Calico Jack: Wikis


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John Rackham
December 21, 1682–
November 18, 1720[1] (aged 37)
An 18th century lithograph of Rackham
Nickname: Calico Jack
Type: Pirate
Place of birth: Bristol, England
Place of death: Port Royal, Jamaica
Allegiance: England
Rank: Captain
Base of operations: West Indies
Commands: Several vessels, most famously the Kingston (briefly)

John Rackham (December 21, 1682 – November 18, 1720[2] in Jamaica) (often spelled Rackam or Rackum in contemporary documentation), known also as Calico Jack, was an English pirate captain during the early 18th century. His nickname was derived from the calico clothing he wore.[3]



The Jolly Roger of Calico Jack.[4]

John "Calico Jack" Rackham is most remembered for two things: (1) the design of his Jolly Roger flag, seen to the left, which contributed to the popularization of the design and its association with piracy in popular culture; and (2) employing two of the most notorious female pirates of the age as part of his crew – Mary Read and Anne Bonny (the latter of whom he had whisked away from her husband).

Rackham originally sailed as a crewman for Charles Vane, an English pirate captain. During 1718, Vane refused to attack a French man-of-war, to the dismay of his crew. The crew voted for Rackham (at the time the ship's quartermaster) to depose Vane for cowardice. Vane was cast off in a smaller sloop with a handful of crewmen who had voted against Rackham[5]

About Bonny & Read

He met Bonny as a wife on "vacation". She always wanted to be a pirate of importance. When Read became a crew member, Jack thought that she was a man and because she was spending a lot of time with Bonny, Jack threatened to shoot her as he thought Read wanted Bonny as a girlfriend or wife. However Read told her secret, was spared and became crew.

Captain Rackham

Once gaining the captaincy, "Calico Jack" made a career of plundering small vessels close to shore. This boldness proved to be his undoing. During the autumn of 1720 he cruised near Jamaica, capturing numerous small fishing vessels, and terrorizing fishermen and women along the northern coastline. During November 1720, he came across a small vessel filled with nine English pirates. Soon after, Rackham's ship was attacked by an armed sloop sent by Governor Nicholas Lawes, and was captured. Rackham and his crew were brought to Jamaica, where he and nearly all of his crew members were sentenced to be hanged.

Capture, Trial and Death

Rackham and his crew were captured October 1720 by Captain Jonathan Barnet, then they were tried and convicted in St. Jago de la Vega (Spanish Town), Jamaica, November 16–17, 1720. Rackham was hanged at Gallows-Point in Port Royal on November 18, 1720. Rackham's body was then tarred, hanged in a cage, and gibbeted on display on a very small islet at a main entrance to Port Royal, Jamaica as a warning to other pirates (now known as Rackham's Cay). Of the two female members of the crew, Mary died before execution and the fate of Anne, who was not executed, is unknown. The others of the crew (comprising nine men) were executed by hanging. [6]


Calico Jack is the name of an alcoholic beverage/mixed drink created when one combines a healthy portion of dark rum with Root Beer or Mike's Hard Lemonade.

Other Pirates

Justice was not always so swift. When, in October 1720, Rackham and his captured crew were brought to the Port Royal jail, Rackham's old captain, Charles Vane, was in a nearby cell. Vane was captured nearly two years prior, but was not tried & convicted until the March following Rackham's demise.[7]

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were not executed, because at their trial a week after Rackham's execution they both said they were quick with child. They were given a temporary stay until the claim was proved, and the plan was to hang them after childbirth. However, Read died during April 1721 of fever related to childbirth, while Bonny was spared execution and disappeared from all historical records, leaving much legend and speculation regarding her fate (and that of her child).

The day after Rackham's trial, two men, listed with Rackham's crew in the title page of the printed "tryal," were tried & convicted separately. John "Old Dad the Cooper" Fenwick, was tried with Tom Brown (alias Bourn) for offenses committed in mid-June 1720 off Hispaniola. During January 1721, Fenwick was later mentioned posthumously (and surely would have been convicted if tried) in a mutiny trial of four men (only two were convicted citing insufficient evidence for the other two), for their mutiny in Africa in late June, only two weeks after the piracy which led to Brown and Fenwick's trial & conviction. It is clarified in a later trial (of the nine men who happened to be caught with Rackham's crew) that Fenwick & Brown were not part of Rackham's 9-man, 2-woman crew, though they very likely would have all known each other.

All of the nine men from the other crew who were captured with Rackham's crew were tried and convicted (based on highly suspect testimony and charges) during January 1720, then hanged February 1720.

The reason there may be confusion is that their trials were consecutive, their names listed together, and their executions consecutive, hinting that they all offended one particular person. Thomas Spenlow testified at three separate trials from 1720 to 1721.

All of these accounts are verified in The Tryals of Captain John Rackam and other Pirates, published 1720 in Jamaica, accepted as the only surviving records of the trials taking place from November 1720 to March 1721.

Jack Sparrow

Calico Jack has some interesting connections to Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise. Besides also having the moniker Jack, the Black Pearl (originally Sparrow's ship) flies the Jolly Roger that was designed by Calico Jack. Sparrow is the only pirate willing to bear the "bad luck" of allowing a woman on board (e.g., Calypso)—let alone in his crew (e.g., Anamaria and Elizabeth Swann). Both Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the only female pirates convicted in the peak of the Golden Age of Piracy and possible namesakes of Anamaria, cross-dressed and worked for Calico Jack, breaking male seafaring tradition. Like Bonny, Elizabeth cross-dressed and stole away from her bridegroom, Commodore Norrington, to go pirating with Sparrow.

Appearances in media

  • Appears as a main character in George MacDonald Fraser's The Pyrates [1983]


  1. ^ The Tryals of Captain John Rackam... 1721--~~~~
  2. ^ The Tryals of Captain John Rackam... 1721--~~~~
  3. ^ jack and captain john rackham
  4. ^ Botting, p. 48, Konstam, The History of Pirates, p. 98.
  5. ^ [|Woodard, Colin] (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 306–307. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. 
  6. ^ [|Woodard, Colin] (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 319–320. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3. 
  7. ^

Further reading

External links



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