6 Famous Pirate Ships

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Somali pirates, who wield automatic weapons and attack unsuspecting victims from speedboats, are changing the way we think about pirates and pirate ships. While the most successful captains in pirate lore commanded ships that were smaller, faster, and less ornate than Disney's fictitious Black Pearl, Blackbeard didn't make his fortune in a rowboat either. Here's a look at six of the more famous pirate ships in history.

1. Adventure Galley

Captained by Scottish sailor William Kidd, the 287-ton, three-mast Adventure Galley was launched along the Thames River in 1695. As part of a venture planned by New York Colonel Robert Livingston to curb attacks against British ships in the East Indies, Kidd was instructed to hunt down pirates and enemy French ships and steal their treasure and goods. To facilitate the mission, which was funded primarily by prominent English noblemen, the Adventure Galley was outfitted with 34 guns and 23 oars for maneuvering the ship in calm winds. Pirate hunting, it turned out, wasn't easy. Kidd had agreed to pay back the investment if he didn't return any treasure, and when finding pirates proved too difficult, he resorted to attacking allied ships. Kidd abandoned the Adventure Galley, which had developed a rotten hull, off the coast of Madagascar in 1698. He hoped to receive a pardon from Livingston in New York, but was returned to London, found guilty of piracy, and executed in 1701.

2. Queen Anne's Revenge

English pirate Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, captured the Concorde, a French-owned slave ship, in the West Indies in 1717 and made the vessel his flagship. Slave ships, which often featured a central partition to protect the crew against a slave uprising, made good pirate ships because they were built for speed. Blackbeard added 26 guns to the vessel, which already boasted 14, making the renamed Queen Anne's Revenge one of the most powerful ships in American waters. In May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston. After looting five merchant vessels, he ran the Queen Anne's Revenge ashore on Topsail Inlet, and the ship suffered extensive damage when it slammed into the submerged sandbar. Given that Blackbeard knew the area well "he had sailed off the same coast the year before "many historians believe he wrecked the Queen Anne's Revenge deliberately in hopes of killing off some of his crew and increasing his share of the fortune. The ship was discovered in 1997 off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, and marine archaeologists have been bringing up treasure from its remains ever since.

3. Fancy

In May 1694, while stationed aboard the privateer Charles II off the coast of Spain, Henry Avery plotted a mutiny that would launch his new and short-lived career as a pirate. Following the successful takeover, Avery, who was a former Royal Navy midshipman, renamed the ship the Fancy and set out with his newly liberated crew to seek a fortune. Avery steered the Fancy, which boasted nearly 50 guns and a crew of 150, to the island of Johanna off the Cape of Good Hope. There, the ship was cleaned and restructured to increase her speed. Avery and his crew terrorized ships in the Indian Ocean until late 1695, when they set sail for the Bahamas, enormous fortune in tow, for an early retirement. Governor Nicholas Trott offered refuge in exchange for treasure, including 1,000 pounds of ivory tusks, and Avery also presented Trott with the Fancy. While several of his men were later captured and sentenced to death, Avery vanished and died a free and wealthy man.

4. Whydah

The Whydah was believed to hold treasure from more than 50 ships when it sank in a storm off the coast of Cape Cod on April 26, 1717. Professional treasure hunter Barry Clifford discovered the ship in 1984 and has since recovered more than 100,000 artifacts from the site. The Whydah was originally launched from London as a slave ship in 1715; the name was derived from the West African port of Ouidah in present day Benin. While navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola on its second voyage, the Whydah was overrun by pirates led by "Black Sam" Bellamy, who claimed the vessel as his flagship. Bellamy and his crew sailed north along the eastern coastline of the American colonies when they ran into a Nor'easter. The boat slammed into a sandbar, split, and sank. Of the ship's 146-man crew, only two survived.

5. Royal Fortune(s)

If Bartholomew Roberts fathered any children during his adventures on the high seas, he may or may not have named all of them Royal Fortune. In July 1720, Roberts captured a French brigantine off the coast of Newfoundland. He outfitted the naval frigate with 26 cannons, renamed her the Good Fortune and headed south for the Caribbean, where the ship was repaired and renamed the Royal Fortune. Soon after, Roberts captured a French warship operated by the Governor of Martinique, renamed her the Royal Fortune and made the ship his new flagship. Roberts then set sail for West Africa, where he captured the Onslow, renamed her the Royal Fortune, and, well, you know the rest. Roberts died, and the final Royal Fortune sank, on February 10, 1722, in an attack by the British warship HMS Swallow.

6. CSS Alabama

Though technically a warship, the most destructive Confederate raider in history is worthy of a mention here. According to Stephen Fox's biography of the Alabama's captain, Ralph Semmes, the ship's destructive reputation once led the New York Herald to refer to Semmes as "A Pirate on the High Seas." Built in 1862 by Henry Laird, whose family's company also built 40 ships for the Royal Navy, the Alabama was designed for speed and deception. The ship was 220 feet long and 32 feet wide with room for 350 tons of coal. The Alabama's forward pivot gun fired 100-pound shells and the wheel of the ship was inscribed with a Confederate motto: "Help Yourself and God Will Help You." Semmes, who sailed under the veil of a Union or British flag, helped himself to any enemy ship that came into view. When Semmes seized control of another ship, he would lower his camouflage flag and raise a Confederate one. At its most destructive, the Alabama was burning an average of one Union ship every three days. The Alabama was sunk by the Union ship Kearsarge off the Normandy coast on June 19, 1864, and discovered by a French sonar ship in 1984.

A Letter Written by Albert Einstein in 1922 Predicted the Rise of the Nazis

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As a Jew living in Germany in the 1920s, Albert Einstein had an up-close view of the Nazis’ rise to power. As early as 1922, he could see turbulent political times ahead, as a letter to his sister reveals. The handwritten, signed letter recently sold at auction for $39,360, Live Science reports.

The letter, offered by the Jerusalem-based Kedem Auction House, is addressed to Einstein’s younger sister Maja. Einstein wrote it from an undisclosed location—probably Kiel, Germany, according to the auction house—after he fled Berlin in 1922 in the wake of the assassination of Germany’s Jewish foreign minister, Walther Rathenau, by a right-wing terrorist group. Police had warned Einstein that as a prominent Jew his life could be in danger, too. “Nobody knows where I am, and I'm believed to be missing,” he writes in the letter.

He remained upbeat while at the same time acknowledging the seriousness of the political situation that he and other German Jews were facing. “I am doing quite well, in spite of all the anti-Semites among my German colleagues,” he assured Maja. "Here are brewing economically and politically dark times, so I'm happy to be able to get away from everything for half a year,” he wrote, alluding to his upcoming six-month trip to Asia, during which he would learn that he had won the Nobel Prize. He was right—Adolf Hitler's failed coup in Bavaria would take place the next year, in November 1923.

Einstein goes on to say “Don't worry about me, I myself don't worry either, even if it's not quite kosher; people are very upset. In Italy, it seems to be at least as bad, by the way."

After his Asian tour, he returned to Germany before setting out on new travels, including a tour of the United States. He was in the U.S. when Adolf Hitler became Germany’s chancellor, and decided to renounce his German citizenship. He eventually settled in Princeton, New Jersey.

See the full details of the letter at the Kedem Auction House’s website.

[h/t Live Science]

No Joe: The Time Coffee Was Banned in Prussia

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iStock.com/NickS

In the late 18th century, Prussia's King Frederick the Great (officially Frederick II) blacklisted coffee and encouraged his royal subjects to drink something far more wholesome—beer. According to William Harrison Ukers's classic 1922 book All About Coffee, Frederick issued this decree on September 13, 1777:

"It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence. Everybody is using coffee. If possible, this must be prevented. My people must drink beer. His Majesty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors, and his officers. Many battles have been fought and won by soldiers nourished on beer; and the King does not believe that coffee-drinking soldiers can be depended upon to endure hardship or to beat his enemies in case of the occurrence of another war."

Though the authenticity of the above quotation cannot be confirmed, it certainly jibes with King Freddie's other opinions on the matter, according to Robert Liberles, a scholar of German-Jewish history. In a 1779 letter, Frederick wrote, "It is despicable to see how extensive the consumption of coffee is … if this is limited a bit, people will have to get used to beer again … His Royal Majesty was raised eating beer-soup, so these people can also be brought up nurtured with beer-soup. This is much healthier than coffee."

So Old Fritz, as he was called, loved beer. But why was he so opposed to coffee?

For one, Frederick was terrified that excessive imports could ruin his kingdom's economy, and he much preferred to restrict commerce than engage in trade. Since coffee, unlike beer, was brought in from across the border, Frederick regularly griped that "at least 700,000 thaler leave the country annually just for coffee"—money, he believed, that could be funneled into well-taxed Prussian businesses instead.

In other words, into Fritz's own pockets.

To redirect the people's spending patterns, Frederick ordered a number of steep restrictions, demanding that coffee roasters obtain a license from the government. This sounds like a reasonable regulation until you learn that Frederick summarily rejected nearly all of the applications, granting exceptions only to people who were already cozy with his court.

If that sounds elitist, it was. Frederick was adamant about keeping coffee out of the hands and mouths of poor people, writing, "this foreign product [has] extended into the lowest classes of human society and caused great contraband activities." To stop them, he hired approximately 400 disabled soldiers to work as coffee spies, or "sniffers," to roam city streets "following the smell of roasting coffee whenever detected, in order to seek out those who might be found without roasting permits," Ukers writes.

But none of these tactics worked. Rather, they just increased coffee smuggling and exacerbated the "contraband activities" that Frederick claimed he was trying to prevent in the first place. So shortly after the king died in 1786, many of these restrictions were lifted, proving yet again that it's always a mistake to get between someone and their java.

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