Monday, August 25, 2014

How Famous Pirates Died

“But what happened to him?” is a question that comes up at the end of many pirate stories. The end is always "he died," for the simple reason that the pirates lived 300 years ago, and no one survives that long. A better question might be “What was his fate?” Pirates seem to have been moved by fate. They came to a variety of endings.

One of the first “classical” pirates, in the terms of sailing the Caribbean and taking gold from the Spanish, was Sir Francis Drake. While he is considered a naval hero by the British, he was a pirate to the Spanish he robbed, and since he stole the goods when England and Spain were not at war, he counts as a pirate here.

Drake continued his explorations until he was over fifty, an incredible age for a sailor in his day. He died of intestinal sickness on the Spanish Main, and asked to be buried at sea in full dress armor, a wish that was carried out. His expedition not only followed his wishes, they even put together a solid lead coffin for him. Divers and explorers are still searching for this coffin, which would be one of the greatest pirate “finds” of all time.

Henry Morgan, the last of the great buccaneering pirates, died on August 25th 1688. As a reward for his success in fighting the Spanish, Morgan had been knighted and made the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, a largely honorary position, even though there was no official governor at the time.

Morgan used his position to spend all his time in taverns, reliving his exploits with worshipful sailors. His death came from liver failure. He was buried in Port Royal with full military honors. Every ship in the harbor fired a salute, and the entire town took a day of mourning. Morgan’s grave was sunk beneath the sea during the Port Royal earthquake of 1692.

No one knows the fate of Henry Avery, the pirate whose carrier may be said to mark the beginning of the Golden Age of Piracy. Avery was last seen in March of 1696, in the port of New Providence in the Bahamas, where he was off-loading the incredible riches he had captured from a treasure ship of the Grand Moghul of India.

Moralists of his day claimed that he was later tricked out of his entire fortune by a dishonest merchant, and died a beggar in Bristol, England. He was also rumored to have simply changed his name and retired to a life of comfort. I have seen no evidence that proves either belief, so you may believe as you choose.

Benjamin Hornigold, the pirate teacher who influenced the careers of over a thousand pirates during the Golden Age, received a pardon for his crimes in January of 1718. This general amnesty for all pirates who agreed to stop robbing ships was a tacit agreement by the British government that they could not defeat the pirates. It was the end to many a pirating career.

Hornigold, lacking any job sills apart from captaining ships, later became a pirate hunter. He was killed when his ship ran aground in 1719.

Henry Jennings, Hornigold’s political and personal rival, also took the pardon, but he had amasses a considerable fortune as a pirate. He used this fortune to purchase a plantation in Bermuda. Jennings is widely regarded as the only pirate to enjoy a really successful retirement, and lived the life of a country gentleman until the end of his days.

Sam Bellamy, star pupil of Hornigold and one of the richest pirates at the time of his death, went down with his ship, the Whydah Galley, on April 26th, 1717 off the coast of Massachusetts in a massive storm. Of the eight pirates who escaped, six were hanged, and two (a Black man raised in the Netherlands and a half-African, half Native American) were sold into slavery.

Bellamy had supposedly been going to visit his fiancé, Mary (or Maria) Hallett. Mary was rumored to be a witch, and some said that they saw her on the headlands the night of the storm, encouraging the sea in its violence. They said she was angry at Sam for deserting her. But other claim that she was trying ot save her lover, and that the two were reunited and ran away together.

Hornigold’s other famous pupil, Blackbeard, retired successfully. He took the pardon in June of 1718, and settled in the town of Bath, North Carolina. He married a local plantation owner’s daughter, and might have lived quietly. But it seems that he became bored, and began robbing ships again.

The Royal Navy wasn’t doing enough to catch the pirates, so the Governor of Virginia offered an off-the-books reward, which lured Lieutenant Robert Maynard to bring two navy sloops and attack Blackbeard near his hideout on Oracoke Island. After a ferocious battle in which Blackbeard was wounded 26 times, Maynard at last prevailed. He hacked off Blackbeard’s head and displayed it on the bowsprit of his ship. The body was thrown overboard, where according to witnesses it swam 3 times around the ship before disappearing beneath the waves.

Some people say that the end of the Golden Age of Piracy ended in 1720, with the hanging of Calico Jack Rackham. Jack had been run down by the British navy when he and his crew were dead drunk after a night of celebration. Jack and his crew were too intoxicated to fight back, though Anne Bonny and Mary Read almost held off the entire attacking force by themselves.

Jack was tried in Jamaica and sentenced to be hanged. On November 18th, he was granted his final wish and taken to see his true love, Anne, at the door of her jail cell. She was not sympathetic, and told him that if he had fought like a man, he would not now be hanged like a dog.

Anne herself, sentenced to be hung after the birth of Jack’s child, disappeared from the jail and from history. Legend has it that she escaped, married, bore 16 children and lived to be 82 years old.

Wrecked, defeated, captured (while drunk) killed by sickness or by their own weakness, pirate made their mark upon the world.  Though they may have left this earth years ago, they have, in some way, become immortal.

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