Flag Attributed to Rackham

Captain Calico Jack

    John Rackham was born on December 27 1682 in Cuba. Rackham is often spelled as Rackam or Rackum in historical documentation, and he is also often referred to as Jack Rackham, Jack being a diminutive of "John". He was best known by his nickname "Calico Jack" because of the calico britches and coat that he usually wore. He was a Cuban-English pirate captain operating near the Bahamas and Cuba towards the end of the "golden age of piracy". Rackham was not one of the most infamous pirates in history, but is better known for two things: the design of his Jolly Roger flag, a skull with crossed swords, and his connection to the two famous female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

    Rackham is first mentioned in pirate history as the quartermaster of the pirate ship 'Ranger' in 1717 under the command of captain Charles Vane. Rackham later deposed Vane as captain of the ship after Vane was ruled incompetent by the other crewmembers for neglecting to attack a French ship which seemed promising. Afterwards, as their new captain Rackham cruised the Leeward Islands, Jamaica Channel and Windward Passage for plunder. Rackham later found his way to Providence Island where he asked for a pardon from Governor Rogers. He was granted his pardon in May 1719. It was while he was at Providence Island that he met Anne Bonny who was the wife of sailor James Bonny employed by Governor Rogers at the time.

    Calico Jack began an affair with Anne and quickly stole the young adventure minded wife away from her wastrel husband. In late 1719, after finding out about the relationship, James Bonny brought Anne to Governor Rogers, who ordered her whipped on charges of adultery. Rackham decided to return to piracy, and this time Bonny would join him escaping her punishment. Rackham and Bonny along with a small crew stole a British sloop. They sailed the Caribbean for two months, overtaking several small ships. Often Rackham would invite the crew of ships he attacked to join his own. Anne became pregnant and went to Cuba to have her and Jack's child.

    Meanwhile, Anne met Mary Read, a cross-dressing Englishwoman who had spent years living as a man. Not originally realizing her gender, Rackham welcomed Mary Read aboard his ship to join his crew. Anne Bonny started to have feelings for Read, and after some flirtation, Mary revealed her sex to Anne. Rackham, becoming jealous of the amount of attention Bonny was giving Read, threatened to kill Read until Anne divulged the secret and he agreed to keep her aboard. The two women fought fearlessly side by side in battle, and eventually he turned over control of the ship to Bonny and Read.

    In late October, 1720, off the coast of Jamaica, a British Navy sloop, commanded by a Captain Barnet, came across Rackham's anchored ship. With most of the crew drunk the only resistance the pirates put up was offered by Anne and Mary. Rackham and his crew were tried along with Anne Bonny and Mary Read in November, 1720. All were convicted and sentenced to hang. Read and Bonny were spared their lives temporarily as they were both pregnant. Rackham was hanged on November 28th. Rackham's body was tarred and gibbeted then hung on display near the main entrance to Port Royal, Jamaica as a warning to other would-be pirates. Calico Jack Rackham would probably have gone down in history as an inconsequential figure of his day if it were not for his association with the two women pirates.