his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild,
"made him altogether such a figure that imagination
"cannot form an idea of a fury from hell to look more frightful."
Blackbeard was ruthless.
On one occasion when a victim didn't voluntarily offer up
the ring on his finger,
he simply cut it off, ring and all.
And he wasn't above maiming his own crew.
We also know that he shot his second mate,
Israel Hands, in the knee,
just to remind him who was boss.
If Blackbeard looked like a walking arsenal,
then it was for a very good reason.
Flintlock pistols like this only fired a single shot,
and they were also notoriously unreliable at sea.
So if your pistol failed to fire because of a damp charge,
you could go straight on to the next one.
And then when both were used up,
you still had your cutlass.
One of the most important articles of the Pirate's Code
was to "Keep your pistols and cutlass clean and fit for service,"
especially in the run-up to an attack.
They would all be on deck waving cutlasses, firing in the air.
And as they came alongside,
they would also throw a primitive form of hand grenade
onto the deck of the merchant ship,
which caused chaos,
and send over a grapnel rope and haul themselves alongside,
by which stage, normally, the petrified crew, not used to battle,
just said, "We surrender."
Blackbeard's reign of terror lasted two years.
Tormenting the American Eastern Seaboard
from the Caribbean to North Carolina,
he plundered sugar, rum and loot from a series of English merchant vessels.
SHOUTING AND EXPLOSIONS
But following his ruthless blockade of Charlestown Harbour
in May 1718,
the governor of Virginia issued a warrant for Blackbeard's arrest,
with a reward of £100 for his capture...
dead or alive.
Lieutenant Robert Maynard of HMS Pearl
was despatched to hunt him down
and eventually tracked him to the shallows of Ocracoke Inlet.
Blackbeard raised a bottle of liquor in salutation
and declared that Maynard and his crew were cowardly puppies,
before calling out to them,
"Damnation seize my soul, if I give you quarters or take any from you."
Blackbeard was ready for a fight.
The ensuing battle was brief and bloodthirsty.
As the ships closed in, Blackbeard's men hurled bottle grenades.
And using grappling hooks and boarding axes,
they clambered on board.
But Maynard had hidden most of his crew below deck,
and they now took the pirates by surprise,
engaging in furious hand-to-hand combat,
with Blackbeard coming up against Maynard himself.
Holding his cutlass aloft,
Blackbeard lunged with such ferocity
that he sheared off Maynard's blade near the hilt.
But coming for him again,
Blackbeard was surrounded and hit from all sides.
Riddled with shot and cut to ribbons,
Blackbeard then suffered a terrible wound to his neck
from a Scotsman wielding a broadsword.
"Well done, lad," said Blackbeard,
before staggering but cocking his pistol again.
"I'll do better," said the Scotsman,
before hacking away at his neck again, deeply,
killing that great man dead on his own deck.
With their captain's fighting spirit,
Blackbeard's men fought on but were soon overcome.
As proof of Blackbeard's death,
and in order to collect the reward of £100,
Maynard called for Blackbeard's head to be severed...
..and hung up on the bowsprit.
The rest of Blackbeard's corpse was then thrown overboard,
whereupon hitting the water,
according to legend,
it then swam several times around the sloop,
searching for its own severed head,
before sinking without trace.
Because of his fearsome reputation,
Blackbeard's death was seen as a major coup
in the war against piracy and, in propaganda terms,
as significant as the trial and hanging of Captain Kidd.
But even with Blackbeard gone,
there were still some 2,000 pirates roving the seas.
The colonies were facing what amounted to an imperial crisis.
We've got the golden-age pirates rampaging across the Caribbean.
They're disrupting trade,
the colonial governors are complaining to London,
"You've got to do something about it."
The Governor of Jamaica is saying, "I can't send a ship in or out
"without it being captured by pirates."
And one of the things the authorities do,
they get onto the admiralty and they say,
"Send more ships to the Caribbean."
So it actually becomes part of the brief of the navy
to suppress the pirates.
The naval ships that were sent out
tended to be what are called sixth-rate ships.
They were about 40 guns or so, and they were powerful vessels.
But they were quite big,
they weren't able to go into shallow estuaries and bays.
The pirates selected mostly what are called sloops.
They were relatively shallow draft compared with the naval ships,
so they could sneak in and out of estuaries and bays
and channels that the naval ships couldn't get into.
But naval ships...
If there were only four to cover the entire Caribbean
and there were, what, 200 to 300 pirate ships operating
in that same area, the naval ships couldn't be everywhere at once.
So the navy had a difficult job
and, in a way, the pirates had the advantage.
But as the Government soon realised,
it would take more than deploying a few more naval ships.
In 1717, under the new king, George I,
one of the measures taken to quell the pirate menace
was the issue of a royal proclamation, an Act of Grace,
in which the king promised that any pirate
who voluntarily surrendered himself to British authorities within a year
would receive his most gracious pardon.
One of the pirates who took advantage of this amnesty,
albeit briefly, was Captain John Rackham,
whose colourful cotton clothes
earned him the equally colourful nickname of Calico Jack.
Calico Jack achieved lasting fame,
not for his actions,
which amounted to seizing a handful of vessels in the seas off Jamaica,
but for his association with two of his crew members,
which became one of the most beguiling
and frankly suspect episodes of the entire golden age of piracy.
It was whilst taking advantage of the pirate amnesty
and frequenting the taverns of Nassau
that Calico Jack met and courted a bold young Irishwoman
named Anne Bonny.
And with his return to piracy soon after,
he took her to sea. And she joined his crew, dressing in men's clothes.
Now, here the story takes a rather brilliant turn.
When Calico Jack's sloop, Revenge, captured a merchant ship,
he acquired a young sailor by the name of Mark Read.
Now, Anne Bonny, who was serving on Jack's crew dressed in men's clothes,
took a bit of a fancy to this young sailor,
and in a quiet moment alone, revealed to him that she was in fact a woman.
Upon which, Mark Read revealed that he was also a woman named Mary.
In late 1720,
a merchant sea captain named Jonathan Barnet,
with a commission to hunt down pirates,
took Calico Jack and his crew by surprise
whilst they enjoyed a rum party anchored off Jamaica.
Jack and his men were too drunk to fight and fled to the hold,
leaving only Bonny and Read to resist.
The two women flew at Barnet's men like furies,
firing their pistols, wielding their cutlasses and axes,
and shouting obscenities as they went.
But they were unable to rouse their crew who tamely gave up,
with Calico Jack himself calling for quarter.
Calico Jack's female crew members would end up behind bars,
but their exploits have posed questions ever since.
And for leading folk musician Martha Tilston,
their story has provided the inspiration for a new composition
which she has asked me to perform with her.
Martha, it's really exciting
that you've written a ballad about pirates
because ballads were the way that the activities of the pirates,
which happened thousands of miles away,
were brought home and sold to the masses.
You're part of a long tradition.
Well, I imagine it was totally fascinating for people to hear this,
especially for women who maybe were not in a situation
where they were having a particularly adventurous life,
or living a life that was very sort of stuck at home.
To read about that is a way of escaping, or to hear about it.
So you'd pass the story round.
But it would have spread.
I think the news and the story would have spread
because good stories spread through music and storytelling at that time.
You've written a duet, so there's a male voice,
the voice of the jailor who's taking Anne Bonny off to her cell.
-And then Anne Bonny and Mary Read singing.
Well, I wanted to get the male and the female.
I think what was beautiful about the lady pirates is they were out in this fairly male world,
but there was a good female presence there,
and it's nice to put that across.
And also the voice of the law and the outlaw, I guess, so...
-Let's give it a go.
# Oh, step aside, I'm Anne Bonny
# I am a lady pirate
# And there's more beside me out on the sea
# All dressed in manly fare
# Climbing up the rigging
# Leaping down with the moon on our blades
# On the edge of life, we're living
# And we'll take if you're not giving
# Then we'll slip away
# Into the velvet night
# Oh, come with me, Anne Bonny
# I'll show you to your cell
# An outlaw is an outlaw
# And you all hang just as well
# And you all hang just as well
# But you thought that we never could tell
# But you didn't hide your shape so well
-# Thrown like a barrel over the ocean, oh
# And we had you pinned
# No, you never knew
# Thrown like a barrel over the ocean, oh
-# And you fought as well
-Like a man
# Down went Calico and Mary, oh
# But hanged I will never be
# Free as a herring gull on the ocean, oh
# You'll sing my name through history
# Ooh, ooh, ooh... #
There's something really romantic and very attractive about the idea
of these female pirates out, and were they dressed up as men or not,
and why were they dressed up as men and...
I mean, for me, my instinct when I read about it, or heard about it,
was that that's just going to be easier to climb the rigging
if they haven't got skirts on.
I can imagine that when they were taking over other ships
or when they were in battle,
that sort of to not obviously be a woman might be advantageous.
But I can't imagine they hid the fact that they were women
for that amount of time on a ship with loads of men.
No, and that's the thing, I think, that really stands out for me.
-I like to think that all of the men knew they were women and...
For sure they would. I can't imagine how you'd do it,
but also why would you do it?
Calico Jack was her lover, so...
I mean, how would she keep that from the whole ship?
# We commandeered a ship one day
# Out on the stormy seas
# And of the men that joined us
# There was one young Mary Read
# She was dressed in manly fare
# We became a savage pair
# We rode the waves with the moon in our hair...
# Thrown like a barrel over the ocean, oh
-# And we had you pinned
-No, you never knew
# Thrown like a barrel over the ocean, oh
# And you fought us well
# Like a man
# Down went Calico and Mary, oh
# But I will never be hanged
# Free as a herring gull on the ocean, oh
# You sing my name through history
# Oooh, ooh-ooh... #
Legislation passed since Captain Kidd's trial
meant that admiralty law could now be administered in the colonies,
that the accused did not need to be sent back to England.
Unsurprisingly, Jack and his men
were found guilty at the ensuing trial and were sentenced to death.
Now, in prison, Jack was allowed to see Anne one last time,
but far from pitying him,
she brazenly reprimanded him for their capture.
"Had you fought like a man," she scowled,
"you need not have been hanged like a dog."
It was at the point of their sentencing
that Bonny and Read's story took its last and most dramatic twist.
When the judge passed sentence,
he asked them if they had anything to say.
The ladies replied, "My lord, we plead our bellies."
They claimed that they were pregnant.
The judge ordered a physical examination to be undertaken,
and both women were indeed found to be pregnant,
and both were granted a stay of execution.
For Mary Read, however, this was no happy resolution,
as she contracted a fever soon after the trial,
and died in prison.
As for Anne Bonny,
there's no historical evidence that she was executed or released.
Like Captain Henry Every, she simply vanished.
Following his execution, Calico Jack's body,
like that of Captain Kidd,
was hanged in chains as a warning to others,
on a sandy spit off Port Royal in Jamaica,
now known as Rackham's Cay.
But plenty of others would follow him to the gibbet.
Nassau, in the Bahamas,
which had been a pirate republic of lawless riot and drunken revelry
had been brought under control
with the appointment of Captain Woodes Rogers
as the island's governor.
He continued to offer that royal pardon
and set about rebuilding the island's defences.
Captain Woodes Rogers is a key figure in the war
against the pirates.
He was a tough and resolute sea captain.
He had orders to drive the pirates from their lodgement.
And he goes out there with a fleet of ships,
gets a hostile reception, but he establishes order.
He captures some pirates,
and he then sets up a show trial which he presides over.
Nine of them are hanged on the beach in front of the Fort of Nassau.
And this sent a signal, really, across the Caribbean
that there's a man in Nassau now, who's in charge,
who's restoring order.
And in effect, it was an example to other colonial governors
that if you're tough with the pirates, you can get rid of them.
Following the clamp-down in the Caribbean,
many of the pirates set off across the Atlantic
for other less well-patrolled waters.
And it was to the slave coast of West Africa that they headed.
It was in these waters just two years before
that one sailor had risen to prominence,
a pirate captain to eclipse all others,
in what was to be the final flourish of this age of plunder.
His name was Bartholomew Roberts,
an outspoken and disciplined man
whose swarthy Welsh complexion
would lead to him being remembered as Black Bart.
Like many sailors of his generation,
Bart had faced a dilemma when his ship had been captured by pirates,
and he had reluctantly turned pirate.
But that reluctance was then blown out of the water
when his crew elected him captain.
"Since I have dipped my hands in muddy water," he surmised,
"it's better to be a commander than a common man."
Over the course of three years, from 1719,
Black Bart had wrought havoc among merchant shipping
on both sides of the Atlantic.
And by the time he reached the shores of Africa in June 1721,
he was in command of a flotilla of three vessels
in addition to his flagship, The Royal Fortune.
Such was the size and loyalty of his combined crew
that Black Bart's little fleet seemed like a proper navy,
especially when you consider the way that he further formalised
the Pirate's Code.
Amongst his articles or rules,
he stipulated that no-one was to game at cards or dice for money.
Anyone found seducing women or bringing them on board disguised
would suffer death.
Oh, and the lights and candles had to be out by 8:00PM.
So that's no fun, no women and you all had to be tucked up early.
Bartholomew Roberts was, in a way,
the most resolute and unbending of all pirates.
He was a rather puritanical character and, I should think,
completely terrifying to meet.
Those who did put up a fight with Bartholomew Roberts
had a really bad time and were usually eliminated in horrible ways.
I mean, not just cutting off ears and noses,
but he would hang them up in the rigging
and use them for target practice.
And this was simply in order that the word would get around:
you don't mess around with Bartholomew Roberts.
Black Bart proved so elusive
that those in pursuit began to think he was invincible, beyond capture,
even pistol-proof, as his own crew described him.
However, there was one man,
Captain Chaloner Ogle of HMS Swallow,
who had been tracking Bart for some eight months,
and he was soon to find his quarry in his sights.
Sail ahoy! Sail ahoy!
When the cry came for sail ahoy,
Black Bart was enjoying a breakfast of strong tea,
because he abhorred liquor,
and salmagundi, a pirate speciality of pickled herring,
boiled eggs, meat and vegetables.
But for a man normally so disciplined and astute,
Black Bart had finally been caught out.
Looking through his telescope,
he saw that the approaching ship was using the old ruse de guerre
of flying false flags,
and he quickly ordered his men to ready themselves for battle.
Black Bart, perhaps sensing that the fatal hour was upon him,
decided to go out in style,
and dressed gallantly for the engagement.
As Captain Johnson's General History Of The Pirates records,
"Roberts himself made a gallant figure,
"being dressed in a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches,
"a red feather in his hat,
"a gold chain round his neck with a cross hanging to it,
"a sword in his hand,
"and two pairs of pistols hanging at the end of a silk sling,
"flung over his shoulders, according to the fashion of pirates."
Bart's plan was a characteristically bold one.
If he was to stand any chance of escape,
he would need to force that naval ship onto a new course,
but that involved sailing directly towards her,
which would expose his ship to cannon fire.
The two ships closed on each other and exchanged broadsides.
Captain Ogle's ship, The Swallow, remained unscathed,
but Black Bart's lost its mizzenmast,
though on it sailed, heading out into open sea.
However, as the noise subsided
and the smoke cleared after that first broadside,
the helmsman noticed Bart slumped on deck on a pile of rigging.
Not realising he was injured,
he swore at him to get up and fight like a man.
But Bartholomew Roberts was dead.
His throat had been ripped out by grapeshot.
And before his body could be seized and taken as a trophy,
his faithful crew wrapped it in a sail,
weighed it down with shot,
and consigned it to the deep.
A second broadside brought The Royal Fortune's mainmast down,
upon which Black Bart's crew,
with their spirits sunk and their captain gone,
called for quarter.
For his success, Captain Ogle was awarded a knighthood,
the only British naval officer
to be honoured specifically for his actions against pirates.
The battle, Black Bart's death, and the subsequent trial
of his remaining crewmen at Cape Coast Castle,
on the coast of Ghana,
was to prove the turning point in the war against pirates.
And this is their death warrant.
A small piece of paper that would herald the end of an era.
"Ye and each of you are adjudged
"and sentenced to be carried back to the place from whence you came.
"From thence to the place of execution
"without the gates of this castle.
"And there, within the flood marks,
"to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead."
Like Captain Kidd some 20 years before,
these 52 dead pirates swaying out across the Atlantic
were a stark reminder of the perils of piracy.
It was the greatest slaughter of pirates
ever carried out by the admiralty.
And in a stroke,
it brought this brief and bloody age to a dramatic finale.
Black Bart's short career
had amounted to capturing over 470 vessels
and plundering riches worth a total of around £20 million in today's money.
When the rewards so greatly outweighed the risks,
it's no wonder that so many sailors embraced the life of piracy.
In his book, Captain Johnson devotes more space to Black Bart
than to any of his contemporaries,
and it includes a quote from Bart himself
that, for me, serves as a mantra for all pirates.
"In an honest service," says he,
"there is low wages and hard labour.
"In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease,
"liberty and power.
"A merry life and a short one shall be my motto."
Now, what's that if not the Faustian pact of all outlaws?
As Georgian Britain's imperial and mercantile ambitions marched on,
so its navy grew in size and strength,
bolstered by vast numbers of sailors who, only a few years earlier,
might have easily joined the ranks of the pirates.
They may have been a bunch of common outlaws,
but these pirates had shaken the very foundations of a fledgling empire
that would spread across the world
once their lawless reign over the seas was ended.
And these maritime renegades left a powerful legacy.
Ordinary men, and women, forging new identities
and a dangerous vision of freedom
far removed from the authoritarian social order of Georgian Britain.
To the establishment, they were "enemies of mankind".
But to the public, they became folk heroes,
and have remained so ever since.
It would seem that in this short but sensational period in our history,
it was the pirate and not Britannia who really ruled the waves.
Next time, outlaws come closer to home.
In the teeming cities of Georgian Britain
and with no established police force,
the thief, the robber and the cheat could live beyond the law.
Rogues like Jack Sheppard,
who no prison would hold,
and Deacon Brodie, the original Jekyll and Hyde.
Few figures in British history have captured the popular imagination as much as the outlaw. From gentleman highwaymen, via swashbuckling pirates to elusive urban thieves and rogues, the brazen escapades and the flamboyance of the outlaw made them the antihero of their time - feared by the rich, admired by the poor and celebrated by writers and artists.
In this three-part series, historian Dr Sam Willis travels the open roads, the high seas and urban alleyways to explore Britain's 17th- and 18th-century underworld of highwaymen, pirates and rogues, bringing the great age of the British outlaw vividly to life.
Sam shows that, far from being 'outsiders', outlaws were very much a product of their time, shaped by powerful national events. In each episode, he focuses not just on a particular type of outlaw, but a particular era - the series as a whole offers a chronological portrait of the changing face of crime in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sam takes to the high seas in search of the swashbuckling pirates of the golden age of piracy during the early 18th century. Following in the wake of the infamous Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Calico Jack and others, Sam charts the devastating impact these pirates had during an era of colonial expansion and how, by plundering the vast network of seaborne trade, they became the most wanted outlaws in the world.