|December 27, 1682 – November 18, 1720 (aged 37)|
An 18th-century woodcut of Rackham
|Place of birth||Cuba|
|Place of death||Port Royale, Jamaica|
|Base of operations||West Indies|
|Commands||Several vessels, most famously the Kingston (briefly)|
|Battles/wars||Action of 20 October 1720|
|Wealth||Equiv. US $1.6 million today; #19, Forbes top-earning pirates|
John Rackham (27 December 1682 – 18 November 1720), commonly known as Calico Jack, was an English pirate captain operating in the Bahamas and in Cuba during the early 18th century (Rackham is often spelled as Rackam or Rackum in historical documentation, and he is also often referred to as Jack Rackham). His nickname was derived from the calico clothing he wore, whilst Jack is a diminutive of John.
Active towards the end (1718–1720) of the "golden age of piracy" (1690–1730) Rackham is most remembered for two things: the design of his Jolly Roger flag, a skull with crossed swords, which contributed to the popularization of the design, and for having two female crew members (Mary Read and Rackham's lover Anne Bonny).
After deposing Charles Vane from his captaincy, Rackham cruised the Leeward Islands, Jamaica Channel and Windward Passage. He accepted a pardon some time in 1719 and moved to New Providence where he met Anne Bonny, who was married to James Bonny. When Rackham returned to piracy in 1720, by stealing a British sloop, Bonny joined him. Their new crew included Mary Read. After a short run he was captured by pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet in 1720, before being hanged in November of the same year in Port Royale, Jamaica.
Early life and career 
Little is known of Rackham's upbringing or early life, except for the fact that he was English and born around the year 1682 in Cuba. The first record of him is as quartermaster on Charles Vane's sloop Ranger in 1718. After robbing several ships outside of New York, Vane and his crew encountered a large French man-o-war. The ship, which was at least twice as large as Vane's sloop, went after them. Vane, claiming caution as his reason, commanded a retreat from battle. Jack Rackham quickly spoke up and contested the decision, suggesting they fight the man-o-war, because it would have plenty of riches. Not only that, but if they captured it, he argued, it would place a much larger ship at their disposal. Of the approximately ninety men on the ship, only fifteen supported Vane in his decision. Despite the overwhelming support for Rackham's cry to fight, Vane declared that the captain's decision is considered final and they fled the man-o-war.
On November 24, 1718 Rackham called a vote in which the men branded Vane a coward and removed him from the captaincy, making Calico Jack the next captain. Rackham gave Vane, and fifteen supporters, the other sloop in the fleet, along with a decent supply of ammunition and goods.
Captain Rackham 
Once gaining the captaincy Rackham made a career of plundering small vessels close to shore. He and his crew captured the Kingston, a small Jamaican vessel, and made it their flagship. They made several conquests in the West Indies, taking a couple of large ships off of Bermuda.
In 1719, Rackham sailed into Nassau in the Bahamas to take advantage of a general amnesty for pirates to obtain a royal pardon and commission from Governor Woodes Rogers. Rogers had been sent to the Bahamas to address the problem of pirates in the Caribbean who had started to attack and steal from British ships.
Rackham Captures the Kingston:
In December, he captured the merchant ship Kingston. The Kingston had a rich cargo, and promised to be a big score for Rackham and his crew. Unfortunately for him, the Kingston had been taken within sight of Port Royal, where outraged merchants outfitted bounty hunters to go after him. They caught up with him in February, 1719, while his ship and the Kingston were anchored at Isla de los Pinos off of Cuba. Rackham and most of his men were on shore at the time, and while they escaped capture by hiding in the woods, their ship - and their rich trophy - were taken away.
Rackham Steals a Sloop: In his 1722 classic a General History of the Pyrates, Captain Charles Johnson tells the exciting story of how Rackham stole a sloop. Rackham and his men were at a town in Cuba, refitting their small sloop, when a Spanish warship charged with patrolling the Cuban coast entered the harbor, along with a small English sloop they had captured. The Spanish warship saw the pirates but could not get at them at low tide, so they parked in the harbor entrance to wait for morning. That night, Rackham and his men rowed over to the captured English sloop and overpowered the Spanish guards there. As dawn broke, the warship began blasting Rackham's old ship, now empty, as Rackham and his men silently sailed past in their new prize!
Return to Nassau: Rackham and his men made their way back to Nassau, where they appeared before Governor Rogers and asked to accept the royal pardon, claiming that Vane had forced them to become pirates. Rogers, who hated Vane, believed them and allowed them to accept the pardon and stay. Their time as honest men would not last long.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read 
Whilst in port Rackham began an affair with Anne Bonny, wife of sailor James Bonny who was employed by Governor Rogers. After finding out about the relationship, James Bonny brought Anne to Governor Rogers, who ordered her whipped on charges of adultery. Rackham offered to buy Anne in a "divorce by purchase," but she refused to be sold like an animal. The pair (with a new crew) escaped to sea together, voiding Rackham's pardon, by stealing a sloop belonging to John Ham. They sailed the Caribbean for two months, overtaking other pirate ships. Often Rackham would invite the crew of ships he attacked to join his own. Anne became pregnant and went to Cuba to have her and Jack's child.
Meanwhile, Anne met Mary Read, a cross-dressing Englishwoman who had also spent time as a man. Not originally realizing her gender, Rackham welcomed Mary Read aboard his ship to join his crew. Anne Bonny started to have feelings for Read, and after some flirtation, Mary revealed her sex to Anne. Rackham, becoming jealous of the amount of attention Bonny was giving Read, threatened to kill Read until Anne divulged the secret and he agreed to keep her aboard.
Final piratical voyage 
In October 1720, Rackham cruised near Jamaica, capturing numerous small fishing vessels, and terrorizing fishermen and women along the northern coastline. He came across a small vessel filled with nine English pirates. Soon after, Rackham's ship was attacked by an armed sloop sent by Governor Nicholas Lawes and was captured. Rackham and his crew were brought to Jamaica, where he and nearly all of his crew members were sentenced to be hanged.
Capture, trial, and death 
In September 1720, Bahamas Governor Rogers had issued a warrant/proclamation declaring Rackham and his crew as pirates, but it was not published until October. About the same time, pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet was in pursuit of Rackham in Jamaica. Barnet captured Rackham and his crew while they were at anchor (and drunk) at Pointe Negril in Jamaica, October 1720. They were tried and convicted in Spanish Town, Jamaica in November 1720. Rackam was hanged in Port Royal on November 18, 1720. Rackam's body was then gibbeted on display on a very small islet at a main entrance to Port Royal now known as Rackham's Cay.
Fate of his crew 
Anne Bonny and Mary Read both claimed to be pregnant at their trials, ten days after Rackham's execution, and so were given a temporary stay until the claim was proven. Read died in April 1721 of fever related to childbirth, while Bonny was spared execution and disappeared from all historical records.
The day after Rackham's trial, two of his crew members, John "Old Dad the Cooper or Fenis" Fenwick and Tom Bourn (alias Brown), were separately tried and convicted for mutinies committed in mid-June 1720 off Hispaniola.
All of the eight men (George Fetherston, Richard Corner, John Davies, John Howell, Noah Harwood, James Dobbins, Patrick Carty and Thomas Earl) who'd been drinking with Rackham's crew and were captured with Rackham's crew were tried and convicted in January 1721, then hanged in February 1721.
In popular culture 
- Rackham's skeleton is visible in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, hanging outside Port Royal when Jack Sparrow sails in, with the sign "Pirates, ye be warned" hanging next to him. In the same film, the Black Pearl flew Rackham's Jolly Roger, a skull and crossed swords, as seen in the beginning of the film.
- George MacDonald Fraser's novel, The Pyrates, features Calico Jack as the leader of a federation of pirate captains known as "The Coast Brotherhood".
- In Carrie Vaughn's young adult novel, Steel, when the main character's ship ports in the Bahamas, the crew go to a tavern at which Rackham is present with his shipmates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, as well as a number of other famous pirates, such as Blackbeard.
- In Sid Meier's Pirates!, Rackham is one of the most notorious pirates that the player may enter battle with.
- In the acclaimed Adventures of Tintin comic book series, a character named Red Rackham, based on Calico Jack, appears in two consecutive episodes: The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure. In the feature film The Adventures of Tintin, the Red Rackham character is Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine's pirate ancestor. This is not present in the books.
- The pirate game, Captain Claw, briefly mentions Calico Jack in the gameplay as an allusion. In the levels, a Wanted poster of a yellow monkey can be seen posted on the walls. If Claw approaches this poster, he will speak out, Who is this Calico Jack?.
- The eleventh and final track on German heavy metal band Running Wild's 1988 album, Port Royal, is entitled "Calico Jack". The final minutes of the song are about Rackham's trial and Rackham being sentenced to death. This part of the song is told from the perspective of the judge and Rackham himself.
- In the animated TV show Octonauts, Kwazii Kitten (himself an ex pirate) states that his grandfather was Calico Jack.
- Summerwine Brewery in Yorkshire named a rum barrel-aged imperial stout called Calico Jack.
- Calico Jack is mentioned in the book, Thirty Nine Clues Book 9, Storm Warning, along with Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
- In the Upcoming Video Game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Calico Jack will be among some famous pirates to appear in the game.
- East Carolina University, in Greenville, NC has attributed the flag with their "Pirates" culture.
- The Tryals of Captain John Rackham (172)
- Staff. Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2012. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
- Woolsey, Matt (September 19, 2008). "Top-Earning Pirates". Forbes.com. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
- Botting, p. 48, Konstam, The History of Pirates, p. 98.
- Angus Konstam. Piracy: the complete history. Osprey Publishing. p. 336. ISBN 1-84603-240-7.
- "Pirates of the Grand Turk".
- Colin Woodard (2007). The Republic of Pirates. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 306–307. ISBN 978-0-15-603462-3.
- "Anne Bonny Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 4 September 2010.
- The Tryals of Captain John Rackham and other Pirates, (Jamaica, 1721)
- Rossio, Terry et al., “The Pirates of the Caribbean”. DVD. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Orlando FL: Disney, 2003.
Further reading 
- Defoe, Daniel and Manuel Schonhorn (1999). The General History of Pirates. New York: Dover Publications. p. 148. ISBN 0-486-40488-9.
- Fleming, Carrol B (March 1978). Ladies of the Skull and Crossbones. Historical Abstracts. pp. 23–26.
- A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson (1724)
- Williams, Jefferey (2007). Pirate Spirit: The Adventures of Anne Bonney. Harlem Writers Guild Press. ISBN 978-1-58348-467-8.
- The entire trial transcript is available in the book The Pirate Trial of Anne Bonny and Mary Read by Tamara J. Eastman and Constance Bond