6 Famous Pirate Ships

iStock
iStock

Somali pirates, who wield automatic weapons and attack unsuspecting victims from speedboats, are changing the way we think about pirates and pirate ships. While the most successful captains in pirate lore commanded ships that were smaller, faster, and less ornate than Disney's fictitious Black Pearl, Blackbeard didn't make his fortune in a rowboat either. Here's a look at six of the more famous pirate ships in history.

1. Adventure Galley

Captained by Scottish sailor William Kidd, the 287-ton, three-mast Adventure Galley was launched along the Thames River in 1695. As part of a venture planned by New York Colonel Robert Livingston to curb attacks against British ships in the East Indies, Kidd was instructed to hunt down pirates and enemy French ships and steal their treasure and goods. To facilitate the mission, which was funded primarily by prominent English noblemen, the Adventure Galley was outfitted with 34 guns and 23 oars for maneuvering the ship in calm winds. Pirate hunting, it turned out, wasn't easy. Kidd had agreed to pay back the investment if he didn't return any treasure, and when finding pirates proved too difficult, he resorted to attacking allied ships. Kidd abandoned the Adventure Galley, which had developed a rotten hull, off the coast of Madagascar in 1698. He hoped to receive a pardon from Livingston in New York, but was returned to London, found guilty of piracy, and executed in 1701.

2. Queen Anne's Revenge

English pirate Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, captured the Concorde, a French-owned slave ship, in the West Indies in 1717 and made the vessel his flagship. Slave ships, which often featured a central partition to protect the crew against a slave uprising, made good pirate ships because they were built for speed. Blackbeard added 26 guns to the vessel, which already boasted 14, making the renamed Queen Anne's Revenge one of the most powerful ships in American waters. In May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston. After looting five merchant vessels, he ran the Queen Anne's Revenge ashore on Topsail Inlet, and the ship suffered extensive damage when it slammed into the submerged sandbar. Given that Blackbeard knew the area well "he had sailed off the same coast the year before "many historians believe he wrecked the Queen Anne's Revenge deliberately in hopes of killing off some of his crew and increasing his share of the fortune. The ship was discovered in 1997 off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, and marine archaeologists have been bringing up treasure from its remains ever since.

3. Fancy

In May 1694, while stationed aboard the privateer Charles II off the coast of Spain, Henry Avery plotted a mutiny that would launch his new and short-lived career as a pirate. Following the successful takeover, Avery, who was a former Royal Navy midshipman, renamed the ship the Fancy and set out with his newly liberated crew to seek a fortune. Avery steered the Fancy, which boasted nearly 50 guns and a crew of 150, to the island of Johanna off the Cape of Good Hope. There, the ship was cleaned and restructured to increase her speed. Avery and his crew terrorized ships in the Indian Ocean until late 1695, when they set sail for the Bahamas, enormous fortune in tow, for an early retirement. Governor Nicholas Trott offered refuge in exchange for treasure, including 1,000 pounds of ivory tusks, and Avery also presented Trott with the Fancy. While several of his men were later captured and sentenced to death, Avery vanished and died a free and wealthy man.

4. Whydah

The Whydah was believed to hold treasure from more than 50 ships when it sank in a storm off the coast of Cape Cod on April 26, 1717. Professional treasure hunter Barry Clifford discovered the ship in 1984 and has since recovered more than 100,000 artifacts from the site. The Whydah was originally launched from London as a slave ship in 1715; the name was derived from the West African port of Ouidah in present day Benin. While navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola on its second voyage, the Whydah was overrun by pirates led by "Black Sam" Bellamy, who claimed the vessel as his flagship. Bellamy and his crew sailed north along the eastern coastline of the American colonies when they ran into a Nor'easter. The boat slammed into a sandbar, split, and sank. Of the ship's 146-man crew, only two survived.

5. Royal Fortune(s)

If Bartholomew Roberts fathered any children during his adventures on the high seas, he may or may not have named all of them Royal Fortune. In July 1720, Roberts captured a French brigantine off the coast of Newfoundland. He outfitted the naval frigate with 26 cannons, renamed her the Good Fortune and headed south for the Caribbean, where the ship was repaired and renamed the Royal Fortune. Soon after, Roberts captured a French warship operated by the Governor of Martinique, renamed her the Royal Fortune and made the ship his new flagship. Roberts then set sail for West Africa, where he captured the Onslow, renamed her the Royal Fortune, and, well, you know the rest. Roberts died, and the final Royal Fortune sank, on February 10, 1722, in an attack by the British warship HMS Swallow.

6. CSS Alabama

Though technically a warship, the most destructive Confederate raider in history is worthy of a mention here. According to Stephen Fox's biography of the Alabama's captain, Ralph Semmes, the ship's destructive reputation once led the New York Herald to refer to Semmes as "A Pirate on the High Seas." Built in 1862 by Henry Laird, whose family's company also built 40 ships for the Royal Navy, the Alabama was designed for speed and deception. The ship was 220 feet long and 32 feet wide with room for 350 tons of coal. The Alabama's forward pivot gun fired 100-pound shells and the wheel of the ship was inscribed with a Confederate motto: "Help Yourself and God Will Help You." Semmes, who sailed under the veil of a Union or British flag, helped himself to any enemy ship that came into view. When Semmes seized control of another ship, he would lower his camouflage flag and raise a Confederate one. At its most destructive, the Alabama was burning an average of one Union ship every three days. The Alabama was sunk by the Union ship Kearsarge off the Normandy coast on June 19, 1864, and discovered by a French sonar ship in 1984.

License to Bird: Meet the Real James Bond

American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.
American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.

On January 4, 1900, a child was born in Philadelphia. His name was Bond. James Bond. He would not grow up to be a globe-trotting, license-to-kill-carrying playboy spy like the other James Bond. Instead, he became an ornithologist, and lived a fairly quiet, normal life—until someone borrowed his name.  

Bond lived in New Hampshire and England while growing up, and developed an accent that a colleague described [PDF] as an “amalgam of New England, British, and upper-class Philadelphian.” After graduating from Cambridge, Bond returned to the U.S. to work as a banker, but his childhood interests in science and natural history spurred him to quit soon after and join an expedition to the Amazon to collect biological specimens for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

After that, and with no formal training in the field, he started working as an ornithologist at the Academy, and was “among the last of a traditional museum breed, the independently wealthy, nonsalaried curator, who lacked advanced university degrees.” Working at the museum, Bond became an authority on the bird species of the Caribbean, and his 1936 book, Birds of the West Indies, was considered the definitive guide to the region’s birds at the time. 

Despite his many scientific accomplishments—which included dozens of papers about Caribbean and New England birds, more books and field guides, numerous medals and awards and other researchers using the term “Bond’s Line” to refer to the boundary that separates Caribbean fauna by their origin—that book would be what catapulted Bond, or at least his name, to international fame.

In 1961, Bond was reading a London newspaper’s review of the latest edition of his book and found eyebrow-raising references to handguns, kinky sex, and other elements of a life that sounded very unlike his. He and his wife Mary quickly learned that another James Bond was the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, which were popular in the UK but just gaining notice in the U.S. Mary wrote to Fleming to jokingly chastise him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. 

Fleming replied to explain himself: He was a birdwatcher and when he was living in Jamaica beginning work on his first spy novel, Birds of the West Indies was one of his bird “bibles.” He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming wrote to Mary. (Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”)

Fleming told Mary that he understood if they were angry at the theft of Bond’s name, and suggested a trade. “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit,” he wrote. “Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” 

He also invited the Bonds to his home in Jamaica, which they took him up on a few years later. During the Bonds’ visit, Fleming gave James a copy of his latest novel, You Only Live Twice, inscribed with the message “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

For the next few decades, until his death at the age of 89, Bond’s famous namesake caused the ornithologist a few minor annoyances. Once, he was supposedly stopped at the airport because officials thought his passport was a fake, and the occasional bank teller would likewise think the same of his checks and refuse to cash them.

Young women would often prank call the Bond house late at night asking to speak to 007, to which Mary would reply: “Yes, James is here. But this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

Beyond Queen Elizabeth: 10 Fantastic Shows to Stream After The Crown

Olivia Colman stars in season 3 of The Crown.
Olivia Colman stars in season 3 of The Crown.
Sophie Mutevelian / Netflix

So you’ve already torn through the latest season of The Crown, which arrived on Netflix in mid-November. You’ve watched and evaluated the performances from the new cast, including Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip, and Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II. You’ve done your Google searches on the events depicted in season 3, from the Cambridge Five to the Aberfan disaster. You’ve played back every scene featuring a corgi. What are you going to do now?

If you’re looking for something else that’s historical, royal, or just vaguely British, give one of these shows a try. They’re all available on a major streaming service (Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime) and they all feature the same whispered bombshells and meaningful glances that make The Crown such a quietly devastating—and highly addicting—drama.

1. Victoria

Like The Crown, Victoria opens with a young queen ascending the throne after a death in the family. Only in this case, the queen is 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria, who would rule Great Britain and Ireland for an astonishing 63 years. This costume drama hasn’t even covered a third of that reign, but it’s packed plenty of royal scandal, real-world politics, and dramatic gowns into its three seasons. There’s no official word on when fans can expect the next batch of episodes, but writer Daisy Goodwin has promised “an absolute humdinger” of a fourth season.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

2. The Tudors

Henry VIII famously had a problem with commitment. He married six women, more than one of whom he had executed, making his life prime material for a soapy drama. Showtime delivered just that with The Tudors, which aired its final episode in 2010. The show covered each of Henry’s marriages and various international affairs in between, casting now famous British actors in some of their earliest roles. Henry Cavill appears in all four seasons as the king’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, and Natalie Dormer (aka Margaery Tyrell) dominates the first two seasons as Henry’s doomed second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Outlander

Take all of the historical intrigue of The Crown, add in some time travel and a lot more sex scenes, and you have Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series, this Starz original centers on Claire Randall, a nurse living in post-WWII Britain who is sent back in time to 1740s Scotland. Her travels don’t end there. Over the course of the show, Claire schmoozes with the French royal court in Paris and gets shipwrecked off the coast of the American colonies. She also falls in love with a Highlander named Jamie, even as she attempts to reunite with her husband Frank in the present day.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. Call The Midwife

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife who worked in the East End of London in the 1950s, this BBC show follows young women in medical training as they travel in and out of the homes of expectant Brits. By focusing on a working class neighborhood, Call the Midwife paints a picture of the London outside Queen Elizabeth’s palace walls, exploring in particular the stories of mothers in a post-baby boom, pre-contraceptive pill world.

Where to watch it: Netflix

5. Upstairs Downstairs

The first Upstairs, Downstairs aired in the 1970s—and when it ended, the tony Bellamy family had just been devastated by the stock market crash of 1929. The reboot (note the lack of comma in the title) picks up in 1936, with one of the original series' housekeepers serving a new family. Just like the original, it shows the very different lives of the “upstairs” aristocrats and their “downstairs” domestic staff, while nodding at current events that would’ve affected them both. A special treat for fans of The Crown: Claire Foy playing the frequently misbehaved Lady Persephone Towyn.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

6. Versailles

Ever wondered what it was like to party in the Hall of Mirrors? Versailles takes you inside the grand French palace of the same name, fictionalizing the lives of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) and his court in the mid-1600s. Versailles isn’t quite as critically adored as The Crown and its cohorts—many reviewers have written it off as a slighter historical series—but it’s got all the requisite melodrama and the jaw-dropping sets we’ve come to expect from these costume epics.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Poldark

When war breaks out between the Brits and American colonists, Ross Poldark leaves his hometown of Cornwall to fight for King George III. After eight years of battles, the redcoats lose, sending Poldark back across the ocean, where he finds that everything has changed: His father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and the love of his life is engaged to his cousin. This is where Poldark, the BBC adaptation of Winston Graham’s eponymous novels, picks up. While Ross Poldark is a fictional character, the show incorporates lots of real history, from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War to the subsequent revolution in France. Amazon Prime has the first four seasons, but you’ll have to head over to PBS Masterpiece for the fifth and final season, which just wrapped its run a few weeks ago.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

8. The Borgias

Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia were extremely influential nobles in 15th and 16th century Italy. In 1492, Rodrigo claimed the papacy, and with it, control of the Roman Catholic Church. That basically meant he and his children ruled the country: as long as Rodrigo was Pope Alexander VI, the Borgias could get anything they wanted. Showtime dramatized their power plays, betrayals, and rumored incest over three seasons of The Borgias, with Jeremy Irons in the lead role as Rodrigo.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Downton Abbey

If you missed out on the Downton Abbey craze in 2010, now is the perfect time to catch up. The entire series—which concerns the uppercrust Crawley family and their many servants—is available on Amazon Prime, and the movie, which premiered earlier this fall, is still playing in select theaters (and is quickly making its way to on demand). Though the story is primarily set in the 1910s and 1920s, Maggie Smith’s withering insults are timeless.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. Coronation Street

If you want to understand the royals, you have to watch their favorite shows—and Coronation Street has long been rumored to be Queen Elizabeth’s preferred soap. (Prince Charles is also a fan; he appeared on the show’s live 2000 special.) Airing on ITV since 1960, Coronation Street follows several working-class families in the fictional town of Weatherfield.

Where to watch it: Hulu

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER