The Golden Age of Piracy was the 1700s and most of the world's pirates were British, due to the rise of Britain as the world's greatest power and most advanced mercantile capitalist nation on earth and the fact that British ships (both Royal Navy and emrchant) dominated the seas. Conditions on British warships were terrible: sailors were fed rotten, maggot-infested food, frequently suffered from scurvy or other nutritional disorders, and could be counted lucky to escape their service without a crippling injury. Not surprisingly, many of these ships became pirate ships, and British captains were notoriously ruthless. A pirate ship could be spotted easily as many of them flew a Skull & Crossbones. Several famous British pirates included Blackbeard, William Kidd, Black Bart and Calico Jack.
British captains were known to have been extremely brutal; the captain held a nearly sovereign power aboard his ship and many were unafraid to abuse that power. To fill the warships, officers would forcibly pressgang (kidnap) boys and young men off Britain's streets to replace lost crew. The horrid living conditions, constant threat to life, and brutality of the captain and his officers pushed many men over the edge.
Surnames that reveal Pirate ancestry
By Nick Britten
A man dressed as British pirate Blackbeard. The Golden Age of piracy was the 1700s, and most pirates in the world were British. British captains were often brutal and terrifying, with conditions ofboard British ships harsh and dangerous. It's no wonder that many of these ships became pirate ships. And with the Royal Navy and British merchant navy dominating the seas, the vast majority of pirates were Brits.
With all that pillaging and looting, it could be one of the bloodiest reunions in history when descendants of six of Britain's famous pirates are invited to a get-together.
People with the surnames Morgan, Rackham, Bonny, Read, Kidd or Teach, are being invited to discover possible connections with the likes of Blackbeard and Calico Jack, in a series of events by English Heritage. Dressing as a sea dog is optional.
Proving your lineage with a real-life buccaneer, however, may prove difficult.
Abigail Baker, of the genealogy research organisation Achievements Ltd, said:
"What could be more exhilarating than finding you are related to one of Britain's most colourful characters?"
However, said Miss Baker, due to their nefarious backgrounds, pirates rarely kept records of their activities. So proving a link can be tricky.
The six most famous British pirates are:
Sir Henry Morgan (a privateer, or legal pirate), born in 1635 in Glamorgan, Wales, who went on to rule Jamaica.
William Kidd, born around 1645 in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean.
Edward "Blackbeard" Teach was thought to be born in Bristol around 1680. He wove slow-burning fuses into his beard to create clouds of smoke around his scowling face! He is said to have had 14 wives and died in battle with Royal Navy ship HMS Ranger, his head being cut off and hung from the rigging.
Blacbeard's flag wasn't the usual Skull & Crossbones
John "Calico Jack" Rackham's was born in 1682, and so named for his penchant for brightly coloured clothing. He is remembered for employing two female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Rackham was executed in Jamaica in 1720.
Anne Bonny, born around 1698 near Cork, met Rackham in the Bahamas and started an affair with him, before eloping and joining his crew. She was said to be intelligent, attractive, and quick-tempered.
Mary Read, born in 1695 in London. She joined Calico Jack's crew and became one of history's most fearsome female pirates. She spent much of her life dressed as a man, and died in 1721.
The English Heritage events start this weekend at Dover Castle in Kent and continues next weekend at Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire.
Anyone who can prove they share the name of one of the six most feared pirates will get in free.
Ten pirate facts
1. The idea of buried treasure is mostly a mythical one which is romantically portrayed in books such as Treasure Island. However, one pirate who was known for burying his treasure was Captain Kidd and it is believed he may have started the myth.
2. The notion that pirates only plundered gold, silver and exotic treasure is unfounded. Records suggest a normal haul was far more mundane and involved stealing linens, cloths, food, anchors, rope and sometimes medical supplies.
3. Pirates were therefore very selective about which boats they targeted, to be certain the booty was worth the risks of battle.
4. Most pirates were extreme squanderers and rarely accumulated enough treasure to bury. Due to the danger and uncertainty of their profession, they were usually determined to live for the present rather than save for the future.
5. The Jolly Roger is the pirates' most famous flag, flown to induce their target to surrender. The history of the terms is the subject of great conjecture, a popular theory being it stemmed from the word “rogue”. “Old Roger” is also the term for the Devil.
6. There is no evidence that pirates ever made their victims walk the plank; there was far too much sport of another kind to be had. A favourite method of dealing with prisoners was to tie them to the mast and then pelt the unfortunate victim with broken bottles.
7. In pirate language, “splice the mainbrace” means to have a drink and “to dance with Jack Ketch” means to go to the hangman (Jack Ketch was the most notorious hangman at Britain most dreaded place of execution, Tyburn).
8. Pirate hooks, a popular addition to any costume, probably stemmed from the story of Peter Pan and his arch enemy Captain Hook, who replaced his hand lost in battle with a hook. However, pirates often lost hands in battle and it was common for them to search the ship for something to use as a replacement.
9. Port Royal, Jamaica, became a safe haven for pirates, a place of great wealth and debauchery known as “the wickedest city on Earth”.
10. Modern day pirates exist, especially in the waters off Indonesia and Somalia.
Rather than relying on cannons and swords though, they tend to prefer using AK-47 rifles and speed boats.
Most pirates were British, which raises questions about piracy as a British rather than an Atlantic phenomenon. It seems likely that the size and working conditions of Britain's merchant and royal navies meant that those who served on British ships were not only more numerous but also far more likely to experience the harsh discipline of the world's largest and most efficient system for the transportation of raw materials and manufactured goods. It is more than coincidence that the most advanced mercantile capitalist nation on earth produced the majority of eighteenth-century pirates.