John (Jack) Rackham was most commonly known as Calico Jack, and was an English Pirate who earned his nickname due to the colorful, calico prints that he always wore. Calico Jack plundered his way through the high seas of the 18th century (known as the “Golden Age of Pirates”). Like a large majority of the most famed pirates of this age Calico Jack met an untimely and unfortunate death. Unlike many others, however, Jack Rackham had a lasting impact upon the image of pirates that we have of pirates today. He was famous in his own lifetime for many reasons, but today is particularly interesting as he was the only well-known Pirate Captain who had a known female crew member (who was also his lover!);
The Jolly Roger Flag and Pirate Calico Jack
Jack Rackham is most famous for designing the Skull ‘n’ Crossbones flag on a black background (also known as the Jolly Roger Flag). This image is now entirely synonymous with piracy and pirates, and yet at the time most other flag designs pictured full human skeletons using various kinds of weaponry. This simple design was much more effective due to the crisp and bold imagery that it presented. Flags were a huge part of pirate culture during the Golden Age; they were used to communicate, identify, and manipulate. Flags could be used to show that surrender would be welcomed, or that no mercy was being given. This could afford pirates and pirate ships a great deal of power, even if it was all an illusion in many cases!
Like many pirates who lived during the Golden Age, Jack Rackham’s career was largely centred on Cuba and the Bahamas, and like many Golden Age pirates Calico Jack began legitimately. Rackham was a quartermaster on an English ship who eventually deposed the Captain and took his place through mutiny. He quickly realised that piracy was the most lucrative option available to him, and the crew on his ship was only too happy to join him in this quest for fortune and fame on the high seas.
Calico Jack did accept an offer of clemency and pardon in 1719, and relocated to New Providence to live out his life. Nonetheless it was not long before he returned to his old ways and life of crime. This happened, in part, because of his lover Anne Bonny; a married woman who enchanted him and was showered by gifts, when the affair was exposed her life was in danger. Jack refused to leave her behind and so they conspired together to steal a sloop and run away together. Though he refused to leave her behind, he worried that a crew would object to having a woman on board and so Anne disguised herself as a man called Adam. “Adam” blended in with his male counterparts and worked hard, fighting enemies as a when necessary. Calico Jack was utterly unique in that he actually had two female crew members. The second was Mary Read, who also passed herself off as a man.
A sticky end
The defeat and death of Calico Jack were brought down by Captain Jonathan Barnet; when he, Anne, and Mary were captured they were all transported to Spanish Town (in Jamaica) where they were tried for piracy, found guilty, and sentenced to the gallows. Captain John (Jack) Rackham, also known as Calico Jack, was executed by hanging in November 1720 in Port Royal.