John Rackham was one of the rank-and-file pirates based in
the Bahamas and, at the time of Woodes Rogers' arrival
there, was serving in the crew of Charles Vane, leader of the
die-hard pirate faction. He had a penchant for wearing
clothes made from bright Indian Calico cloth, which lead his
fellow pirates to dub him Calico Jack Rackham. Nothing is
known of his background prior to becoming a pirate.
By November, 1718, Rackham was serving as Vane's
quartermaster aboard an unnamed brigantine. On the 23rd of
that month, Vane was voted out of power by his crew for
refusing to engage a French man-of-war in the approaches to
the Windward Passage. Calico Jack was chosen as his
replacement and Vane and fifteen loyalists left the ship's
company in a small boat.
Rackham's command was not particularly successful,
showing courage, but a lack of judgement. He chose to
cruise around Jamaica, the center of British power in the
Caribbean and the headquarters of the Royal Navy's West Indies squadron. In December he captured a
richly-laden merchant ship (the Kingston) within sight of Port Royal, provoking the merchants there to outfit several
privateers to apprehend him. Three months later, the found Rackham at Isla de los Pinos, south of Cuba, still in
his brigantine with the Kingston anchored alongside; Rackham and most of his crew were dozing ashore in a
camp of tents made from old sails, and hid in the woods while their ships were captured.
Left without vessels, Rackham and six followers sailed around Cuba to Nassau in a small boat, a trip that took
them nearly three months. Claiming they had been forced into piracy by Vane, they convinced Governor Rogers to
Rackham settled in Nassau, where he entered into a passionate affair with Anne Bonny, the fiery young wife of
John Bonny, a pirate who had turned informer. In mid-1720, the lovers approached John and convinced him to
annul their marriage in exchange for a cash payment. Unfortunately, Rogers refused to countenance the
arrangement. Unable to continue their relationship ashore, Rackham and Bonny decided to return to piracy. The
couple recruited a half-dozen ex-pirates and one of Anne's close friends, a cross-dressing female sailor named
Mary Read, stole a swift sloop, and snuck out of Nassau on the night of August 22, 1720.
Rackham's second command fared no better than the first. In October, he again led his party to Jamaica, where
they recklessly cruised along the shore, sacking vessels from harbor to harbor. Again, privateers caught up to him
and, after a short engagement, took Rackham and his surving crew into custody. He was found guilty and hung at
Gallows Point in Port Royal on November 18, 1720. His body was later placed in a gibbet on a small sandbar in
the harbor now known as Rackham's Cay.
|The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man who Brought
them Down by Colin Woodard. The Official Homepage. (c) 2008 Colin Woodard.
Calico Jack Rackham, from an early 18th century engraving
made by an artist who had never seen him.