Striking fear into the hearts of many, Edward Teach (1680-1718) and the crew of Queen Anne's Revenge are thought to be one of the most savage bands of murderous pirates to ever sail the seas. They plundered the Caribbean, capturing and looting over 40 ships. Better known as "Blackbeard," Teach wasn't the most successful pirate, but he is probably the most notorious.
Despite what the rumors say, Teach may not have been the blood-thirsty tyrant he's been made out to be. For example, there are no verified accounts of him harming or murdering his captives. Rather than using violence and force to get what he wanted, Teach probably played up his fearsome image and used it to his advantage when boarding merchant vessels.
Some scholars think that many of the pirates of yore, and not just Edward Teach, were closer in disposition to shrewd businessmen than seafaring cut-throats. That's not to say it's true for all famous pirates. Certainly, some were indeed as violent as they say.
1. Anne Bonny (1700-1782)
Anne Bonny allegedly had a fiery temper and stabbed another girl when she was just thirteen. It's also said that she burned down her father's plantation in retaliation to his disowning her for marrying a poor, small-time pirate. However, there is no evidence to support either colorful story.
But here's what is known.
After meeting John "Calico Jack" Rackham, Bonny left her husband to become his partner in the pirate life. They and one other woman, Mary Read, recruited a new crew and spent years in and around Jamaica.
Bonny fought alongside her male crewmates and, being a competent fighter in her own right, was well respected by them.
In 1720, the crew was captured and executed. Pregnant, Bonny and Read both were granted a stay of execution. Read died in prison but Bonny disappeared. No one knows for certain what happened to her.
2. Ching Shih (1785-1844)
Ching Shih, another lady pirate, commanded a massive fleet of 1,800 vessels, manned by as many as 220,000 pirates. She directly commanded 300 of them with crew numbering between 20,000-40,000.
She was a Cantonese prostitute in Guangzhou when she was captured by pirates. In 1801, she married Cheng I, who came from an established family of successful and influential pirates. When Cheng I died, Ching Shih worked her way toward the top of command, and developed a code for her fleet to follow, which was strictly and severely enforced. Those who disobeyed orders or raped female captives were put to death.
In 1810, when the Chinese government offered amnesty to all pirates, Ching Shih retired from the life and opened a gambling house.
3. Francois l'Olonnais (1635-1668)
After serving out his indentured servitude somewhere in the Caribbean, Francois l'Olonnais turned to a life of piracy. When his crew was shipwrecked and slaughtered by a party of Spanish soldiers, he escaped death by covering himself in the blood and gore of his companions. The soldiers bought his "play dead" act.
Undeterred by the incident, l'Olonnais formed a new crew and began wrecking havoc, pillaging towns and cities along the sea. In one such city at Lake Maracaibo, the residents fled and tried to hide their possessions, but his men tracked them down and tortured the location out of them.
l'Olonnais was especially vile when it came to torture. He had no qualms about slicing flesh off of his victims with his sword, burning them alive or tying knotted woolding rope around their heads until their eyes popped out.
Supposedly, Francois l'Olonnais ripped out and ate the heart of a Spanish soldier. It's said that he met a similar end, eaten by a Kuna tribe on Darien, but that part is definitely fiction as the native peoples there did not partake in cannibalism.
4. Sir Henry Morgan (1635-1688)
Like Blackbeard, you probably know Sir Henry Morgan -- at the very least as the pirate featured on the label of a Captain Morgan spiced rum bottle. He was a Welsh privateer, landowner, knight and Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.
When he died, Morgan received a state funeral and pirates and privateers were given amnesty for the day so that they could attend and pay their respects.
5. Edward Low
Surpassing even Francois l'Olonnais in brutality and violence, Edward Low's vicious methods of torture are hard to forget. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, think Ramsey Snow and Euron Greyjoy combined. In one especially cruel instance, Low cut the lips off a ship captain he captured, broiled them and forced the victim to eat them while they were still hot.
6. Grace O'Malley (1530-1603)
Chieftain of the O'Malley clan, Grace O'Malley inherited her father's shipping and trading business when he died. Her ships would enforce a tax on ships traveling in the waters off her lands. Those refusing to hand over cash or a portion of their cargo were met with either violence or murder.
If you found this article interesting, check out our episode about Edward Teach on Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths, a Parcast Network podcast series.
Remarkable Lives. Tragic Deaths examines the lives and tragic deaths of people who changed history and influenced pop culture.