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A Pirate’s Life

Famous Pirates



Pirates have sailed the Seven Seas for centuries plundering villages, terrorizing sailors and searching for treasure. Legends tell of pirate ships marked by the traditional Jolly Roger flag bearing a skull and cross bones. Walking the plank is the swashbuckler’s punishment of choice. While the majority of pirate lore comes from books, movies, and imagination, some of it is rooted in history.

Buccaneers are pictured with peg legs, patches, and parrots. There’s a scientific reason that many pirates had peg legs, hook hands and other unusual extremities. Before modern medicine, loss of limbs was much more common and the replacement options were much more primitive. Sailors were at a higher risk for amputation. Their lost limbs would be substituted with hooks, pegs, eye patches and other prosthetic adaptations.

Yo-ho, yo-ho if it’s a pirates life you’re looking for, take a look at these famous swashbuckling buccaneers in history.

Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was both knight and pirate. Queen Elizabeth I endorsed this seaman for his efforts attacking Spanish merchant ships. Drake’s most famous voyage started in 1577 when he circumnavigated the globe. During this adventure, the pirate stopped a mutiny, raided Spanish ports and captured treasure, earning him the knighthood upon his return.

Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan was a famously brutal buccaneer who sailed the Caribbean seas in the 1600s. There are stories of him using priests, women and the mayor of Porto Bello, Panama as human shields during his raid. After years of pillaging and plundering, Morgan became acting governor of Jamaica. Oddly enough, under his governance, Jamaica passed laws against piracy.

Madame Cheng

In the early 1800s, Cheng Yih led the world’s largest pirate confederation. When he died, his wife Madame Cheng took control. Under pirate Cheng, the pirate confederation continued to expand to nearly 2,000 ships. She ruled the waters of the South China Sea. After taking a government pardon in 1810, Madame Cheng lived out her golden years running a smuggling operation.

River pirates

Pirates aren’t limited to ocean waters. River piracy continues to be a problem around the world. In America, the pillage and plunder were most heavily concentrated in the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers during the 1800s. Cave-in-Rock in Southern Illinois was a known hiding place for thieving swashbucklers until the outlaws were driven out. Southeast Asia, Romania, and Europe each have had their own pirate problems along main rivers.

Modern pirates

Pirates today have upgraded their swords and wooden ships for grenades and motorboats. Ship crews today have smaller numbers, and modern pirates use that to their advantage. International leaders continue to fight against these water-borne villains but it’s complicated because the crimes happen in international waters. To protect against today’s savvy swashbucklers, crews employ armed guards and high-pressure hoses.