Famous in history as "the gentleman pirate,” Stede Bonnet might more accurately be called, "the dumb pirate," or "the inept pirate," or "the cowardly pirate." Stede Bonnet is primarily remembered for two things: first, for being a snappy dresser, and second, for having no sense whatsoever.
Bonnet lived on the island of Barbados, where he owned a large estate. With apparently no warning, in 1717 the young man purchased a 10-gun sloop, named her Revenge, and sailed off to be a pirate. No one is sure exactly why he did this - the best guess is that he turned to piracy to get away from his shrewish wife.
Once at sea Bonnet made his way up the coast of North America. His relations with his crew quickly deteriorated as they discovered that he had no knowledge of the sea at all. In March of 1718 the Revenge fell in with the Queen Anne's Revenge, commanded by the pirate Blackbeard.
It didn't take Blackbeard long to determine the true measure of his compatriot, and he politely insisted that Bonnet remain aboard his own ship as a "valued guest," assigning one of his own lieutenants to command Bonnet's vessel in his absence. Blackbeard was so polite and deferential that it took Bonnet quite some time to realize he had been deposed. After cruising up and down the coast for a while, things began to get a little hot for the pirates, and both decided to accept a pirate amnesty being offered by the British.
Back in command of his own ship, the "reformed" Bonnet then headed out to sea, where within a few short weeks he was once again attacking British shipping. Eventually two British Navy sloops caught up with him in Cape Fear River. After a nasty river battle Bonnet and his crew were captured and taken in chains to Charles Town. There, after a failed escape attempt, Bonnet stood trial and was sentenced to death.
Bonnet did not go to his doom with dignity. When he learned of his sentence, Bonnet said to the judge, "Cut off my arms and cut off my legs so that I may sit and read from the scriptures and, please sir, I will for ever sing praises to our Lord. But, whatever you do, please don't hang me!"
The ladies present at court were much moved by the handsome young man's pleas - the judge wasn't. Bonnet was hanged on December 10, 1718. Bonnet's body was buried secretly in the marshes outside of town. Local legend says that Bonnet requested that his bones be hidden because he feared that his wife would seek vengeance on his body after his death.
Born in Olonne, France, Jean David Nau arrived in the Caribbean during the 1650s as an indentured servant. By 1660 his indenture was over, and he turned to the potentially more lucrative career of piracy. By 1668 he was dead. In his brief career L'Olonnais would prove himself to be one of the bravest and most cunning pirates who ever sailed the seas. He would also prove himself to be one of the most brutal and evil men who ever lived.
Stories of L'Olonnais' outrageous cruelty abound. On one occasion he was interrogating prisoners, seeking a safe way past a fortification. When the terrified men said that they didn't know of any such route, he cut the heart out of one prisoner and "began to bite and gnaw it with his teeth, like a ravenous wolf, saying to the rest: 'I will serve you all alike, if you show me not another way.'"
On another voyage L'Olonnais captured a Spanish ship carrying 50 soldiers sent out to capture him. L'Olonnais promptly killed all of the prisoners except one, who he sent to Havana with the message, "I shall never henceforward give quarter to any Spaniard whatsoever."
During one famous cruise, L'Olonnais amassed around 600 pirates and took them into the Gulf of Venezuela, where he sacked the city of Maracaibo, sacked the city of Gibraltar, and then sacked Maracaibo again on his way home to Tortuga. In the course of two short months L'Olonnais took treasure and cargo valued in excess of 600,000 pieces of eight.
L'Olonnais was received as a hero in Tortuga, and when he announced that he was going on another expedition, this time to Venezuela, he received over 700 volunteers. The voyage began well and the pirates captured the city of Puerto Cabello and, after a hard fight, the nearby town of San Pedro. Satisfied with their takings thus far, many of the pirates decided to return to Tortuga to spend their loot, while L'Olonnais continued on with a smaller force of around 300.
Some time later, his ship went hard aground on a sandbar. Unable to dislodge the vessel, L'Olonnais built a smaller boat from the wreckage and with about half of his men sailed to the coast of Cartagena, looking for canoes and other boats to carry the remaining crewmen.
But at last his luck ran out. Once ashore L'Olonnais and his men were repeatedly attacked by both Spaniards and natives, and the pirates were eventually overwhelmed and massacred by a party of Darien Indians. Alexandre Oliver Exquemelin, author of "The Buccaneers of America," describes L'Olonnais' ending thusly: "[T]he Indians within a few days after his arrival took him prisoner and tore him in pieces alive, throwing his body limb by limb into the fire, and his ashes into the air; to the intent no trace nor memory might remain of such an infamous, inhuman creature."
Without a doubt, Henry Morgan was the greatest English privateer in the seventeenth century. A bold, ruthless and daring man, Morgan fought England's enemies for over thirty years - and made himself a very wealthy man in the process.
In 1655, at the age of twenty, Morgan volunteered to join an English expedition against the Spanish Caribbean city of Santo Domingo. When that assault failed, the expedition attacked and captured the island of Jamaica, which which was virtually undefended at the time.
In 1663, Morgan began leading independent raids against the Spanish from the new English base of Port Royal, Jamaica. Bearing an English Letter of Marque, Morgan and 200 men set sail for the Yucatan, where they hid their vessels, marched 150 miles through jungle and sacked the town of Villa Hermosa. The force then proceeded to Honduras, where they captured the inland city of Gran Granada.
Morgan returned to Port Royal in triumph, an extremely wealthy and popular man. In 1666 he was made Colonel of the Port Royal militia and was made "Admiral" by the Bretheren of the Coast. Over the next several years Morgan and his men were to sack Puerto Principe, Puerto Bello, Maracaibo and Cartagena, an incredible list of successes.
In 1670, Morgan launched an attack against Panama, the greatest Spanish city of all. After capturing the fort guarding the Charges River (which leads inland towards Panama), Morgan and 1600 privateers boarded canoes and headed up the river. After a nightmarish trip of almost a week through pestilential swamp and heavy jungle, the exhausted and starving buccaneers reached Panama.
The enemy awaited them on the far side of a clearing. Consisting of 1,700 infantry and a couple of hundred calarymen, the force was at least the equal of Morgan's. Disliking the idea of sending his weakened men in a frontal assault across open ground, Morgan dispatched 300 men to sneak through the forest and hit the enemy in the flank. When the surprised enemy turned to face this new threat, Morgan and the remaining men would come in and finish them.
Then the defenders made an incredible blunder. Ignoring orders to hold their ground, the Spanish cavalry began to charge Morgan's position. Caught up in the excitement, the untrained infantry followed. Once the enemy was in the open, Morgan's men opened fire while his flanking party attacked the enemy from behind, sending the Spanish army reeling back in confusion. The enemy broken, Morgan and his men marched into Panama.
Morgan's sack of Panama was a grievous blow to Spanish pride and power in the Caribbean. He was knighted and made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica.
Though an able administrator, Morgan was unsuited for the life of a bureaucrat. He spent his nights roistering with his buccaneer comrades in the Port Royal taverns, and by 1683 he was removed from Jamaica's governing council for his "passions and irregularities."
The unrepentant Morgan died in his bed, five years later. He was killed by dropsy, an ailment caused by gross overindulgence in food and drink - probably just how the old rascal wanted to go.