5 Successful Pirates of the "Golden Age of Pirates"

The best and most famous sea-dogs from the piracy era

To be a good pirate, you needed to be ruthless, charismatic, clever and opportunistic. You needed a good ship, an able crew and yes, lots of rum. From 1695 to 1725, many men tried their hand at piracy and most died nameless on a desert island or in a noose. Some, however, became well-known — and even rich. Here, take a closer look at those who became the most successful pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy.

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Edward "Blackbeard" Teach

Blackbeard, as pictured by Benjamin Cole in the second edition of Charles Johnson's General Historie

Benjamin Cole / Wikimedia Commons

Few pirates have had an effect on commerce and pop culture that Blackbeard has. From 1716 to 1718, Blackbeard ruled the Atlantic in his massive flagship Queen Anne's Revenge, at the time one of the most powerful ships in the world. In battle, he would stick smoking wicks in his long black hair and beard, giving him the look of an angry demon: many sailors believed he really was the devil. He even went out in style, fighting to the death on November 22, 1718.

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George Lowther

Death of george lowther

 Wikimedia Commons / George S. Harris & Sons

George Lowther was a low-level officer on board the Gambia Castle in 1721 when it was sent with a company of soldiers to resupply a British fort in Africa. Appalled by the conditions, Lowther and the men soon took command of the ship and went pirate. For two years, Lowther and his crew terrorized the Atlantic, taking ships everywhere they went. His luck ran out in October of 1723. While cleaning his ship, he was spotted by the Eagle, a heavily armed merchant ship. His men were captured, and although he escaped, anecdotal evidence suggests he shot himself on the deserted island afterward.

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Edward Low

Pirate Edward Low

 Wikimedia Commons / Allen & Ginter

Marooned with some others for murdering a crewmate, Edward Low, a petty thief from England, soon stole a small boat and went on to become a pirate. He captured larger and larger ships and by May of 1722, he was part of a large pirate organization led by himself and George Lowther. He went solo and for the next two years, his was one of the most feared names in the world. He captured hundreds of ships by using force and guile: sometimes he would raise a false flag and sail close to his prey before firing his cannons: that usually made his victims decide to surrender. His ultimate fate is unclear: he may have lived out his life in Brazil, died at sea or been hung by the French in Martinique.

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Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts

Bartholomew Roberts with his ship and captured merchant ships in the background. A copper engraving[1] from A History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson c. 1724

Benjamin Cole / Wikimedia Commons

Roberts was among those forced to join the pirates and before long he had the respect of the others. When Davis was killed, Black Bart Roberts was elected captain, and a legendary career was born. For three years, Roberts sacked hundreds of ships from Africa to Brazil to the Caribbean. Once, finding a Portuguese treasure fleet anchored off of Brazil, he infiltrated the mass of ships, picked out the richest ones, took it and sailed off before the others knew what had happened. Ultimately, he died in battle in 1722.

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Henry Avery

Henry Avery pirate

 Allen & Ginter / Wikimedia Commons

Henry Avery wasn't as ruthless as Edward Low, as clever as Blackbeard or as good at capturing ships as Bartholomew Roberts. In fact, he only ever captured two ships — but what ships they were. The exact dates are unknown, but sometime in June or July of 1695 Avery and his men, who had just recently gone pirate, captured the Fateh Muhammad and the Ganj-i-Sawai in the Indian Ocean. The latter was nothing less than the Grand Moghul of India's treasure ship, and it was loaded down with gold, jewels and loot worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. With their retirement set, the pirates went to the Caribbean where they paid off a governor and went their separate ways. Rumors at the time said that Avery set himself up as a king of pirates on Madagascar is not true, but it certainly makes a great story.

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Minster, Christopher. "5 Successful Pirates of the "Golden Age of Pirates"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-most-successful-pirates-2136288. Minster, Christopher. (2020, August 28). 5 Successful Pirates of the "Golden Age of Pirates". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-most-successful-pirates-2136288 Minster, Christopher. "5 Successful Pirates of the "Golden Age of Pirates"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-most-successful-pirates-2136288 (accessed May 28, 2023).