John Rackham (died 17 November 1720), known as Calico Jack, was an English pirate captain during the early 18th century. His nickname was derived from the colourful calico clothes he wore. John Rackham is remembered for employing two of the most notorious female pirates of his time - Anne Bonny and Mary Read - in his crew. John Rackham and most of his crew were executed in Jamaica on 17 November 1720.
John Rackham served under the command of the notorious pirate, Charles Vane. Rackham's service lasted until the day Vane refused to engage a French vessel in battle. Due to Charles Vane's refusal, his crew grew so upset that they mutinied and appointed John Rackham as their captain. After his appointment, Rackham immediately turned, engaged the French vessel, and defeated it - all while heavily intoxicated from consuming large amounts of rum.
Later Rackham decided to take an offer of the King's Pardon and sailed to the shore of New Providence. During this time Rackham met and fell in love with a married woman named Anne Bonny. Rackham was infatuated by Anne and lavished much of his plunder on her. He then joined the crew of Captain Burgess, who was himself a former pirate turned privateer roaming the Caribbean in search of Spanish ships.
When the affair between Rackham and Anne Bonny became public, the Governor of New Providence threatened to have Anne whipped for her adultery. Rather than leave Anne behind to be flogged, the pair resolved to assemble a crew and steal a sloop. Fearing that the crew would refuse to sail alongside a woman, Anne dressed up as a man and took the name Adam Bonny. She became a respected member of the crew and fought alongside her male counterparts in numerous successful engagements.
After several of the Bahamas sent out a heavily armed ship to capture them, Rackham and a few of his crew were forced to flee. They were subsequently captured by a Spanish ship but managed to escape sailing around Jamaica and taking possession of several fishing vessels and a sloop. The governor resolved to capture Rackham and dispatched the pirate-hunter Jonathan Barnet.
Calico Jack's pirate flag
Final capture and execution
It is reputed that Rackham had earlier tried to strike a deal with the governor under which he would surrender himself if clemency was given to Anne and another female pirate called Mary Read. It is unknown as to whether or not this is true. What is factual, is that in October of 1720, Captain Barnet surprised Rackham and his crew of the Revenge, catching them mostly drunk - many of the crew passed out in the ships hull. Only the two women, Read and Bonny, put up a fight.
Rackham and his crew were finally brought to trial at St. Jago de la Vega in Jamaica on 16 November 1720. Rackham and the members of his crew were found guilty of piracy and hanged the next day. Only Anne Bonny and Mary Read survived, both claiming to be pregnant. Mary Read died later in prison, either during childbirth or from fever. Anne Bonny disappeared from history all together, believed to have been ransomed out of prison by her wealthy father.
In popular culture
- Jack Rackham served as the inspiration for the pirate Red Rackham in two of Hergé's Adventures of Tintin books, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure.
- Jack Rackham has also appeared in the video game Sid Meier's Pirates!.
- The design of Rackham's Jolly Roger flag was seen in the 1995 film Cutthroat Island and the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl .
- 'Calico Jack' is a song on the album Port Royal by pirate metal band Running Wild.
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