John Rackham (Cuba, 27th December 1682 – Port Royal, Jamaica, 18th November 1720)
Keep your hand on your reticule today because a thoroughly bad lot is sailing into the salon in the shape of John "Calico Jack" Rackham. Although his career was hardly a long one, Calico Jack certainly had an eye for aesthetics as we'll see in a moment, but that didn't help him evade capture by the British Navy on this day in 1720.
Rackham was a pirate of Cuban-English parentage who earned his nickname by his distinctive clothing. Clearly a man of some visual flare, it was Rackham who first flew the Jolly Roger depicting a skull and crossed swords, which went on to become an iconic design. He also numbered two women amongst his crew, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, Rackham's lover. In fact, on the fateful day in question, Read and Bonny were two of the few who fought for their freedom, the majority of their crewmates in their cups and slumbering below deck.
Rackham had already been pardoned and returned to piracy by the time he sailed in the waters around Jamaica in 1720, leaving local sailors and fishermen terrified of his attacks. By September of that year Governor Nicholas Lawes had had quite enough of the pirate and issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of piracy. Charged by Lawes to track down Calico Jack, Captain Jonathan Barnet happened upon his sloop, the William, at Bry Harbour Bay in Jamaica on 20th October 1720. The ship was at anchor, her crew at rest and vulnerable to boarding.
Commanding two sloops of his own including the heavily armed Tyger, Barnet made his discovery at around ten o'clock in the evening and approached silently. By the time the pirates realised that Barnet was alongside, the pirate hunter had already ordered them to surrender and the William had no choice but to take flight. Of course, it was a pointless effort and the crew of the Tyger boarded their quarry easily despite the fierce defence of Read, Bonny and a crewmate.
The pirates were taken to trial in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in November 1720. Found guilty, they were hanged and Rackham's body was displayed on the gibbet as a warning to others. Pleading their bellies the women were granted a stay of execution until their pregnancies could be confirmed. Read died of a fever in prison whilst Bonny was pardoned and disappeared from history, passing into the lore of the Golden Age of Piracy.