As 19th September is Talk Like a Pirate Day, we thought we would talk a little about Britain’s history of piracy and introduce you to some of the nation’s most infamous and feared pirates.

The most well known pirates you will likely have heard of like Blackbeard and Henry Morgan were mostly active during a time known as the Golden Age of Piracy and mostly took to capturing ships around the Caribbean. Many of them started off as merchant sailors, hailing from places like Bristol, Devon and Cornwall, hence the stereotypical pirate accent. Others were former members of the Royal Navy who much preferred the freedom that being a pirate allowed, either way, they lived a life fraught with danger and bloodshed and many of them were executed at the gallows for crimes associated with Piracy.

Here are some of Britain’s best known pirates


Blackbeard, born Edward Teach in the 1680s, is thought to have originated from Bristol and mainly operated around the West Indies and North American colonies. His reputation as Blackbeard began when he took control of a ship known as La Concorde, which he renamed as the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

His nickname comes from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance, reports say that he would put lit fuses under his hat to further frighten his enemies and much like the storyline of Our Flag Means Death, at one time, Blackbeard did team up with another pirate, Stede Bonnet.

Despite being known as one of the most fearsome pirates of his time, Blackbeard was actually someone who rarely used violence, instead relying on his reputation. He died in 1718 following a battle which saw Blackbeard and several of his crew being attacked and killed by Robert Maynard, a captain in the British Royal Navy.

Captain Kidd

Captain William Kidd was born in Dundee, Scotland, before settling in New York and becoming a successful privateer – different to a pirate in that his actions were sanctioned by the government. He was hired to protect English interests in North America and the West Indies, however, he would struggle to keep control of his shop and the political tide in England would turn against him. In the late 1690s, he was denounced as a pirate, following reports of violence at his hands against prisoners. It was said that on one occasion, he personally thrashed prisoners with a cutlass. On another, he conversed quietly in his cabin while his crew tortured prisoners while sacking a ship.

After learning that he was a wanted man, he distributed his treasures at various locations in order to have some leverage against the courts, however, was arrested on his return to New York. It is said that he spent most of his time in solitary confinement and that his wife was also imprisoned. Reports say that the conditions he was kept in were so bad that he was driven insane and as such was deemed politically useless by the British government.

He was charged with murder and five counts of piracy and was executed. His body was hung over the River Thames at Tilbury Point for three years as a warning to others.

In the years following his execution, documents were discovered which call his guilt of piracy into question.

Mary Read (aka Mark Read)

Mary Read is one of two famous female pirates from the 18th century and is one of only a handful of women who were active pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy. She was born in the UK in around 1685 and began dressing as a boy at a young age, likely at the insistence of her mother in order to receive inheritance money that would only be passed onto the male line and to join the British military.

After giving up the military life to marry a soldier and living as a wife until his death, she ended up sailing to the West Indies but the ship she was on was captured by pirates. Read willingly joined the crew and, following a pardon from the King, was given commission as a privateer.

In 1720, she joined Calico Jack and Anne Bonny, two pirates who both believed her to be a man. According to reports at the time, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were successful in hiding their true identities but when they were captured by a pirate hunter, both claimed that they were pregnant to avoid execution.

It is rumoured that Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Calico Jack Rackham were in a polyamorous relationship together, though this was never proven. She died in prison of a fever, prior to her execution date.

Anne Bonny

We can’t mention Mary Read without Anne Bonny. Anne was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean and was a married woman when she met and joined Calico Jack Rackham who would become her lover. It was while living in the Bahamas that she began to make the acquaintance of various pirates and ended up fleeing with Rackham after her husband refused her a divorce, she became a member of his crew, disguising herself as a man.

Together with Rackham and Mary Read, she stole a ship and recruited a new crew, which gained the attention of pirate hunters.

Their ship was captured and the three of them were sentenced to death, both Bonny and Read claimed they were pregnant which granted them a stay of execution. There is no record of her release, however, we know that she was not executed and died in 1782.

Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer and later, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. From his base in Port Royal, he raided settlements and shipping on the Spanish Main, the money from which he used to purchase sugar plantations across the island.

In 1667, Morgan was given a Letter of Marque, which gave him permission to attack and seize Spanish ships, which gained him notoriety on the seas. In 1671, he attacked Panama City, something that he was arrested for in an attempt to broker peace with Spain, however, when he returned to Britain, he was lauded as a hero and received royal treatment from Charles II.

He was never charged and remained at liberty during his time in London. The king later appointed Morgan as Knight Bachelor and Chief Justice of Jamaica.

On his death, Morgan received a state funeral however, an earthquake in 1692 caused Morgan’s grave to fall into the sea. He was subsequently never found.

Black Sam Bellamy

Captain Samuel Bellamy, known as Black Sam Bellamy was an English sailor turned pirate and was known as the wealthiest pirate in history. During one year, he is known to have captured over fifty ships but was also known for his mercy and generosity, earning him the name the Prince of Pirates. His crew would refer to themselves as Robin Hood’s Men.

Bellamy was born in Devon and joined the Royal Navy as a teenager, after travelling to the Bahamas he sailed under Blackbeard, taking control of the vessel when Blackbeard was voted out of command.

Two months after capturing a ship known as the Whydah, he was caught up in a violent storm, the ship sank taking nearly all those on board to the bottom of the ocean. Bellamy is believed to have been one of the 42 bodies not accounted for following the storm. Suspected remains were discovered in 2021 and are waiting for DNA analysis.

Learn more about Britain’s maritime history and the Golden Age of Piracy here.




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