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The Most Notorious Pirate Ships in History: A Historian‘s Perspective


Throughout the Golden Age of Piracy (1650s-1730s), the high seas were ruled by fearsome pirate captains and their equally formidable ships. These vessels, often stolen and modified for speed and firepower, served as the backbone of many infamous pirate exploits. In this article, we‘ll dive into the histories of some of the most notorious pirate ships ever to sail the seven seas, exploring their armaments, crews, tactics, and the lasting impact they had on maritime history and popular culture.

1. Queen Anne‘s Revenge

Background and Specifications

No discussion of infamous pirate ships would be complete without mentioning Queen Anne‘s Revenge, the flagship of the notorious Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. Originally a French slave ship named La Concorde, she was captured by Blackbeard in 1717 and promptly outfitted with 40 cannons, making her a formidable force on the high seas.[^1]

Specification Detail
Original Name La Concorde
Nationality French
Type Frigate
Armament 40 cannons
Crew 300+

Exploits and Legacy

Under Blackbeard‘s command, Queen Anne‘s Revenge terrorized the Caribbean and the eastern coast of North America. Perhaps her most brazen exploit was the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina in 1718, during which Blackbeard held the entire port city for ransom.[^2] This audacious act cemented Blackbeard‘s reputation as one of the most feared pirates of his time.

Sadly, Queen Anne‘s Revenge met her end later that same year when she ran aground on a sandbar near Beaufort, North Carolina. Her wreck was discovered in 1996, offering a treasure trove of artifacts and insights into life on a pirate ship.[^3] Today, the site of the wreck is protected as a state historic site and continues to yield new discoveries about Blackbeard and his infamous flagship.

2. Whydah

Background and Specifications

The Whydah, captained by "Black Sam" Bellamy, has the distinction of being the first authenticated pirate shipwreck ever discovered in North America. Originally a slave ship flying under British colors, she was captured by Bellamy in February 1717 and repurposed for piracy.[^4]

Specification Detail
Original Name Whydah Gally
Nationality British
Type Galley
Armament 28 cannons
Crew 150+

Exploits and Legacy

Though she only enjoyed a brief two-month career as a pirate ship, the Whydah cut a fearsome reputation, looting and pillaging along the Atlantic coast. In a letter to his wife, Bellamy boasted of the Whydah‘s speed and maneuverability, claiming that "no other vessel could come near her for sailing."[^5]

Tragically, she was caught in a violent storm off Cape Cod in April 1717 and sank, claiming the lives of all but two of her 146-man crew. The wreck of the Whydah was discovered in 1984, and over 200,000 artifacts have been recovered from the site, providing an unprecedented look into the material culture of 18th-century piracy.[^6] Today, many of these artifacts are on display at the Whydah Pirate Museum in Yarmouth, Massachusetts.

3. Adventure Galley

Background and Specifications

The Adventure Galley is most closely associated with the infamous Captain William Kidd, who began his career as a privateer commissioned to hunt down French ships in the Indian Ocean. Launched in 1695, the Adventure Galley boasted 34 cannons and a crew of 150 men.[^7]

Specification Detail
Nationality British
Type Galley
Armament 34 cannons
Crew 150

Exploits and Legacy

Kidd‘s downfall came in 1698 when he captured the Quedagh Merchant, an Armenian ship sailing under French papers. This act was deemed piracy by the British authorities, and Kidd was eventually arrested and executed in 1701.[^8] The trial of Captain Kidd was a sensational event that captivated the public imagination and contributed to the growing mythology surrounding pirates in popular culture.

As for the Adventure Galley, her hull had become irreparably rotten and leaky by 1698. Kidd ordered her stripped and scuttled off the coast of Madagascar, bringing an ignominious end to the storied ship.[^9] Despite her relatively short career, the Adventure Galley remains one of the most famous pirate ships in history, thanks in large part to the enduring legend of Captain Kidd.

4. Royal Fortune

Background and Specifications

The Royal Fortune was the name given to a succession of ships captained by the Welsh pirate Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts between 1719 and 1722. Roberts had a habit of capturing vessels and renaming them Royal Fortune, with his largest and most heavily-armed being a 40-cannon behemoth crewed by over 150 men.[^10]

Specification Detail
Nationality Various
Type Various
Armament Up to 40 cannons
Crew 150+

Exploits and Legacy

Roberts and his Royal Fortune wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and off the coasts of Africa and South America, taking hundreds of ships and amassing a huge fortune in gold and jewels. According to contemporary accounts, Roberts was a charismatic leader who maintained strict discipline among his crew and had a flair for showmanship, often dressing in fine clothes and jewelry taken from his prizes.[^11]

His luck ran out in February 1722 when his fleet was ambushed by the British warship HMS Swallow. Roberts was killed in the battle, and his final Royal Fortune was sunk.[^12] Despite his relatively short career, Roberts is considered one of the most successful pirates of the Golden Age, with an estimated 400 ships captured during his tenure as captain.[^13]

5. Fancy

Background and Specifications

The story of the Fancy began with a mutiny aboard the English privateer ship Charles II in 1694. Led by Henry Every, the mutineers seized control of the vessel, renamed her Fancy, and set out to become pirates.[^14]

Specification Detail
Original Name Charles II
Nationality English
Type Frigate
Armament 46 cannons
Crew 150+

Exploits and Legacy

Every‘s most famous exploit came in September 1695, when the Fancy and her crew attacked and looted the Ganj-i-Sawai, the treasure ship of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The haul from this single raid was staggering, valued at over £600,000 (more than $200 million in today‘s dollars).[^15]

Flush with wealth, Every retired from piracy, leaving the Fancy in the hands of the governor of Nassau in the Bahamas, who likely accepted the ship as a bribe.[^16] The ultimate fate of the Fancy remains unknown, but her legend lives on as one of the most successful pirate ships of all time.


From the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean, these pirate ships and their crews left an indelible mark on history. While their exploits were often brutal and lawless, there‘s no denying the enduring fascination and romance associated with these notorious vessels and the rogues who commanded them.

Through a combination of speed, firepower, and tactical cunning, these ships and their captains were able to strike fear into the hearts of merchant crews and naval officers alike. Their stories continue to captivate audiences today, inspiring countless books, films, and television shows.

As historians, we have a responsibility to separate fact from fiction and to present the stories of these ships and their crews as accurately and objectively as possible. By examining the historical record and drawing on the latest archaeological evidence, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex and often contradictory world of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Whether viewed as heroes or villains, the pirates and their ships will always hold a special place in the annals of maritime history. Their tales of adventure, courage, and daring continue to inspire and entertain us to this day, reminding us of the enduring allure of the high seas and the freedom and danger that come with a life lived on the edge.

[^1]: Woodard, C. (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc.
[^2]: Konstam, A. (2006). Blackbeard: America‘s Most Notorious Pirate. John Wiley & Sons.
[^3]: National Geographic. (2011). "Blackbeard‘s Ship Confirmed off North Carolina."
[^4]: Clifford, B. (2007). Expedition Whydah: The Story of the World‘s First Excavation of a Pirate Treasure Ship and the Man Who Found Her. HarperCollins.
[^5]: Woodard, C. (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc.
[^6]: Whydah Pirate Museum. (n.d.). "About the Whydah."
[^7]: Zacks, R. (2003). The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. Hachette Books.
[^8]: Ritchie, R. C. (1986). Captain Kidd and the War against the Pirates. Harvard University Press.
[^9]: Zacks, R. (2003). The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. Hachette Books.
[^10]: Sanders, R. (2007). If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of "Black Bart," King of the Caribbean Pirates. Skyhorse Publishing.
[^11]: Konstam, A. (2019). The Pirate World: A History of the Most Notorious Sea Robbers. Osprey Publishing.
[^12]: Sanders, R. (2007). If a Pirate I Must Be: The True Story of "Black Bart," King of the Caribbean Pirates. Skyhorse Publishing.
[^13]: Konstam, A. (2019). The Pirate World: A History of the Most Notorious Sea Robbers. Osprey Publishing.
[^14]: Rennie, N. (2004). Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates. Oxford University Press.
[^15]: Beal, C. (2010). Quelch‘s Gold: Piracy, Greed, and Betrayal in Colonial New England. Praeger Publishers.
[^16]: Rennie, N. (2004). Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates. Oxford University Press.