November 18th 1720: Calico Jack executed

On this day in 1720, during the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’, the infamous pirate Calico Jack was executed in Jamaica. Born to English parents as John Rackham around 1682, little is known about his early life until he emerged as a feared pirate in the early eighteenth century. Rackham earned the nickname ‘Calico Jack’ due to his penchant for wearing brightly coloured clothes made from Indian Calico cloth. In 1718 he refused a royal pardon, and instead continued as a pirate under his captain Charles Vane. However, after Vane showed cowardice in battle with a French warship, his crew mutinied and chose Rackham as the new captain. Now leading his own crew, Rackham succesfully captured a merchant ship and outwitted Spanish authorities, though was generally not as accomplished a pirate as others like Vane and Blackbeard. Calico Jack took a brief break from piracy, and during this time met two female pirates named Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the former of whom became his lover. In August 1720, Rackham returned to piracy, with the fearsome and foul-mouthed Bonny and Read joining his crew as they ransacked fishermen on the Jamaican coast. In October of that same year, the pirates were discovered by the authorities and captured after a cannon battle; a popular legend holds that the men hid below decks while Bonny and Read fought their attackers. Rackham and his crew were tried and found guilty, though Bonny and Read were spared the noose as they were both pregnant. Calico Jack was executed on November 18th 1720, with his body displayed in a cage on the harbour of Port Royal as a warning to other pirates. Read later died in prison, though Bonny’s fate remains unclear. Rackham is remembered today mainly for popularising the version of the Jolly Roger flag displaying a white skull and crossed swords – which has since become synonymous with pirates – and for his association with the famous Bonny and Read.

“I’m sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you need not have hanged like a dog”
– Anne Bonny’s alleged last words to Calico Jack