Calico Jack Rackham

Story by Lois Carol Wheatley

The nickname "Calico" may have stemmed from fashion criticism from his fellow pirates who dressed in finer threads. Rackham wore cotton striped pants in a social setting that was about as mature and reasonable as a high school locker room.

He learned the pirate trade sailing with Charles Vane as a quartermaster, a high-ranking office that required him to lead the boarding raids on merchant vessels. In this capacity he noticed Vane's reluctance to engage in the fighting and called attention to it, which inspired a mutiny in the Caribbean that put him in command of the Ranger. But Rackham was no cutthroat either and on one occasion returned a small Maderian ship to its rightful owner.

In 1719 a King's Pardon was offered to pirates promising to mend their evil ways and Rackham took it. Essentially the bargain amounted to a conversion from pirate to privateer so that he could continue to roam the Caribbean in search of Spanish victims.

This was not exactly what you might call going straight and it was not particularly permanent either. Rackham met a married woman, Anne Bonny, and carried on a flaming affair with her until the governor found out about it and ordered that she be whipped for adultery. The pair put together a crew, stole a sloop and headed out to a glorious and wildly successful career on the open sea.

England took a dim view of this escapade and sent out a pirate hunter, Captain Jonathan Barnet. In October 1720 Barnet found Rackham and his men too drunk to put up a fight and had no trouble bringing them to justice in St. Jago de la Vega in Jamaica. All the pirates were convicted and sentenced to hang, but the two women, Anne Bonny and Mary Reed, escaped the noose by pleading pregnancy and/or other extenuating circumstances.

Terms: North Carolina Pirates, Calico Jack

Information on North Carolina Pirate Calico Jack.

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