Calico Jack : biography
The Jolly Roger of Calico Jack.Botting, p. 48, Konstam, The History of Pirates, p. 98.
John Rackham (27 December 1682 – 18 November 1720), commonly known as Calico Jack, was a Cuban-English pirate captain operating in the Bahamas and in Cuba during the early 18th century (Rackham is often spelled as Rackam or Rackum in historical documentation, and he is also often referred to as Jack Rackham). His nickname derived from the calico clothing he wore, while Jack is a diminutive of "John".
Active towards the end (1718–20) of the "golden age of piracy" (1690–1730) Rackham is most remembered for two things: the design of his Jolly Roger flag, a skull with crossed swords, which contributed to the popularization of the design, and for having two female crew members (Mary Read and Rackham’s lover Anne Bonny).
After deposing Charles Vane from his captaincy, Rackham cruised the Leeward Islands, Jamaica Channel and Windward Passage. He accepted a pardon some time in 1719 and moved to New Providence where he met Anne Bonny, who was married to James Bonny. When Rackham returned to piracy in 1720, by stealing a British sloop, Bonny joined him. Their new crew included Mary Read. After a short run he was captured by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet in 1720, before being hanged in November of the same year in Port Royale, Jamaica.
Early life and career
Little is known of Rackham’s upbringing or early life, except for the fact that he was English, he was born around the year 1682 but in Cuba. The first record of him is as quartermaster on Charles Vane’s sloop Ranger in 1718. After robbing several ships outside of New York, Vane and his crew encountered a large French man-o-war. The ship, which was at least twice as large as Vane’s sloop, went after them. Vane, claiming caution as his reason, commanded a retreat from battle. Jack Rackham quickly spoke up and contested the decision, suggesting they fight the man-o-war, because it would have plenty of riches. Not only that, but if they captured it, he argued, it would place a much larger ship at their disposal. Of the approximately ninety men on the ship, only fifteen supported Vane in his decision. Despite the overwhelming support for Rackham’s cry to fight, Vane declared that the captain’s decision is considered final and they fled the man-o-war.
On November 24, 1718 Rackham called a vote in which the men branded Vane a coward and removed him from the captaincy, making Calico Jack the next captain. Rackham gave Vane, and fifteen supporters, the other sloop in the fleet, along with a decent supply of ammunition and goods.
Final piratical voyage
In October 1720, Rackham cruised near Jamaica, capturing numerous small fishing vessels, and terrorizing fishermen and women along the northern coastline. He came across a small vessel filled with eleven English pirates. Soon after, Rackham’s ship was attacked by an armed sloop sent by Governor Nicholas Lawes and was captured. Rackham and his crew were brought to Jamaica, where he and nearly all of his crew members were sentenced to be hanged.
Fate of his crew
Anne Bonny and Mary Read both claimed to be pregnant at their trials, ten days after Rackham’s execution, and so were given a temporary stay until the claim was proven. Read died in April 1721 of fever related to childbirth, while Bonny was spared execution and disappeared from all historical records.
The day after Rackham’s trial, two of his crew members, John "Old Dad the Cooper or Fenis" Fenwick and Tom Bourn (alias Brown), were separately tried and convicted for mutinies committed in mid-June 1720 off Hispaniola.
All of the eight men (George Fetherston, Richard Corner, John Davies, John Howell, Noah Harwood, James Dobbins, Patrick Carty and Thomas Earl) who’d been drinking with Rackham’s crew and were captured with Rackham’s crew were tried and convicted in January 1721, then hanged in February 1721.