The most infamous pirates in history, from Blackbeard to Captain Kidd, would have been nothing without their fearsome vessels. Typically stolen, stripped bare in the interest of speed and kitted out with numerous cannons, pirate ships were arguably the most important tool in a pirate’s arsenal.
During the Golden Age of Piracy (1650s-1730s) and indeed throughout history, pirate ships have been used for some truly unthinkable acts of theft, violence and treachery.
Here are 5 of the most notorious pirate ships in history.
1. Queen Anne’s Revenge
Edward Teach, better known as ‘Blackbeard’, oversaw a brutal reign of piracy across the Caribbean and North America from the late 17th to early 18th centuries. In November 1717, he stole a French slaving vessel, La Concorde, and set about converting it into a fearsome pirate ship. When he was done with his renovations, the vessel had 40 cannons onboard and bore the name Queen Anne’s Revenge.
With it, Blackbeard enacted a blockade around Charleston, South Carolina, holding the whole port to ransom. Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground in 1718 off North America’s Atlantic coast.
In 1996, researchers discovered what they believed to be Blackbeard’s lost vessel off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Whydah, or Whydah Galley, was the infamous vessel of pirate Sam ‘Black Sam’ Bellamy. Formerly a British vessel used to transport enslaved people, Whydah was seized by Bellamy in February 1717 and converted into a pirate ship.
Though fearsome in her prime and boasting 28 cannons, Whydah only worked as a pirate ship for around 2 months, looting and thieving along the shipping routes of the Atlantic Ocean. In April 1717, she was lost to a deadly storm near Cape Cod in the northeastern US. Just 2 of the vessel’s 146 crewmembers survived.
The wreck of Whydah was discovered in 1984. Since then, roughly 100,000 relics and artefacts have been retrieved from the sunken archaeological site.
3. Adventure Galley
Captain William Kidd, or simply Captain Kidd, began his seafaring career as a privateer (essentially a government or crown-sanctioned pirate). In the late 17th century, he was commissioned to attack and rob French vessels in the East Indies, kitting out his vessel, Adventure Galley, with some 34 guns for the task.
A 3-masted ship launched in London in 1695, Adventure Galley served Kidd for roughly 3 years. By 1698, her hull was rotten and the ship was taking on water. She was stripped of anything of value and left to sink off the coast of Madagascar.
Kidd outlived the Adventure Galley, though not by many years. On his mission in the East Indies, he and his crew apprehended a merchant vessel in 1698. They robbed the vessel, which was sailing under French papers but had an English captain.
When news spread that Kidd had robbed an Englishman, many believed he had graduated from privateer to full-blown pirate. He was executed for murder and piracy in London on 18 May 1701.
4. Royal Fortune
Bartholomew Roberts, or ‘Black Bart’, became infamous in the early 1720s for his acts of piracy, violence and theft aboard his famed pirate ship Royal Fortune. But Royal Fortune was so no single vessel. Throughout his 3-year-long piracy career, Roberts captained a whole string of vessels named Royal Fortune, which were typically stolen ships that he had repurposed for piracy.
The largest and most fearsome of Roberts’ many Royal Fortune ships was fitted with around 40 cannons and was manned by more than 150 men.
Roberts’ last Royal Fortune sank during a battle with the British vessel HMS Swallow on 10 February 1722. Roberts also died during the altercation.
On 7 May 1694, English privateering vessel Charles II suffered a mutiny. The crew, led by officer Henry Every, seized control of the ship. They then took it to port on the island of Johanna, where they had it redesigned, changing its name to Fancy. The mutineers then set about becoming pirates.
While prowling the Indian Ocean, the crew of the Fancy attacked and looted the Indian Moghul’s cherished vessel Ganj-i-Sawai. Stocked full of treasures, Ganj-i-Sawai is thought to have been one of the biggest hauls in the history of piracy.
Every later retired from piracy, escaping capture and arrest by bribing his way to freedom. The fate of the Fancy is unknown, though it has been rumoured that Every gifted it to the governor of Nassau, the Bahamas, as a bribe.