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Monday, 3 September 2012

76) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: Jack Rackham (or Calico Jack) 25.12.1682 – 18.11.1720):

76) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean: Jack Rackham (or Calico Jack) 25.12.1682 – 18.11.1720):
i)            A two dollar coin issued by the New Zealand Mint on behalf of Niue Islands
ii)          A one dollar coin issued by Perth Mint, Australia on behalf of Tuvalu Islands

“Calico Jack” (or Jack Rackham or Rackam or Rackum)  was the nickname for John Platypus who was born on 25th December 1682 at Jamaica to parents who had immigrated from England, thus he was called an English pirate, having his base of operations in the Bahamas. 

He was called “Calico Jack” because he had a love for wearing brightly coloured Indian Calico clothes (calico being a fabric made in India in the 18th century which had a cheap and unfinished look) and always wore striped calico pants. No wonder, then, that Jack always looked cheaply dressed.
Spurning the offer of General amnesty for all pirates :

During the general amnesty offered to all pirates during July 1718, he was one of the few pirates who spurned the offer of the King’s Pardon and joined the pirate crew of Charles Vane who had himself refused the amnesty.

He was initially a quartermaster on Charles Vane’s pirate sloop “Ranger” (who had been an associate for some time of the Notorious pirate Black Beard) in 1718. 

 Rackham replaces Vane as Captain:

 In November 1718, he became a Captain of the pirate ship when Vane’s group of about 90 pirates in two sloops were on a looting spree of merchant shipping near New York harbour and a large heavily armed French man-of-war (more than 25 times the size of the pirate sloop) gave chase to capture the pirates. 

Vane ordered a quick withdrawal from the engagement, but Jack Rackham had other ideas and wanted to give battle to the French naval ship, putting forth the view that they should fight the battleship, because the pirates would have a very large ship to conduct their raids in, if they won the battle.

While there seemed to be overwhelming approval for Rackham’s point of view, the pirate ship withdrew from the engagement, on Vane’s assertion that the Captain’s decision had to be honoured and that he had the safety of his crew and ship uppermost in his mind. 

Simmering disapproval of Vane’s withdrawal from the engagement led to him being deposed as a “coward” and the captaincy went to Jack Rackham. 

Vane and 15 men who supported him and had voted against Rackham were given the smaller of the two sloops in the pirate fleet along with some provisions and allowed to sail away. 

Some accounts mention that Vane was marooned on an island along with the 15 men and that he was captured shortly thereafter, clapped in chains and languished in prison without immediate trial.

Capture of the “Kingston” as a prize and recapture by Pirate hunters:

In December 1718, Rackham captured the merchant ship the “Kingston” having a sizable cargo, his most notable prize, but it proved to be a short-lived success. The capture of the “Kingston” by Rackham’s crew was observed from shore at Port Royal, and its owners immediately sent out a group of commissioned pirate hunters, who recaptured the ship along with its merchandise after a chase lasting several days in February 1719 when Rackham anchored the “Kingston” at Isla de los Pinos off Cuba.   
Rackham and most of his crew escaped capture by hiding in the Woods on shore and the “Kingston” was recaptured by the pirate hunters.

Left with only their old sloop, Rackham stole an English sloop which was being refitted as per Rackham’s specifications, when a Spanish warship spotted them, but could not enter the harbor due to low tide.  The pirates, leaving their old sloop behind and stealthily boarding and overpowering the Spanish Guards on the stolen English sloop, made good their escape while the Spanish Warship could only capture their old abandoned ship.

Return to Bahamas and accepting the King’s pardon:

In 1719, when they came back to Nassau, Bahamas, they applied for the King’s pardon through the Governor, claiming that they had been forced to become pirates by Charles Vane who was a much hated pirate by the Authorities. The Governor Rogers, short of good hands to fight the menace of piracy, believed them and granted them the King’s Pardon. Not only that, he also earned a commission from the Governor of Bahamas to hunt down pirates in the Caribbean who were attacking and plundering several British ships. 

Affair with Anne Bonny and Return to second stint as a Pirate:

Rackham operated from New Providence (a known pirate haven) where he had an affair with Anne Bonny, the wife of another petty pirate who had also been granted the Royal Pardon and acted a Government informer on pirates. They fell in love and petitioned the Governor for an annulment of her marriage which was refused by the Authorities.

 The sedate life of a law abiding citizen did not agree with him as with several other pirates and he longed to reassemble a crew and commence his depredations at sea. 

His chance was not long in coming when, in 1720, Bonny’s husband got an order passed by the Governor for having her whipped for adultery, as Anne was said to have had a child with Rackham. Rackham offered to settle for a divorce from her husband by paying him a large sum of money, which Anne refused because she did not want to be sold/purchased like an animal. 

Rackham, left with no alternative stole a British sloop, the “William” and eloped with Bonny, before her sentence could be carried out, disguising her on board ship as a man, for a second stint as a pirate for him. Rackham’s actions were construed as him having voided his Royal pardon and a target for official pirate hunters.

Small scale acts of Piracy and inclusion  of Mary Read in Rackham’s crew:

They sailed the Caribbean for the next two months, attacking passing small-sized ships and inviting their crew to join his pirate ship. 

In one of these actions, he captured an English ship and forced the captured sailors into service on his pirate ship. The captured sailors had a woman sailor Mary Read on board (who disguised herself, by cross-dressing as a man) who was more than willing to join his pirate crew. Both women were equally in command of the pirate ship as Jack was.

The crew swiftly earned a reputation for ruthlessness, particularly the two women who dressed, fought and swore just as well as their male companions. At the later trial with resulted in the hanging of Rackham and his male crew members, a fisherwoman whose boat was captured by Rackham testified that both the women pirates had demanded that she be murdered so that she would not testify against them.

Rackham frequented the Leeward Islands, Jamaica Channel and the Windward Passage in his depredations.

Rackham specialized in plundering smaller vessels instead of engaging with the larger ones (most unlike the bravado with which he had vociferously challenged Charles Vane’s decision not to engage his small pirate sloops in battle when it was being chased by a French Man-of war and which had helped Rackham gain the captaincy of the pirate group). 

Sea-fight with a pirate hunter and capture of Rackham and his men:

In October 1720, Rackham sailed near Jamaica without capturing any notable prizes. They had to content themselves with attacking and looting small fishing boats and terrorizing them. 

His notoriety was taken cognizance of by the Governor who issued a warrant declaring him a pirate. 

Under the commission, an armed sloop under a pirate hunter Jonathan Barnett set out looking for the pirate ship and encountered the pirates at Pointe Negril in Jamaica. 

The pirates had captured a Spanish merchantman and had been celebrating by boozing all night and were dead drunk at the time of battle to put up any resistance to Barnett. 

It seems that only Anne Bonny and Mary Read fought the Pirate hunters with much tenacity knowing that imprisonment and death awaited them once they were captured,  while most of the drunk pirates hid in the below decks.

Trial in Court and sentencing of Rackham:

The captured pirates were tried in court and convicted in Spanish Town, Jamaica. 

Rackham was hanged on 18th November 1720 and his body gibbeted (hung out in an iron cage) as a warning to other pirates on a small islet near Port Royal which is now named “Rackham’s Cay” after him. 

Bonny is said to have told him in their last meeting that she was sorry to see him in prison awaiting his hanging, but if he had fought like a man, he need not have to hang like a dog.

 Most of the pirates and their associates captured on board Rackham’s ship were tried and either hanged along with him or went for long prison terms.

 Anne Bonny and Mary Read, though equally a part of Rackham’s adventures during his second stint as a pirate, escaped the hangman’s noose by pleading that they were both pregnant. Mary Read died later during childbirth, while, Bonny’s fate is consigned to the mists of pirating history. It is open to conjecture, that she may have spent the rest of her life in prison.

Legend and Legacy:

“Calico” Jack Rackham’s short lived career as a pirate was mainly towards the fag end of the “Golden Age of Piracy” (in which several pirate groups terrorized merchant shipping during 1650-1725 and even fought with pursuing naval ships and pirate hunters) and he was active between 1717 and 1720 . 

He sailed with very few men on his pirate ship most of the time, did not have any notable acquisitions, except for the “Kingston” and most of the time because of his meager  resources dared not attack any heavily protected treasure ships or Naval ships,  using  his sloop to mostly attack fishing vessels and local merchants. As a result, he did not capture gold and valuables on a notable scale at any point in his pirate career.

He may have been consigned to the dustbin of history, had the two women pirates, Ann Bonny and Mary Read not sailed with him.

 News of the capture of the women pirates spread all over Europe and Americas , and their trial was followed with keen interest as both the women did not conform to the strict rules and traditional restrictions followed by the women of their times, although their exploits as pirates had not been very notable.

 Rackham’s personal ensign “a skull with crossed swords” is the most universally recognized “Jolly Roger” of all time, among all the Pirate Flags. (Remember all Pirate captains had their own “personal ensigns” or “Jolly Rogers”). Variations of it include a “skull and cross-bones” (which is used to signal danger, even today). 

Mention in popular Literature, Music and movies:

Several pieces of literature exist on Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, some notable ones being:

Jack Rackham finds a mention in “A General History of the Robberies and murders of the most notorious pirates” by Charles Johnson and in “The General History of Pirates” by Daniel Defoe and Manuel Schonhorn. 

 “The Pirate Trial of Anne Bonny and Mary Read” by Tamara J. Eastman and Constance Bond features transcripts of the entire trial. “Ladies of the Skull and Crossbones” by Carrol B. Fleming and “Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonny” by William Jefferey recall the adventures of the two women pirates with Jack Rackham. Jack Rackham along with the two women pirates is also mentioned in Carrie Vaughn’s novel “Steel”, where he figures with several other famous pirates of his time.

There is a song on him in the music album “Port Royal” by the German Band “Running Wild” which narrates the final portion of his trial and pronouncement of his death sentence from the perspective of the judge and Rackham respectively.

A movie “The Pyrates” has been made on him where he is portrayed as the chief of a federation of pirate captains known as the Coast Brotherhood. 

His gibbeted body is shown in the recent pirate movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” outside Port Royal when the Capt. Jack Sparrow steps ashore, with the warning signboard besides his skeleton “Pirates, Ye be warned” and the “Black Pearl” also has Jack’s “Jolly Roger” as its pirate ensign. Also shown in the Pirate Series “Pirates of the Caribbean” is a woman pirate character that is inspired by Bonny and Read.

In the Adventures of Tintin comic series, he is the inspiration of two episodes:”The secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure”. A movie “The Adventures of Tintin” also mentions Rackham.

New Zealand Mint Coin:

New Zealand Mint has issued a set of four two-dollar denomination silver coins under its “The Real Pirates of the Caribbean” series. “Calico Jack” Rackham features on one of them having made it to the “Hall of Fame” of all time Pirating history in his short career as a pirate.

The obverse of this coin features an image of Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign of the Commonwealth of Niue.

The reverse of this coin features a coloured image of “Calico Jack” Rackham along with the two women pirates Ann Bonny and Mary Read. These coins are legal tender of Niue Island. This coin has a diameter of 40.70 mm and is made of 0.999 Silver. The denomination of the coin is $2 and the year of issue is 2011.
Perth Mint coin:

The obverse of this coin depicts an effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.

This 2011 $1 dollar coin shows The Perth Mint “P” mint mark is also seen on this coin. The reverse of the coin shows Calico Jack with his ship in the background. The design also includes a representation of the skull and crossed swords of the Jolly Roger flag. The coin is made of aluminium-bronze.
The coin is issued under the authority of the Government of Tuvalu and is legal tender in Tuvalu.

The Perth Mint also brought out this coin in 2009, with  99.9% silver as part of a five coin set on notorious pirates (the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1725). 

Links to other Posts on Famous Pirates of The Caribbean: 

1) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean : Captain William Kidd 

 2) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean :Edward Teach or Black Beard

3) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean :Bartholomew Roberts or Black Bart

4) Famous-Pirates-of- the Caribbean:Henry Avery 

6) Famous Pirates of the Caribbean : Sir Henry Morgan 

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