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A few pirate love stories

Updated on October 4, 2009
Jack Rackham's flag
Jack Rackham's flag
The Whydah
The Whydah

Pirates are often known most for their greed and opportunism, but many notable pirates throughout history were driven more by their love of a woman, and a need to provide for a family, than by sheer gold-lust.  Our perception of piracy is often quite romantic with images of scallywags with broadswords, wenches, rum, peg-legs, pirate flags, and shoulder-parrots.  Ultimately pirates their ship dynamics were far more complex and interesting than these often reductive and romanticized stereotypes.  Pirates are undeniably romantic figures, but in a different way, and perhaps a more meaningful way, than we typically perceive.

Samuel Bellamy, or Black Sam, was known for his generosity.  He was a man guided by a moral compass, even though as a pirate, he was deemed by society as a villainous ne'er do well and a threat to social order.  He treated his crew and captors with respect and dignity, and after capturing the notorious Whydah (a slave trading ship laden with riches) he offered the deposed captain a ship from his fleet, the Sultana.   The Whydah was outfitted with guns and became a valuable part of Black Sam's fleet, and eventually, one of the most historically significant vessels recovered.  He believed that European society stole from the poor to accumulate wealth and that this practice was absurdly unjust, so he felt justified taking wealth from the rich to distribute fairly among the poor.  His crew labelled themselves "Robin Hood's Men."  While his logic may have been flawed, as stealing is always a rotten thing to do, he did let his captors make informed decisions and his ships were quite democratic, as his crew had a say in virtually every decision made.  A very small shoe was discovered in the wreckage of the Whydah, and legend has it that a small boy who had been on a ship captured by Black Sam's crew, was permitted to join Black Sam as a pirate (most likely much to his mother's dismay).  

Black Sam was in love with a woman named Maria Hallett.  He is believed to have become a pirate in order to support her, and they were romantically involved for most of Sam Bellamy's life.  After the incredibly lucrative capture of the Whydah, Black Sam and his crew opted to head northward to New England, where Sam would most likely have celebrated his new-found wealth with his love Maria.  A violent storm of the coast of Massachusetts dashed these hopes however, as all but nine of his crew drowned, and the Whydah found a home on the bottom of the ocean until 1984, when it was recovered, becoming the most historically significant pirate ship discovered in modern time.  Sam Bellamy died at the age of 28, and his short life and career as a pirate captain were indelibly marked by his fair and merciful reputation, as well as his never-ending love for Maria Hallett. 

Jack Rackham, or Calico Jack, was a flashy dresser and is most known perhaps for the two women who served on his crew.  Mary Read and Anne Bonny.  Having two women serve on a pirate ship, equally, alongside the male crew members was quite revolutionary and shocking for the time period.  Anne Bonny was unhappily married to James Bonny, a man who became an informant and was ratting out pirates to the governor.  Anne Bonny had become friends with a lot of pirates, who had been enjoying the short-lived pardon in Nassau, and she viewed her husband's betrayals as cowardly.  She met Jack Rackham and the two began a passionate affair.  Her husband reported her adultery, and before her sentence of flogging could be carried out, she ran away with her lover, Calico Jack, and the two began a life together at sea.  Mary Read joined the crew later and the two women became fast friends.  Mary Read and Anne Bonny fought alongside the men at sea and received their fair share of the spoils.  

After one particularly lucrative raid, the men celebrated raucously and became quite intoxicated.  Their ship came under attack by the authorities and only Anne Bonny and Mary Read were able to put up a defense.  Unfortunately the women's attempts were foiled, and all were captured.  Jack Rackham and his crew were tried as pirates, and Jack was sentenced to be hanged.  As legend has it the last words Anne Bonny spoke to Jack Rackham were along the lines of "I'm sorry to see you there, but if you had fought like a man, you need not have been hung like a dog."  Their love affair was passionate, and Ms. Anne Bonny was one tough as nails broad.  She gave birth to Jack's child and escaped punishment for piracy after her family paid for her freedom.  She died a respectable lady at the age of 82.   

Cellar House is found on the Sassafrass River in Maryland.  Legend has it that a pirate captain and his wife made their home there, and enjoyed a happy life while he was not at sea.  The waterfront property made it easy for him to navigate his ship back and forth and he had become a fairly successful pirate in a relatively short period of time.  After one particularly long voyage at sea, the captain returned home to find that his wife had given birth.  Rather than become excited at the new addition to the family he became enraged.  He believed that there was no way for the child to have been his, and he murdered his wife and young child in the second floor bedroom.  On particularly cool and calm evenings it is said that the spirit of the pirate captain's wife can be seen wandering the shore of the Sassafrass River, weeping for her lost child.  The saddest part of this legend lies in the widespread belief that the pirate captain was indeed misstaken and that he killed his family without cause.

Pirates are viewed in many different ways, but rarely are they known for anything but their love of the sea and the promise of wealth that it provided.   The truly fascinating history of piracy though, involves the relationships that pirates had on their ships and in the outside world.  They were indeed human, some behaved savagely, some behaved fairly, and some did the best they could and got caught anyway, but all of them loved. 


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