5Stephen Decatur: All-American Pirate
Stephen Decatur doesn't really fall into the stereotypical image of a pirate, in that he was actually a respected U.S. Navy officer. Decatur was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the history of the navy, which sounds like a bullshit line of expository dialogue from an unbelievably stupid Hollywood film trailer. But in this case, it happens to be true. He was also the first American celebrated as a national military hero who didn't play a role in the American Revolution -- hell, they even put his face on $20 notes.
Proof that, at one point, our nation had its priorities straight.
So how did he get to be so famous? Why, by pulling off some of the most epic (and bloody) sea raids of all time.
For example, when the USS Philadelphia was captured by Tripolitan pirates in 1803, the 25-year-old Decatur gathered a group of men, disguised them as Maltese sailors and infiltrated the enemy harbor armed only with swords and pikes. Did they recover the ship? Nope -- they overtook the entire crew without losing a single man and set it on fire just so the pirates couldn't use it. Admiral Horatio Nelson, the same man who had his arm removed so that he could get back to battle, called the raid "the most bold and daring act of the age."
"After that time I cut my fucking arm off, of course."
But wait, there's more. Later, as Decatur was returning from seizing another ship with a crew twice as large as his, he learned that his brother had been shot while fighting the pirates. Even though the whole crew was exhausted from the latest raid, Decatur turned around and chased the enemy ship, which he and 10 other men proceeded to board.
Decatur, seconds before shooting his attacker in the face.
Disregarding everyone else, Decatur, a Liam Neeson-like machine of vengeance, went straight after the man who shot his brother and killed him. The rest of the crew eventually surrendered, leaving Decatur with 27 prisoners and 33 dead pirates in a single day.
Again: he was 25.
"I'm 97 in homicidal years."
4Blackbeard's Mentor, Benjamin Hornigold, Just Didn't Give a Shit
Benjamin Hornigold was the Emperor Palpatine to Blackbeard's Darth Vader. While his protege went on to become the most famous pirate of all time, Hornigold went on to become a footnote in hundreds of books with the word "Blackbeard" on the cover. Still, for our money, Hornigold is where it's at, even though you've probably never heard of him before.
"No, it's OK, Blackbeard. I'll do the pirating while you stand there looking like an idiot."
Hornigold started his career of piracy in the Bahamas with little more than a few canoes. A few years later, he had a huge fucking 30-gun warship, possibly the most heavily armed in the area. This made sailing over to merchant ships and stealing their goods and booze extremely easy. So easy, in fact, that he apparently did it just for shits and kicks. Which leads us to the story that, to us, is Benjamin Hornigold in a nutshell:
Hornigold overtook a merchant ship in Honduras and the only thing he demanded was everyone's hat. He explained to the puzzled crew that his pirates got drunk and lost their hats the night before, then took off without stealing anything else.
"We only got up to the 'yo ho ho' bit."
This was not an isolated incident. Another time, a captured crew reported that Hornigold let them go having taken "only some rum, a little sugar, powder and shott."
"We're making a surprise rum cake for Jonesy's birthday. The surprise is the gunpowder."
Sadly, it looks like his crew didn't share his priorities. Hornigold always considered himself a "privateer" rather than a pirate, and to prove it he refused to attack British ships. His men didn't share this delusion and eventually deposed him, with a good part of his crew and ships going to that asshole Blackbeard. Who subsequently lost his head.
Proof that the Peter Principle also applies to piracy.
Hornigold eventually retired as a pirate, but rather than simply moving to a condo and taking up golf (or whatever the 18th century equivalent of that was), he accepted a royal pardon and became a pirate hunter -- being tasked with chasing some of the same guys he used to run with.