Barbary Pirates
Ching Shih Pirate
I Sailed With Chinese Pirates
Queen Anne's Revenge
Somali Pirates

 

The Barbary Wars

The Barbary Pirates were based in North Africa, and were the scourge of both the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. They were active from shortly after the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492 until about 1830, when the pirates were finally brought under control after repeated attacks from, and treaties with, various Western powers. The 17th century, was the period during which the activities of the Barbary Pirates reached their peak.

While the Barbary pirates were not averse to acquiring property, their main focus was on capturing people - both on the sea and on land, to sell as slaves. Historically, it is said that most of the Barbary pirates were followers of Islam. Yet, a vast number of the pirates where actually Christian renegades from England, Holland, and from throughout Europe. Many of these Christian renegades started their careers as privateers (basically pirates sanctioned by a government to prey upon enemy vessels), before turning to unsanctioned piracy. Many of these renegades eventually 'turned Turk' (i.e., converted to Islam) and went a-pirating, more out of avarice and a sense of adventure than for any religious or political purpose.

Slavery and the slave trade saw primarily white Europeans being sold into slavery in North Africa by the Barbary Pirates, at the same time during which Europeans were capturing and enslaving Africans.

History of the Barbary Pirates

Admiral, naval hero, privateer, warrior and empire-builder, Kheir ed-Din or Barbarossa, as he was known in the West, was a legendary figure. He was born on the island of Midilli, Greece, to a Turkish father and Greek mother. He rose to become High Admiral of the Ottoman Navy, Sultan of Algiers and friend and advisor to Suleiman the Magnificent. The term "Barbary" derives from Barbarossa (red beard) and refers to the early days of Barbarossa’s career when he and his three brothers turned privateers in the Mediterranean to counteract the privateering Knights of St. John of the Island of Rhodes.

In February 1538, a Holy League comprising the Papacy in Rome, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire Under Charles V, and the Maltese Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, arrayed themselves against the Ottomans. But Barbarossa defeated its combined fleet, commanded by Andrea Doria, at the Battle of Preveza in September 1538. This sea battle secured the eastern Mediterranean for the Turks (until their defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571). Thereafter, Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha became one of the great figures at the Court of Constantinople until his death on the 4th of July, 1546, at his palace in Istanbul. Turkish records recorded 'The King of the Sea is dead'.

The Barbary States was a collective name given to a string of North African seaports stretching from Tangiers to Tripoli. These ports were under the nominal control of the Ottoman Empire,

Barbary Pirate

The USS Intrepid, loaded with explosive ordinance, and sailed by a crew of volunteers into Tripoli`s harbor, was an incendiary ship, ordered to burn the Barbary Fleet, but was instead destroyed  by Tripoli's cannons, and exploded killing its entire crew.

but their real rulers were sea rovers or corsairs who sallied forth from the coast cities to plunder Mediterranean shipping and capture slaves for labor or ransom.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, piracy along the Barbary Coast had become a relatively easy, publicly acclaimed way of making a living. The pirates were technically corsairs, who were given a government license to steal, for piracy was profitable to the pashas who ruled these coastal cities as independent and absolute monarchs. They answered to no one and considered violence and piracy a tradition.

European nations chose to  pay tribute to the Barbary Pirate strongholds for their ships safe passage while traversing  the Mediterranean Sea. The focus being always upon the gold and other fantastic profits of the Americas. The tribute was mere pittance compared to the riches of the colonies.

The mighty British navy could easily have defeated the pirates. During the colonial period, the British had also paid tribute for any

"Old Ironsides" August 3, 1804
Leading squadron in an attack on the pirate lair at Tripoli

vessels from the colonies, and France had done so during the American Revolution.

By the time the United States gained its independence in the late 1700s, the Barbary States had come to regard the Mediterranean as their own private lake. It was a shock to the newly independent United States when one day in 1785 an American ship was seized and its crew jailed by a pirate ship in the employ of Algiers.

The Barbary Pirates became the incentive for the newly created United States to establish a navy in 1794. One of the six frigates built was the USS Constitution, which is still in service today and puts to sea upon occasion.

After ten years time and a hefty ransom of one million to recover some of the poor souls taken captive, with all attempts at diplomacy rejected, the United States refused to pay further extravagant tribute. As a result, Yusuf Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli, declared war on the US on May 10, 1801. To make his point, Yusuf had his soldiers chop down the flagpole in front of the American consulate, which meant war.

Seven U.S. warships were sent to the Mediterranean and through 1803 the U.S. maintained a blockade of the Barbary ports and attacked Barbary pirate ships. A turning point in the war came in 1805, at the Battle of Derna, by a combined force of United States Marines and Arab, Greek and Berber mercenaries. The Marines wore leather around their necks as protection from sabers, leaving them with the name leathernecks.
On June 10, 1805, Tripoli's pasha signed a treaty ending hostilities with the United States.

In 1815, a Second Barbary War was waged against Tripoli, Tunis, and Algeria known collectively as the Barbary states, after the Pasha of Algiers had resumed attacks on American vessels and the seizure of American sailors. The U.S. therefore responded by sending a naval fleet back into the Mediterranean. The fleet, under the command of Steven Decatur, captured several Algerian ships and forced the Pasha to sign a treaty agreeing to return all captives and to cease attack on American shipping. This marked the end of the Barbary domination of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ching Shih (1775-1844) translates “Widow of Zheng”. She was born Shih Yang (or Shi Xianggu) and was a member of the Danjia (boat-dwelling) people of Guangdong (Canton) Province. Nothing is known about her early life.

A prominent pirate from a family of pirates was Zheng Yi. His family had been raiding and terrorizing the Chinese coast with impunity since the mid-seventeenth century. During the late Ming era, four prominent Danjia Clans; Shi, Ma, Zheng and Xu, dominated the piracy trade at the mouth of the Pearl River.

In 1801, Shi Xianggu of the Shi clan married Zheng Yi of the Zheng clan. Zheng was the leader of the Red Flag pirate fleet, and Shi became known as Zheng Yi Sao (literally "wife of older brother Zheng Yi"). They adopted a son named Chang Pao.

First off, they went to Annam (Vietnam) to fight in the Tay Son Rebellion. After returning to Guangdong, China, they conducted joint operations with another pirate, Wu Shi'er.

The pair rapidly extended their scope of influence and eventually established the Cantonese Pirate Coalition. Prior to forming the coalition, the Zhengs already had 200 ships under their command. The size of their fleet expanded to 600 ships after the coalition was established. By 1806, virtually every Chinese vessel passing the coast paid protection money. Their fleet ranged afield all the way from Korea to Malaysia.

Chinese Junk

When Zheng Yi was put to his death in 1807 by a raging Typhoon, Ching Shih took control of the fleet. The Red Flag Fleet was then comprised of more than 1,200 ships, manned by 60,000 pirates, to terrorize the South China Seas. The fleet was vicious and deadly, and she was said to rule with an iron fist, imposing harsh punishments.

The Red Flag Fleet was one of the largest navies in the world and nothing could stand against it. Ching Shih extorted tribute from merchants all over the China Seas and from coastal towns from Macau to Canton. She began to impose taxes and levies and enforced her own laws.
Chinese naval forces attempted to end Ching Shih's reign, but her massive pirate fleet kept defeating the Chinese ships in battle. When forty ships were dispatched she sank all but 28, which she added to her fleet. One admiral committed suicide to avoid being taken prisoner. The Chinese navy couldn’t catch Ching Shih. British and Portuguese bounty hunters were called in. They were mercilessly defeated.

Running out of options to stop Ching Shih’s reign of terror, the Chinese government offered a truce in 1810. Ching Shih could keep her treasure and would not be punished if she surrendered. She agreed to the terms, and most of her pirates were given the same deal. Out of all her men, only 126 were executed. The rest were given government jobs or military positions. Some people believe that Ching Shih was part of a powerful family that actually controlled the government, but this has never been confirmed.

When the Opium War broke out, Ching Shih, now in her sixties, was still active in resistance fighting against the British, helping Lin Zexu with his battle plans.

Chinese Pirates Canton

In retirement, Ching Shih remarried and had children. When her new husband died in 1822, she moved back to Canton and opened a combination casino and brothel which she operated until her death at the age of 69, cause unknown.


I Sailed with Chinese Pirates
by Aleko E. Lilius


Book Review

"Yo ho ho and a bottle of Maotai! Lilius's forgotten classic reads as boldly and bloodily as a Chinese 'Treasure Island'. What is perhaps most remarkable about this extraordinary piece of journalism is that the writer lived to tell the tale."
Adam Williams author of The Dragon's Tail

It is 1930 and piracy is rampant on the South China seas. Murderous bands of cutthroats roam the Pearl River Delta and coastal shipping routes, an ever-present menace to the trade of Hong Kong and beyond. Globetrotting journalist Aleko E. Lilius sets out to infiltrate these mysterious pirate gangs and is eventually taken into the confidence of South China’s notorious pirate queen, Lai Choi San. Lilius lives, eats, sleeps and of course sails with the pirates, witnessing their harrowing misdeeds and delivering a sensational, rollicking tale of adventure.

Who is Aleko E. Lilius?
Aleko E. Lilius (1890-1977) was a journalist, writer of fiction and adventurer born in St. Petersburg in 1890. Constantly on the move, his flair for the exotic led him to explore Asia, North Africa and Mexico. He is best known for his thrilling exploits with the Pirate Queen of South China in I Sailed with Chinese Pirates and the Smuggling Queen of Tangiers in Turbulent Tangiers. Lilius spent much of his later life in America before retiring to Finland to paint.

Pearl River - Canton

Journalist Aleko E. Lilius came to the Far East seeking adventures to write about. He found them, and published lurid accounts of piracy and murder that became his 1930 best seller I Sailed with Chinese Pirates.

In many ways Lilius was an old-school foreign correspondent; ranging far and wide and often out of touch for months on end, leaving his editors tearing their hair out and his audience anticipating his next adventure. Then he would suddenly reappear in one fantastical and thrilling situation after another. Most of the 1920s and 1930s found Lilius roaming around North Africa, Asia and Mexico. In Mexico he was the photographer accompanying the linguist Rudolf Schuller investigating American-Indian languages and dialects; then he appeared in Morocco among the souks and bazaars; then in China sailing with pirates and lodging in opium dens.
While researching I Sailed with Chinese Pirates, Lilius lived much of the time in the Philippines, using his home in Zamboanga as a base to explore the South China Sea region.

In 1931 the New York Times reviewed the book:

A meeting with a mysterious woman pirate chief, Lai Choi San, with several thousand ruthless buccaneers under command, is described in the volume I Sailed With Chinese Pirates, which is published today by D. Appleton & Co. Aleko E. Lilius, English journalist, while traveling in the Orient, according to the publishers, succeeded in winning the confidence of this unusual woman, and he accompanied her and some of her desperadoes on one of their expeditions on a junk equipped with cannon. Mr. Lilius's publishers describe him as the only white man who has ever sailed with these pirates...

Lilius provided graphic portraits of the cut-throat pirates and readers were especially thrilled by the idea of Lai Choi San, the female pirate queen.

Canton Docks - Loading River Boat

I Sailed with Chinese Pirates is a useful history of the period and the lawlessness of the southern China coast in the 1920s, but above all Aleko Lilius's book is an adventure with a capital A. There are facts and eye-witness accounts for the historian but for the casual reader he hits all the notes required to ensure a bestseller — opium dens, casinos with endless games of fan-tan, cutlass-wielding pirates and real Spanish doubloons recovered from sunken treasure. Lilius himself described I Sailed with Chinese Pirates as "a page from the Book of Almost Unbelievable Adventures". It's as thrilling now as it was to his readership in 1931.
It should also be noted that Lilius isn't exaggerating the threat of piracy in the South China Sea and particularly around Hong Kong and southern China in the 1920s. The area was indeed infested with pirates who menaced both commercial and passenger shipping as well as vulnerable coastal communities. Lilius provides us with a detailed list of ships attacked during the 1920s to prove the point (Photo Right).

Excerpt from "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates", Chapter One
by Aleko E. Lilius

It happened that she was going in the direction of Bias Bay, she said, and she was willing to take me there and bring me back. But there would be some delay, for she had business to transact on the way — very serious business. The delay, however, would be insignificant, she explained. Then as an afterthought, did I know that the trip would be rather dangerous?

"Dangerous? Why?"

She smiled, but did not answer.

* * * * *

Here was I, an American journalist, getting the chance of a lifetime, to sail with Chinese pirates to the central nest of the most merciless gang of high-seas robbers in the world, in an armoured junk commanded by a female pirate. Small wonder that I could hardly believe in my luck. What a woman she was! Rather slender and short, her hair jet black, with jade pins gleaming in the knot at the neck, her ear-rings and bracelets of the same precious apple-green stone. She was exquisitely dressed in a white satin robe fastened with green jade buttons, and green silk slippers. She wore a few plain gold rings on her left hand; her right hand was unadorned. Her face and dark eyes were intelligent — not too Chinese, although purely Mongolian, of course — and rather hard. She was probably not yet forty.

Every move she made and every word she spoke told plainly that she expected to be obeyed, and as I had occasion to learn later, she was obeyed.

What a character she must be! What a wealth of material for a novelist or journalist! Merely to write her biography would be to produce a tale of adventure such as few people dream of.

Chinese Pirate Ship Deck - Circa 1930's

A junk is a Chinese sailing vessel. The English name comes from Malay. Junks were originally developed during the Han Dynasty (220 BC-200 AD) and further evolved to represent one of the most successful ship types in history

That evening I heard from an American who had sailed the waters around Macao for fifteen years, the following story, about this remarkable woman.

"Her name is Lai Choi San," he began, "So many stories centre about her that it is almost impossible to tell where truth ends and legend begins. As a matter of fact, she might be described as a female Chinese version of Robin Hood. They have much in common. Undoubtedly she is the Queen of the Macao pirates. I have never seen her. I have almost doubted her existence until you told me of meeting her. She is said to have inherited the business and the ships from her father, after the old man had gone to his ancestors 'with his slippers on' during a glorious fight between his men and a rival gang. The authorities had given him some sort of refuge here in Macao, with the secret understanding that he and his gang should protect the colony's enormous fishing fleets and do general police duty on the high seas. He even obtained the title of Inspector from somebody in authority, and that, of course, placed him morally far above the other pirate gangs."

"He owned seven fully-armored junks when he died. To-day Lai Choi San owns twelve junks; nobody seems to know how or when she acquired the additional five, but it is certain that she has them. She has barrels of money, and her will is law."

"You may ask," he continued, "why I call them pirates, since their job is only to 'guard' the numerous fishing craft. However, the other gangs want the same privileges as the present 'inspectors' have, therefore they harass and plunder any ship or village they can lay their hands upon. They kidnap men, women and children, hold them for ransom, ransack their homes, and burn their junks and sampans. It is up to the protectors to undo the work of these others and to avenge any wrong done them. Naturally, there is bitter and continuous warfare between these gangs."

"This avenging business is where the piratical characteristics of the 'protectors' come in. There is frequent and profitable avenging going on wherever the various gangs meet. Lai Choi San is supposed to be the worst of them all; she is said to be both ruthless and cruel. When her ships are merely doing patrol duty she does not bother to accompany them, but when she goes out 'on business' she attends to it personally. When she climbs aboard any of her ships there is an ill-wind blowing for someone."

Chinese Pirate Gun Boat - 1931

An orange-colorred haze hung over the hills of Lappa. Slowly the brown sails of our ship crept up, while the barefooted crew scurried back and forth upon the decks. Finally the junk was clear to heave away.

On a nearby junk a Taoist priest in demon-red robes kowtowed and burned fire crackers to his special deity in order to drive away the evil spirits — all this for a few cents silver. I was dazed! It was difficult to believe in my luck.
At last I was actually tramping the deck of an honest-to-goodness pirate ship! Our junk lay hidden among many other similar craft. It would have been impossible to pick it out from the shore, and I wondered how the captain would maneuver us out from such a crowded jumble of boats. But I did not remain in ignorance long. Members of the crew lowered a dinghy, rowed out some distance, and dropped an anchor. Then the dinghy returned, and all hands hauled upon the anchor line until the junk began to move slowly forward. Then the maneuver was repeated until we had worked ourselves out into the open water. Hardly a sound was to be heard on board-only the shuffling feet of the crew.

I took a look at the crew. Here in South China I had been used to small, narrow-chested, almost effeminate men; but these fellows were almost giants — muscular, heavy-chested, half-naked, hard-looking-real — bandit types. Some of them wore the wide-brimmed hat such as one sees all over Southern China. Some had tied red kerchiefs around their heads and necks.

Captured Pirates - Circa 1930's

There was nothing for me to do but climb up on the poop and make myself as inconspicuous as possible. I felt in the mood to do just that too—a white man, an intruder, searching for unusual "copy." What right, after all, had I to pry into their secrets? I was not a Secret Service man, nor a government employee...

 Chinese Pirate

After publishing "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" Lilius later went on to other parts of the world and to other thrilling adventures and remained popular with readers. His 1956 book Turbulent Tangier, an account of the chaos of post-war Tangiers featuring gold traffickers, the Smuggler Queen of Tangiers and the last days of French rule, sold well but it was "I Sailed with Chinese Pirates" that remains his best-known tale of adventure.

Chinese Pirate Trident

Red Hand Ship

Angry Pirates Proliferate

The piracy business has changed a lot since 2010, when it had reached levels of activity not seen in over a century. But over the next three years that all changed. By 2013 attacks on ships by Somali pirates had declined 95 percent from the 2010 peak. It’s been over two years since the Somali pirates captured a large commercial ship, and even smaller fishing ships and dhows (small local cargo ships of traditional construction) are harder for them to grab. The rapid collapse of the Somali pirates since 2010 was no accident. It was all a matter of organization, international cooperation and innovation. This came to consist of over two dozen warships and several dozen manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as support from space satellites and major intelligence and police agencies.

Back in 2010 the Somali pirates got most of the publicity but they only carried out 44 percent of the attacks. What was newsworthy was that the Somalis accounted for 90 percent of the hijackings, and some 80 percent of the piracy was in and around the Indian Ocean. Some 44 percent of all attacks involved the pirates boarding the ships, while in 18 percent the pirates just fired on ships, without getting aboard. There are still pirates out there, but they are more into robbery than kidnapping.

The trend, was definitely up for two decades, with the big increase coming in the last decade

1991: About 120 known cases of real or attempted piracy
1994: over 200 cases
2000: 471 cases
2005: 359 cases
2010: over 400 cases

Piracy hit a trough from the late nineteenth century into the later twentieth. That was because the Great Powers had pretty much divided up the whole planet, and policed it. The pirates had no place to hide. Piracy began to revive in a modest way beginning in the 1970s, with the collapse of many post-colonial regimes. Note that what constitutes an act of piracy is often not clearly defined. What most people agree on is that piracy is non-state sanctioned use of force at sea or from the sea. This could include intercepting a speedboat to rob the passengers, but that's usually just thought of as armed robbery. And something like the seizure of the Achille Lauro in 1985 is considered terrorism, rather than piracy. In the past, some marginal states have sanctioned piratical operations, like the Barbary States, but that is rare today.

Pirates usually function on the margins of society, trying to get a cut of the good life in situations where there aren't many options. This is usually in areas where state control is weakest or absent, in failing and "flailed" states. A flailing state is something like Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Philippines, where the government is managing to keep things together but is faced with serious problems with areas that are sometimes out of control. In a failed state like, where there isn't a government at all, pirates can do whatever they want.

The solution to piracy is essentially on land; go into uncontrolled areas and institute governance. This has been the best approach since the Romans eliminated piracy in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago. Trying to tackle piracy on the maritime end can reduce the incidence of piracy, but can't eliminate it because the pirates still have a safe base on land.

USS Farragut

 
In the modern world the "land" solution often can't be implemented. Who wants to put enough troops into Somalia to eliminate piracy? And flailing states are likely to be very sensitive about their sovereignty if you offer to help them control marginal areas.

But while there have been far fewer attacks off Somalia there has been a big jump in attacks in the Straits of Malacca (sevenfold increase since 2009) and off Nigeria (a similar increase). The big difference is that only off Somalia could ships and crews be taken and held for ransom for long periods. Everywhere else the pirates were usually only interested in robbing the crew and stealing anything portable that they could get into their small boats. Off the Nigerian coast pirates sometimes take some ship officers with them to hold for ransom or force the crew to move small tankers to remote locations where most of the cargo (of oil) can be transferred to another ship and sold on the black market.

Meanwhile there are two areas where pirates still thrive. Piracy in the vital (most of the world's oil exports pass through here) Straits of Malacca was largely an Indonesian phenomenon. It bothered the Singaporeans a lot, the Malaysians a little, and the Indonesians not much. But as Indonesia began stabilizing itself over the past decade (the 2004 Aceh Peace settlement, the institution of a more democratic government, defeating Islamic terrorism), the rate of piracy declined. This decline was facilitated by the combined police effort of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia itself, which didn't come about until a lot of issues among the three states were resolved. Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia were all that upset about smuggling, which bothered Singapore. Indonesia and Singapore still have some problems, as Singapore more or less encourages sand stealing in enormous volumes from Indonesia. Since 2010 there has been an increase in piracy off Indonesia, largely because the Indonesians reduced their anti-piracy patrols without warning or explanation. There are lots of targets, with over 50,000 large ships moving through the Straits of Malacca each year. That’s 120-150 a day. Lots of targets. The shallow and tricky waters in the strait forces the big ships to go slow enough (under 30 kilometers an hour) for speed boats to catch them.

There are some regional constraints on piracy. There seems to be little or no piracy in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb. Apparently this was because the smugglers decided the pirates interfered with their business (by bringing in coalition naval forces), and so shut down any pirate operations themselves.

The Gulf of Guinea has become another hot spot for modern (non ship-napping) piracy. Nigeria is badly run and most of the oil revenue is stolen by corrupt officials, leaving people living in the oil producing areas near the coast very angry. More piracy has been one result of all that anger.

"... let's jump on Board and cut them to pieces"  (Battle cry of Edward "Blackbeard" Teach)

Blackbeard's "Queen Anne's Revenge" Wreck Found

Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, now being explored by marine archeologists off the coast of North Carolina, is giving up more than just its treasures, it's also revealing the infamous pirate's terrifying tactics. And what researchers are finding are an ingenious array of improvised weapons, designed to injure and incapacitate as many people as possible, while leaving ships and their valuable cargo intact. The wreckage has yielded cannon that fired canvas bags filled with glass, nails, and spikes, or batches of nine-inch bolts—devastating to humans, but not so much to ships.

"These weapons would terrorize the enemy," said the expedition's leader. “This vessel is heavily armed but the crew are not using that many cannonballs. Mostly, they seem to have used these improvised missiles that can be used to take out the crew or disarm the other ship’s sails." But more than just maiming people, Blackbeard's goal appears to have been to win without fighting at all. "Their aim was to capture a ship by intimidation and leave it in pristine condition," said one expert. "They didn’t want to damage the ship or its cargo."

He was a real-life pirate of the Caribbean, who carefully cultivated a bloodthirsty reputation that struck fear through seafarers. Now, almost 300 years after Blackbeard's death, marine archaeologists have discovered a huge anchor and an arsenal of "improvised" ammunition from the wreck of his flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.

The ship ran aground on a sandbank about a mile from shore on June 10 1718, as Blackbeard’s flotilla of four vessels was heading for Beaufort Inlet, in the then British colony of North Carolina.

The shipwreck lies in about 25ft of water just off the coast of the state of North Carolina and the expedition to recover artifacts is being led by the state’s Department of Cultural Resources.

The leader of the expedition and deputy state archaeologist, Dr Mark Wilde-Ramsing, said: “This vessel is heavily armed but the crew are not using that many cannonballs. Mostly, they seem to have used these improvised missiles that can be used to take out the crew or disarm the other ship’s sails.

“These weapons would terrorize the enemy. It is all part of Blackbeard’s terror tactics. It has been claimed that he deliberately cultivated a fearsome reputation so enemy sailors would not put up a fight, allowing him to seize vessels without the need for violence.

On earlier dives, the researchers have found evidence of a range of “makeshift” devices, such as canvas bags filled with a lethal mass of lead shot, nails, spikes and glass and then fired from the cannon, pouring a deadly hail of projectiles onto opponents. This type of bundled ammunition was known as “langrage” and was not used by Royal Navy ships, according to 18th-century documents.

The ship’s unusual arsenal already identified also includes nine-inch bolts, which were pushed down in the barrels of cannons and would by fired out by a cannonball loaded behind them, as well as “double-headed” cannonballs – where two are linked together by a bar or chain – and which produced a spinning effect when fired from cannon and were effective at bringing down rigging.

Angus Konstam, author of Piracy: The Complete History, said: “The improvised charges show a lot of ingenuity on the part of the pirates. These would have been anti-personal charges. They wouldn’t do much damage to a ship but would do a lot of damage to people in it. Their aim was to capture a ship by intimidation and leave it in pristine condition. They didn’t want to damage the ship or its cargo.”

Blackbeard is believed to have been born Edward Teach, or Edward Thatch, in Bristol, in 1680. He fought as a privateer for the British, attacking Spanish and French ships in the War of the Spanish Succession, before turning to piracy. His troop captured a French slave ship called La Concorde near the Caribbean island of St Vincent in November 1717 and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge. It became his flagship, sailing alongside three smaller sloops.

Blackbeard’s striking appearance and character has inspired many subsequent depictions of pirates. He is said to have had 14 wives, and would tie burning fuses into his long beard before battle to give himself a demonic appearance. His flag depicted a skeleton spearing a heart while toasting the devil.

After the loss of his flagship, Blackbeard sought and was granted a pardon. But he continued to seize ships, and the Royal Navy were sent to track him down. He was killed in a battle in November 1718, after which his head was cut off and his body tossed overboard.

According to legend, his headless corpse swam around his ship five times before he finally died. His head was attached to the bowsprit of a Navy ship and his skull was later used as a punch bowl.

 

 

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