#3. William Dampier, Science Pirate
Englishman William Dampier was a bit of an overachiever. Not content with being the first man to circumnavigate the world three times and becoming a celebrated author and scientific explorer, he also had a little hobby: raiding Spanish settlements and plundering other people's ships. All in the name of science, of course.
"Or maybe I science in the name of plunder, I've forgotten."
Pop culture demands that all pirates be toothless hobos who talk like fucking idiots, but Dampier was the exact opposite of that: he didn't just respect the English language, he actually expanded it. The Oxford English Dictionary cites Dampier's writing over a thousand times, since he provided the first written example for words like "barbecue," "avocado," "chopsticks" and hundreds of others.
Left to our own devices, we'd be eating green sushi thingies with grabby grabby sticks.
Dampier has been called the first natural historian of Australia -- he was the first person ever to describe things like the "large hopping animal" and the "midget bear with a fondness for humping trees". Dampier's contribution to Western culture is so massive that Darwin based his work on evolution off of his observations and Gulliver's Travels specifically mentions how awesome he is.
Also he had a sticky mail whozit dedicated to him.
His most badass moment has nothing to do with science or literature, though. In 1688, when his first trip around the world was almost over, Dampier told his crew to eat a dick and voluntarily marooned himself off the coast of Thailand, otherwise known as "the middle of fucking nowhere." He grabbed a native canoe and sailed off on his own, showing up in England three years later, completely penniless, carrying nothing but his journals ... and, um, a tattooed slave prince.
At this point he published his first book, which was an immediate success, also making a little money on the side by showing off his new friend.
#2. Black Bart Dishes Out Some Sea Justice
In the 17th and 18th centuries, sailing with the navy or on a merchant vessel was a shitty, shitty job. The conditions were miserable, and if you did anything to piss off the officers of the ship, punishment was brutal and often deadly. The job was so harsh that nobody wanted to do it, so the navy and the merchants would literally kidnap people out of the ports and force them to work on their ships. Shockingly, this was later proven to not be such a fantastic way to engender the loyalty of one's crew.
"Don't let all our blade-sharpening ruin your sleep, Captain."
Bartholomew Roberts (or "Black Bart") was a reluctant pirate himself, which didn't make him any less good at his job. Roberts happened to be working in a slave ship that was captured by pirates -- when the pirates "asked" the crew to join them, he looked at his measly salary and figured, "Why the hell not?" Also, there's a pretty good chance they threatened to kill him if he didn't. Roberts quickly became the pirate captain's trusted confidant because of his intelligence and navigation skills. When the captain was killed, Roberts (who had only been with the pirates for six weeks) was elected as the crew's new leader, reportedly stating "Better being a commander than a common man."
"Also, better to not be killed by pirates than to be killed by pirates."
Roberts went on to become a legendary pirate on his own merits, but apparently he never forgot where he came from: After capturing a ship and before taking his pick of the booty, he would ask the captured crew whether or not they were treated well by the captain and officers. If any of the commanding officers or the captain received complaints, he'd slice and dice them to the cheers of those they mistreated. This was actually a common practice among some pirates, some of whom used more elaborate forms of punishment, like making the torturers run in circles for 10 minutes while the men stuck forks, knives and compasses into their butts.
While a violin plays. Seriously.
Roberts, a civilized man, eventually forced his crew (the same crew who captured him months earlier) to agree to a strict 11-point code of conduct, including articles like no gambling for money, no women on board, lights go out at 8 p.m., keep your shit clean and "If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships."
For such a strict man, he sure did have a happy little flag.
#1. Barbarossa Says Fuck It, Starts Own Nation
When you look at movie or TV pirate captains, they're always lucky if they have one ship and a few dozen men to follow their orders. It turns out some real-life pirates had it slightly better than that. Ottoman pirate Hayreddin "Redbeard" Barbarossa didn't just have his own fleet -- he had his own damn country.
A land of rape, pillage and magnificent beards.
Barbarossa started out as a legitimate merchant sailor in the 16th century, but was forced to flee the Eastern Mediterranean after backing the wrong candidate for sultan. Becoming a pirate, he started attacking Christian ships around what's now Tunisia until his enemies took his base, leaving him homeless once again. Tired of getting kicked out of countries all the time, Barbarossa went ahead and started one for himself: the Regency of Algiers (present-day Algeria, Tunisia and parts of Morocco). He did this by pledging alliance to the Ottoman sultan and getting in return enough ships and weapons to blow the shit out of whoever lived there before him.
The exact number of ships is unknown, since it was more than anyone could draw.
How big of a deal did this guy become? Let's put it this way: At one point, Barbarossa single-handedly defeated the combined forces of Venice, the Vatican, Genoa, Spain, Portugal and Malta during the Battle of Preveza (1538), and by "single-handedly" we mean it was just him and 122 ships he commanded.
"Jack Sparrow can eat a dick!"
For more badasses you may have forgotten about, check out The Badass Roots of 5 Sissy Dogs and 6 Real People With Secret Identities Nobody Saw Coming.
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