[ Travel Information | T&C Islands History | T&C Islands Museum | Pirates of Grand Turk | Island Archaeology ]
John Rackham became better known as "Calico Jack" during a short but very successful career as a Pirate Captain. During barely a four year tumultuous period he and his crew achieved a highly acclaimed fame as ruthless and ferocious Pirates throughout the Caribbean and the West Indies.
The high points of Calico Jack's short but eventful career can be summarised into just a few words, he first achieved prominence when he deposed Charles Vane as Captain of the Pirate ship the Treasure, then in 1717 he smuggled Anne Bonny to sea disguised as a man where the duo were soon joined by a further female Pirate, Mary Read, Calico Jack's Lieutenant who revealed her true identity in response to advances from Anne Bonny. He then successfully led the capture of a large and rich Spanish Man-o-war ship and finally, was captured by the King's ship, the Barnet, a Pirate hunter. After trial he was hanged in Jamaica in 1720. A very final end to a short but highly flamboyant and ruthless career!
John Rackham ranks as one of the most notorious of pirates. Whilst not as well known as Captain Morgan his high-seas Pirate exploits are equally as notorious as his sexual exploits and the unusual comings & goings that took place aboard his ship, the Adventure. Nicknamed "Calico Jack" for the shirt and breeches of white calico sailcloth he habitually wore, he was a fearful rogue backed up by two of the fiercest Pirates of their time ... Anne Bonny & Mary Read !
The first mention of John Rackham is in 1717 as Charles Vane's quartermaster aboard the Treasure. He first gained real prominence when Vane failed to raid a promising French vessel and Calico Jack, caused the crew to mutiny and deposed Vane as Captain. There followed a brief but successful career highlighted by his duo of deadly female Pirates. The two ladies were widely feared by the crew and were responsible for the deaths of many Sailors including shipmates that crossed their path.
After falling in love with Anne in New Providence, Calico Jack and Anne Bonny unable to separate ran away to sea after Anne's husband had tried to stop their association with the intervention of the Governor. Smuggling her aboard the ship dressed as a man, they continued their romance in secret whilst Anne established her reputation as a fearsome Pirate. Unfortunately, Anne's wanton nature caused her to actively pursue sexual liaisons with other crew members, eventually setting her sights on the most feared Pirate on board, Mary Read. To the surprise of both Mary Read was herself disguised as a man and this was the start of the fearsome trio's sexual & Pirating exploits!
Unfortunately it appears that Calico Jack did not take well to Anne's flirtatious nature and his command and authority appeared to slide. Seeking solace in innumerable bottles of rum, Anne and Mary assumed the real leadership roles aboard the ship as women since they no longer had to hide their true sex with the pretence of masculinity. The ignoble end to the exploits of Calico Jack occurred when the ship was eventually cornered by a King's vessel captained by Barnet, subjected to a hail of cannon fire, Calico Jack Rackham and his crew were easily captured. The moment of battle occurred at a very opportune time as most of the crew including Calico Jack were languishing in the hold the worse for wear from an alcoholic binge. Only Anne Bonny and Mary Read attempted to resist the attack, the rest of the crew were below decks in the depths of a drunken stupor.
Transported in irons to Jamaica for trial, Calico Jack and his crew were tried on November 16, 1720, before Sir Nicholas Laws. Despite repenting his Pirate acts as he had successfully done previously, Calico Jack Rackham was not spared and was hanged at Gallows Point, Port Royal later that same year.
The last years of Mary Read are closely tied with those of Anne Bonny and Calico Jack Rackham. However, before this trio joined and ravaged the Caribbean and West Indies seas, Mary Read had already led a very eventful and exciting life ………. most of it as a man! Undoubtedly the fiercest woman fighter, Pirate & lover, Mary Read lived an incredibly adventurous life for a lady in the early 1700's the majority of it disguised as a man.
The macabre reason for these deceptions started at a very early age, Mary was born in the County of Devon, England, to a very fearful mother. Having recently lost her husband and son, Mary's mother fearing losing her husband's inheritance disguised Mary as a boy at birth. This was the start of the deception that ran throughout Mary's early childhood years. The ruse was successful, the money from the inheritance paid and the family were able to survive. Unfortunately for Mary though, the money ran out during her early teens, and she (he) was forced to work on the naval docks at Plymouth, England whilst still in disguise as a man.
This work continued for some years until Mary found a better paid employ and one perhaps more suited to her ferocious talents that were soon to appear in force. Her new found employment was in Flanders as a soldier in a Cavalry Regiment. During her service there she met and fell in love with a fellow soldier! This opened a hole host of problems for Mary, the soldier & the Regiment. Having revealed her true sex and successfully wooed & married her bunk-mate, the Regiment were informed to their extreme consternation of this most unusual alliance. Unable to stay in active service the two newly weds embarked on a new life.
Leaving the Regiment in 1697, the newly married couple purchased an Inn frequented by travellers & soldiers, the Inn was called the Three Horseshoes, and provided the couple with an adequate living whilst the disputes continued. However, when the war ended and her husband unfortunately passed away, Mary Read once again found herself without support and without money. Falling back on her earlier skills of disguise she once again disguised herself as a man and in 1717, joined a ship bound for the West Indies.
Mary's unfortunate luck was to continue however and whilst the ship was en-route it was seized and taken by Pirates under the leadership of a notorious Pirate Captain …… Charles Vane ! Had the vessel not been taken Mary's life may have taken a different direction, as it was however, taken by pirates Mary's talents perhaps shone through once more and Charles Vane rather than maroon her with the other Dutch sailors, the English buccaneer allowed her to join him still disguised as a man. Throughout the next couple of years, Mary worked fearlessly & ferociously as a Pirate establishing a severe reputation to the extent that by 1719, she had become the most ferocious fighter in the crew!
This again stood her in good stead as by now, fully devoted to a life of piracy Mary was promoted by John "Calico Jack" Rackham to his Lieutenant when he deposed Vane as captain. This is where the tale of Mary's exploits takes an unusual twist …… Calico Jack not long after taking control of the Pirate ship and crew, brought a new crew member to sea, Anne Bonny, herself also disguised as a man. Neither Anne nor Mary realised the others true identity and after Anne had also established herself as a fierce Pirate and adversary, she set her wanton sights on Mary believing her to be a ferocious Pirate male! Once again Mary was forced to reveal her true identity after Anne's advances towards her. Again as testimony to her undoubted skill as a Pirate, after the secret was subsequently shared with Calico Jack and his crew both Anne & Mary continued as Pirate Lieutenants with the full backing of their shipmates!
This was also the start of the trio's highly successful and infamous career as Pirate lovers which was to last just a few short years. Following their successful pillaging which cost the lives of many sailors and the loss of numerous ships, the King sent the Pirate hunter vessel the Barnet after Calico Jack and his crew. They were eventually caught in 1720 and went down with barely a shot fired, the crew were caught in a drunken stupor lolling in the hold and it was only Mary and Anne who fought valiantly for the freedom of their ship. However all their efforts were fruitless as seriously outnumbered they were easily boarded, captured and sent to Jamaica for trial with the rest of the crew including the inebriated Calico Jack Rackham.
Mary Read was tried and convicted of piracy on November 28, 1720 and although she attempted to excuse her acts because of the unusual and unfortunate circumstances of her life that had forced her into piracy, she was not believed and she did not escape the fatal judgement. However, due to her pregnancy, she was to be spared the immediacy of the hangman's noose until after the birth. Despite this and after giving birth to her baby whilst in prison, Mary still managed to avoid the noose …… instead, she and her child died of fever in prison. A tragic end to a most unusual life.
The life and times of Anne Bonny comes straight out of a Hollywood epic and would do justice to a feature length film like ‘Gone with the Wind’ … This remarkable lady and infamous Pirate had an unfortunate start to life, she was born in a scandalous manner for those early times in 1697 in Kinsale, Cork, Ireland. She was the daughter of Mary Brennan and her father was William Cormac, born out of wedlock, the illegitimate child of the master of the house and a servant girl.
This liaison and its resultant and pending offspring did not go unnoticed by Mrs. Cormac, a suspicious and somewhat calculating woman. Having come to the conclusion that her husband a quiet and learned Lawyer was not maintaining his proper fidelity, Mrs. Cormac dismissed Mary Brennan from her service and then instigated a plot to trap her errant husband. Taking her place in the darkened room of Mary Brennan and lying in her bed pretending to be asleep she waited for her husband to make his feared for visit. William Cormac unaware of these events returned from a business trip and crept into the room of his lover, joining who he mistook for his mistress in bed certain intimacies began which were to prove his downfall. There followed a huge argument which resulted in William Cormac’s fall from grace and imprisonment for his adulterous behaviour!
On his release from Jail, the proud father and Mary Brennan decided that they should make a fresh start together in the new world. Sailing for the Americas they decided on Charleston, South Carolina where they began running a plantation and where, they were soon married and became a respectable and inseparable couple.
During those early years in Carolina the young Anne Cormac (nee. Bonny) was exposed to the pace, excitement and wickedness of the times. Charleston eager for trade and cheap goods was a haven for many unscrupulous rogues, and the pirates of early America were more than welcome in many of the wharf’s and trading warehouses of Carolina's merchants who eager for profit and prosperity were keen to deal with most anyone that could improve their wealth. It was on the wharf’s and in the sitting rooms of ‘gentile’ society that a young Anne met, courted and fell in love with a debonair but failing pirate by the name of James Bonny who was increasingly down on his luck in the America's. While still in her teens, she married him and eloped to the Bahamas Islands, where James returned to a life of piracy.
Whilst this may have seemed a very romantic flight and an exciting and romantic life as a break from the plantation life, Anne was soon to become tired of her days as a dutiful wife waiting for the return of her seafaring husband (albeit as a pirate!). Once again Anne started to look for adventure in other quarters, New Providence itself at that time was no place for a hot-blooded woman to wait weeks on end for her husband's return and Anne soon looked further afield. It was not long before Anne began a liaison with a man that was to change the whole course of her life, John "Calico Jack" Rackham, an incredibly suave and renowned Pirate captain who had recently taken the King's Pardon to end his pirating days.
The ‘wounded’ husband James Bonny was absolutely furious when he returned and learned of the affair, and convinced Governor Woodes Rodgers to condemn the nefarious association. Calico Jack attempted to diffuse the situation by offering to purchase Anne outright !! A sad sign of the times ... that unfortunately did not work or placate anyone. Left with no other choice than separation, which was not possible, Anne & Calico Jack unable to stay apart, ‘ran away to sea’ with both of them this time returning to a life of Piracy! The unusual twist to this tale is that since women were not welcome on board a Pirate ship Anne went disguised aboard Calico Jack's ship, the Adventure as a man!
The next funny twist to this tale suitable for the big screen is that Anne Bonny really took to pirating with a vengeance, excelling at the role and the cruelties it demanded. Within a fairly short time she became one of the fiercest and most feared Pirates on board. There was however one other Pirate that cut a fiercer pose and Anne was by all accounts absolutely in awe of the fiercest Pirate in Calico Jacks crew. Watching from afar grew into something a little more earthly and it was not long before Anne began making advances towards him. To her astonishment however, she discovered that it was really another lady masquerading as a man, the name of this lady being Mary Read. The two ladies shared their secret with Calico Jack and startlingly, his crew, all of whom accepted the ladies presence on board! Although, this remarkable fact probably had something to do with how fierce and daring the two were as Pirates than anything else!
The reign of this Pirate trio was however fairly short lived. They had a very successful period of approximately a little more than a year where they ravaged the seas around the Caribbean Islands and were very successful. The only break in this period occurred when the ship was docked in Cuba for Anne to give birth to a baby (who was left behind) and unfortunately, little is known of this offspring.
After leaving Cuba their success at last caught up with them. Having caused a number of serious losses to shipping throughout their brief reign, Rackham's Pirate ship was ambushed by the King's pirate hunter, the Barnet. What ensued was a calamitous and disgracing act, the only resistance to the attack came from Bonny and Read, the rest of the Pirates in Calico Jacks crew hid cowering and drunk in the hold. All efforts to rally the men failed causing the two fearless ladies to fire in rage and frustration on their own shipmates. Unfortunately, all of this was to no avail and the ship was captured along with all of the crew, Anne, Mary & Calico Jack himself who at this time was still in a drunken stupor!
Returning to port in irons for trial of Piracy and other heinous crimes the crew were locked up awaiting trial many of the Pirates losing their lives to the noose in the ensuing trials and convictions. Anne Bonny herself was tried and convicted of piracy on November 28, 1720 but, due to her pregnant state she could not be hanged. Sentenced to Prison instead, Anne was soon reprieved after a fairly brief incarceration.
The reasons behind her eventual release and what became of her remains unknown to this day. Many have theorised that it was her wealthy father that arranged for her release in secret and her return to the family plantation. This however is all conjecture and what happened to her remains a mystery.
Back to the Hotel