The birthdate of John Rackham is unknown, and while he never attained the notoriety of Blackbeard, he did manage to get his place in history, due to his colorful persona, Calico Jack (named so because of his preference for the Indian cloth Calico).

We first hear about Rackham in late 1718, when he was serving Charles Vane as his quartermaster. Vane had retreated from a battle on November 23rd, and the following day a portion of the crew, under the leadership of Rackham, mutinied. Rackham was elected captain and Vane and his people were set out in a sloop. Rackham started out by plundering several smaller ships around Jamaica that same day.

After several months of random rampage, Rackham became tired of the life, and wanted out. He sailed to The Bahamas in May 1719, where he was pardoned. Soon after settling down, he met Anne Bonny in a tavern and lovebirds started singing, I mean, cannons of love went off, I mean, she got pregnant (Yarr, bloody metaphors!). Her husband disagreed, and the two had to run off.

As their money started running out, Rackham put the child for caretaking at some friends in Cuba, and talked Bonny into joining him as a pirate (albeit dressed as a man). Among the crew he gathered were Mary Read, another female pirate disguised as a man (Ya, me hear that the two were dressin's men for more'n one reas'n!). Rackham and crew went back to plundering various merchants and riffraff in the area.

After a few more months of plundering, Rackham made his last major mistake. On August 20, 1720, he stole the sloop William in the harbor of Nassau, Bahamas. Governor Woodes Rogers put out a proclamation naming Rackham as the perpetrator, as well as setting out two sloops with a total of 45 men, led by Captain Jonathan Barret to get him.

After more months of chasing around (Rrar, 'takes an all-fired time sailin'round thees' seas!), Barret caught up with Rackham at Nigril Bay, Jamaica, where Rackham had been looting. Rackham set sail right away, attempting to escape (Called Vane a bleeding coward, did'e? Oughta be keelhauled!). Little did it help, as they were soon sailed up and ordered to surrender. In a last ditch attempt at preserving his dignity, Rackham had his men shoot a cannon at Barret (Aye, likey that!).

In the ensuing cannonfire, Rackham's ship was wrecked and boarded. Only the two female pirates, Bonny and Read, defended themselves as the male pirates surrendered (What be this?!).

Rackham, along with 11 of his crew, were convicted of pirateering and sentenced to hanging on November 16, 1720 in St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica. Upon visiting Rackham in the dungeon, Bonny is to have said that she was sorry to see him there, but "if he had fought like a man, he need not be hanged like a dog" (Arrr, what a girl!).

Rackham's body was eventually placed as a reminder at Deadman's Cay (now Rackham's Cay) off Port Royal.

Sources: My big book of pirates that I read a long time ago and my dad stashed in the attic and now I can't find it and find out what the title is, Google, geocities.com/jack_calico, tinpan.fortunecity.com/lennon/897/rackam.html, sciway3.net/2001/sc-pirates/caljack.html

Captain John Rackam, alias Calico Jack.

Served as quartermaster in Captain Vane's company. On one occasion Vane refused to fight a big French ship, and in consequence was dismissed his ship and marooned on an uninhabited island off the coast of America, while the crew elected Rackam to be their captain in his place. This was on November 24th, 1718, and on the very first day of his command he had the good fortune to take and plunder several small vessels.

Off the Island of Jamaica they took a Madeira ship, and found an old friend on board as a passenger - a Mr. Hosea Tisdell, who kept a tavern in the island, and they treated him with great respect.

Christmas Day coming, the pirates landed on a small island to celebrate this festival in a thorough manner, carousing and drinking as long as the liquor lasted, when they sailed away to seek more. Their next prize was a strange one. On coming alongside a ship, she surrendered, and the pirates boarding her to examine her cargo, found it to consist of thieves from Newgate on their way to the plantations. Taking two more vessels, Rackam sailed to the Bahama Islands, but the Governor, Captain Woodes Rogers, sent a sloop, which took away their prizes.

Rackam now sailed his ship to a snug little cove he knew of in Cuba, where he had more than one lady acquaintance. Here the pirates were very happy until all their provisions and money was spent. Just as they were about to sail, in comes a Spanish Guarda del Costa with a small English sloop which they had recently taken. Rackam was now in a very awkward position, being unable to get past the Spaniard, and all he could do was to hide behind a small island. Night came on, and when it was dark Rackam put all his crew into a boat, rowed quietly up to the sloop, clambered aboard, threatening instant death to the Spanish guards if they cried out, then cut the cables and sailed out of the bay. As soon as it was light the Spanish ship commenced a furious bombardment of Rackam's empty vessel, thinking he was still aboard her.

In the summer of 1720 he took numbers of small vessels and fishing boats, but nothing very rich, and was not above stealing the fishermen's nets and landing and taking cattle. In October Rackam was chased near Nigril Bay by a Government sloop commanded by a Captain Barret. After a short fight Rackam surrendered, and was carried a prisoner to Port Royal.

On November 16th Rackam and his crew were tried at St. Jago de la Vega, convicted and sentenced to death. Amongst the crew were two women dressed as men, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The former was married, in pirate fashion, to Rackam.

On the morning of his execution Rackam was allowed, as a special favour, to visit his Anne, but all the comfort he got from her was "that she was sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a man, he need not have been hanged like a Dog."

Rackam was hanged on November 17th, 1720, at Gallows Point, at Port Royal, Jamaica.


Taken from The Pirates' Who's Who:Giving Particulars Of The Lives and Deaths Of The Pirates And Buccaneers by Philip Gosse. Originally published by Burt Franklin of 235 East 44th St., New York 10017 in 1924 and in the public domain.

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