There was a time in history when piracy became so rampant that several trading ships, which ferried huge amount of treasures and valuable goods, were plundered by the most skillful pirates the world has ever known. This particular period, known as the Golden Age of Piracy, threatened international trading from 1680 until 1725. Within that span of time, pirates such as Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, and Calico Jack gained notorious reputations for successfully overpowering not only trading ships, but also naval military forces, which cemented their legacy in piracy.
One of the factors that made them daunting was their legendary flagships, which they skillfully outfitted not only to withstand the roaring waves of the world’s fiercest oceans, but also to vanquish their naval enemies through the barrel of their powerful cannons. These ships were so feared that they remind you of Captain Jack Sparrow’s legendary “Black Pearl” in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean. Now let us get ready to sail as we look back at some of the most fearsome pirate ships in the history of mankind.
10. Adventure Galley
The Adventure Galley is perhaps the most unfortunate, yet feared ship in the history of piracy. It was a daunting 284-ton vessel equipped with 34 guns, whose original objective was to hunt down the pirates and French vessels that sailed the high seas of the Indian Ocean. It boarded a crew of 150 men, led by Captain William Kidd, a successful privateer who allegedly committed piracy.
The Adventure Galley’s journey started when Captain Kidd, along with his crew, left New York on September 6, 1696 for a pirate-hunting expedition commissioned by the English government. The voyage, however, did not turn out well for the ship or its captain, as both were destined to rot. During Captain Kidd’s expedition, the ship had developed a rotten hull, which prompted Kidd to attack and take the Quedah Merchant, a French trading vessel carrying silk, muslins, calico, sugar, opium, iron, and saltpeter. He later called his new ship Adventure Prize after abandoning the Adventure Galley off the coast of Madagascar in January 1698. His actions, however, were deemed as acts of piracy, which led to his hanging on May 23, 1701 in London. His corpse was left to rot at the mouth of the Thames River to warn and discourage those who wanted to commit piracy.
9. Queen Anne’s Revenge
In November of 1717, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, captured a massive French slave ship called La Concorde. He refitted the 14-gun ship by mounting it with 26 more, and later renamed it to Queen Anne’s Revenge. The ship boarded a crew of 280 men and quickly became one of the most powerful ships to rule over the Caribbean and North American coasts.
In May 1718, Blackbeard looted five ships after he seized the port of Charleston. Blackbeard then ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge ashore, where it suffered extensive damage after it slammed into the submerged sandbar.
It appears that pirates have retirement plans as well, since many historians believe that he deliberately slammed the ship in order to kill some of his crew so he could increase his share of fortune. The wreckage of the ship was discovered off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina in the year 1997.
The Whydah was originally a slave ship launched from London in the year 1715. Its name was derived from a West African port called Ouidah, which is now known as Benin. This 300-ton vessel, under the command of Lawrence Prince, played a huge part in a slavery deal known as the “triangular trade.” It was so fast that it was capable of reaching 13 knots. Unfortunately, the pirates were even faster.
In February of 1717, during the Whydah’s second voyage, it was hunted down near the Bahamas by two pirate vessels called the Sultana and Mary Anne, led by Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy. Bellamy quickly overpowered the Whydah’s crew and claimed the vessel as his flagship. He then turned it into a pirate ship that boasted 28 cannons and a crew of 146. The Whydah terrorized the Atlantic shipping lanes, and was believed to acquire treasures from more than 50 captured ships. However, the Whydah’s fame did not last long, as it was reportedly caught in a horrendous storm off of Cape Cod, barely two months after it was taken by Bellamy. The shipwreck was discovered in 1984, where thousands of artifacts have since been recovered.
7. Royal Fortune
Captain Bartholomew Roberts was perhaps the most successful pirate of all time. Black Bart, as he’s more famously known, holds the record for most ships successfully plundered by a pirate in history. However, he was not only a renowned ship plunderer; he was also an extremely cold-hearted, lazy bastard who once burned 80 slaves inside a slaver that he captured. The reason, according to him, was he didn’t want to waste any time or energy to unshackle the helpless souls.
In July 1720, he won a French vessel somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland and named it Royal Fortune. As expected, he was too lazy to think of other names, since he used the same name for every ship that he captured. However, the fact that he neither sold nor burned this certain ship made it stand out from the others. He commanded his crew of 157 men to mount the ship with 42 cannons, making it more than ready to fight against any Royal Navy ship that was around during that time. The Royal Fortune, under Captain Robert’s command, attempted to sail to Africa, although the unpredictable wind forced the ship to go back to the Caribbean, where they successfully plundered even more ships.
The fame of the Royal Fortune finally ended in February 1722, when Captain Roberts was killed in a battle against the warship Swallow, led by Britain’s Calloner Ogle. The pirates were reportedly anchored and celebrating off the coast of Cape Lopez when the fight suddenly broke out. Captain Roberts was seen as the first to fall during the battle. He died immediately after getting hit by a cannon. Captain Ogle was able to retrieve the ship, as well as some of the smaller ships that comprised Captain Roberts’ fleet.
The Fancy was a former privateer commissioned by the King of Spain. This 46-gun vessel was one of the most formidable ships during the golden age of piracy, and was renowned for its speed. It boarded a crew of 140 men led by Henry Avery, a successful privateer.
However, in May 1694, Avery and his crew plotted a mutiny and turned pirate. They renamed the ship Fancy, and used it to plunder the trading ships that sailed across the Indian Ocean. One of their most rewarding victories occurred in July 1695, when they successful overpowered the Ganj-i-Sawai, a 40-gun treasure ship that belonged to the Grand Mogul of India. It later became one of the most lucrative scores ever made by a pirate.
The Fancy sailed to the Caribbean, where they made the most out of their treasures before the ship and its crew mysteriously disappeared.
5. Happy Delivery
Happy Delivery was formerly known as the Gambia Castle, a mid-sized slaver owned by the Royal African Company. The ship boarded a 30-man crew under the command of Captain Charles Russel and his co-captain George Lowther. On the ship’s first voyage, it ferried a group of soldiers led by Captain John Massey in a mission to collect slaves around the Gambia River in Africa. They set sail from London down the Thames River in the year 1721.
When they arrived, they were met by a number of unfavorable conditions, which resulted in a division between the crew and their captain, who appeared to be more concerned with the slave shipment than the condition of the people who boarded the ship. Lowther soon had a falling out with the captain and was able to convince the unhappy crew – together with the angry soldiers aboard – to join him in mutiny. After being voted as their new captain, they marooned Russel and his supporters, taking the Gambia Castle. They later renamed the ship Happy Delivery and set out to a life of piracy. Lowther was forced to abandon the Happy Delivery after getting attacked by native Amerindians in the year 1722.
4. The Golden Hind
The Golden Hind is one of the most famous ships in sailing history. It was captained by Sir Francis Drake, a well-known privateer famous for being the first Englishman to successfully circumnavigate the world. This masterpiece was packed with 18 cannons, and was first introduced as the Pelican until Drake renamed it the Golden Hind.
In the year 1577, Drake was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth of England to lead an expedition around the world. He then left Plymouth with a fleet comprised of five ships and 164 crew members. In 1578, they passed the Strait of Magellan after surviving two horrendous storms that sank two ships in Drake’s fleet. As the voyage continued, Drake and his crew were able to raid and plunder various trading ships in the Pacific. However, many historians believe that Drake’s acts exceeded the boundaries of his job as a privateer enough to make them believe that he committed piracy. Finally, on September 26, 1580, after two years, 10 months, and 18 days of voyage, the lone ship was able to return to Plymouth, along with Drake and his 60-man crew.
3. Rising Sun
The Rising Sun was a 35-gun pirate ship that boarded a crew of 135 men under the command of Captain Christopher (referred to in some books as William) Moody. Moody had previously sailed under the command of Black Bart before taking on his own crew. In 1718, the Rising Sun sailed alongside an 8-gun brigantine, led by another pirate known as Captain Frowd, and a sloop carrying the same number of guns.
Jamaican Governor Archibald Hamilton inspected Moody’s fleet for signs of aggression and piracy, and came away believing the notorious vessels were used to rule over the waters between the islands of St. Christophers and Santa Croix, where they burned and destroyed the ships that they successfully plundered. Because of this, Hamilton had to demand stronger naval ships from England, including a 40-gun warship in an attempt to protect said territory from the terror of Captain Moody and the Rising Sun.
The Speaker was a former 50-gun slaver, captured by Captain George Booth and John Bowen during April of 1700. The ship, led by Booth, sailed to Zanzibar along with a crew of more than 200 men. However, in the latter part of the same year, Captain Booth was killed in a battle and quickly succeeded by Bowen.
One of Bowen’s most glorious days with the Speaker happened when he successfully defeated a fleet of 13 Moorish ships to score a prize worth of over £100,000 (£8 million today). Another triumph happened in November 1701, when they captured a British ship and then turned around and successfully sold it off.
The Speaker’s legend ended when it sank near the Swarte Klip, located at the eastern coast of Mauritus, during the year 1702. Most of the pirates were able to survive, but they lost most of the treasures they had kept inside their flagship.
Stede Bonnet, known as the “gentleman pirate,” was perhaps the most unlikely man to have ever engaged in piracy. Aside from being educated, he was also a retired Major who owned a three-mile plantation east of Bridgetown, Barbados. If you’ve played the game Assassin’s Creed: Black Sails, you may remember him as the chubby guy you sail to Cuba with at the beginning of the game.
For some reason, he secretly bought a sloop and outfitted it with ten-guns, and unlike most pirates he actually used his own money to do so. He called his sloop Revenge. Soon, he hired a crew comprised of 70 men and set out to piracy. Despite his inexperience, he successfully plundered several ships off the coasts of Virginia and South Carolina. He burned several ships in order to prevent the people from finding out that he was engaged in piracy. He later assumed the name Captain Edwards.
As the Revenge was sailing through the Caribbean, it crossed paths with the famous Queen Anne’s Revenge under the command of its notorious captain, Edward Teach. Soon, Bonnet and Teach formed an alliance that proved fruitful when they captured a VIP passenger from one of the ships they plundered in Charleston. That VIP was Samuel Wragg, a member of the Provincial Grand Council, whom they used as a hostage to convince Governor Robert Johnson to send them medical supplies in exchange for Wragg’s life.
One day, Teach betrayed Bonnet by running away with the treasures that they acquired together. This happened after Teach falsely informed Bonnet that he was going to seek amnesty, and convinced Bonnet to do the same. Upon receiving his pardon, Bonnet returned to his sloop only to find out that all of the treasures kept inside had been stolen. He tried to find Teach, but the Queen Anne’s Revenge was nowhere to be found. So in spite of his pardon, he returned to his evil ways until he was captured by Colonel William Rhett on September 26, 1718. He was later imprisoned, but able to escape. He was hanged to death on December 10, 1718 after being recaptured and found guilty for his crimes.