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Most Notorious Pirates

Pirates are often glamorized on screen yet the truth of their exploits can be far more interesting and brutal during the Golden Age of piracy. Many famous names plundered and murdered their way through the New World often with the approval of their own governments. Essentially becoming crazed killers let loose upon the high seas with a license to kill and plunder. These are heart-eating psychopath with a taste for bizarre methods of torture.

These are considered the most feared and notorious pirates to ever set sail. 

Edward Low born in poverty to a family of notorious thieves.  As far back as recorded, Low even as a small boy was a thief, pickpocket, bully, robbing and levying blackmail by threats and violence. He seemed to have been born with the taint of rascality in his blood.

Edward Low, when he grew up, added card-sharping to other dishonest practices, and associated with the very scum of the metropolis. Dissatisfied with his lot in life, about the year 1716 he crossed over to America. Where he eventually married and settled in Boston, his time there was marred by tragedy.  However, losing his firstborn son as an infant before his wife later died while giving birth to his daughter.  At the time he was employed in a rigging-yard in Boston. But soon he tired of regular occupation and sailed for Honduras.

While he had initially been earning an honest living on the high seas as a Ricker, the events of a single day in 1722 set him on a new and darker course.  After an argument with the ship's captain over rations an enraged Low, shot at his captain with a musket missing him but hitting another crewman in the throat. 

Low and his friends fled the boat later stealing a small ship off the coast of Rhode Island murdering another man.  During the process Low and his friends were now officially pirates.  There could be no going back, he announced to his new crew that they would make a black flag and declare war against all the world.  He embarked upon a successful yet extremely brutal career of piracy that would see him operating off the coasts of North America, and as far as the Canaries and Brazil.  Before moving on to the Caribbean he is estimated to have captured over 100 ships usually using his favorite tactic of hoisting false colors.  This allowed him to get close to unsuspecting vessels before launching a surprise attack.

Despite his considerable success as a pirate he has become best known for the numerous atrocities he committed during his raids. A former prisoner described him as a man who took pleasure in the suffering of his victims and his catalogue of horrific crimes seems to reinforce this accusation. On one of the first ships, he captured two Portuguese passengers, they were murdered by being dropped from the sails onto the deck multiple times.  Before they finally succumbed to their injuries. Another shipper cook was burnt alive and on yet another he personally murdered 53 of the crew using just his Cutlass. 

The crew of the 100 ships he captured would rarely escape unscathed and he became notorious for using an especially grisly method of torturing the victims.  Their hands would be tied behind their back with rope placed between each finger, Lowe would then set fire to the rope causing the flames to slowly burn the unfortunate victim's flesh down to the bone.  Perhaps his most infamous act of cruelty occurred in 1723 when Low and his crew captured a Portuguese ship. The captain of the ship dropped a bag of 11,000 gold coins into the sea rather than let it fall into the pirate's hands.  Low became enraged at this act of defiance and sliced off the captain's lips broiled them and then forced the suffering man to eat them.  Then he murdered the entire crew of 32 men.  This vicious act shocked even Low's own men, who later described him as a mad man.  Yet it's possible that there was a method to his madness, pirates at the time would try to cultivate an intimidating reputation which would make vessels they targeted more likely to surrender.  They would be more likely to give up without a fight as the crew would fear the consequences of defying the Pirates.  Either way, such enormous levels of plundering coupled with his unspeakable acts of violence earned him the attention of the British Empire. 

The heavily armed warship HMS Greyhound was the smash to bring Lowe to heel and on the 10th of June 1723.  Low suffered a decisive defeat during a fierce battle at the Greyhound 25 of his crew were captured and hung for their crimes.  Low fled with a few men, he took the defeat badly and seemed to become more unhinged and violent.  With his small band of pirates they continued to ply their trade however Lowe's treatment of captives as well as his own crew became more savage.  The captain of a whaling vessel he captured was tortured and shot in the head by Low who then set the  Whalers crew adrift with no provisions intending for them to starve in the open seas.  He also turned on his own crew dishing out harsh punishments for minor infractions. Finally the small crew that remained by his side refused to carry out his orders to torture captives anymore. A mutiny erected on board the ship, exactly what happened to Low next is the subject of debate. Some reports state that Low and two other men were set adrift without provisions by his mutinous crew.  Before being captured by the French and hung for their crimes.  Some believed that Low drowned at sea during the severe storm, while others believed he simply escaped to Brazil where he lived out his days in hiding. Whatever his eventual fate the terror he had unleashed during life was gone but not forgotten.

Frances Spriggs, his early life is shrouded in mystery however he began his rise to infamy as the quartermaster for the previously mentioned Captain Edward Low.  Joining his captain in dishing out cruel and unusual punishments on those unfortunate enough to fall into his clutches.  Spriggs had no doubt of what his future holds, he long harbored a desire to captain his own ship and free himself from the shadow of the fearsome Low.  The opportunity presented itself in December of 1720.  Spriggs was given temporary command over a British man-of-war the Pirates had captured, but after an argument between Spriggs and Low.  Spriggs betrayed his captain slipping away with the ship and half the crew under cover of darkness intending to strike out on his own. 

After leaving low he headed for the West Indies.  There he unleashed a reign of terror on any merchant vessels that crossed his path. However, it was with the capture of a Portuguese ship in 1725 that sprigs really showed the world that he was a man to be feared in his own right.  After looting the ship of anything of value the terrified crew were put through bizarre torture known as the sweats candles.  Candles would be placed on the deck of the ship which was then surrounded by a group of pirates armed with swords knives forks and anything else that was sharp. They would one by one lay their hands on the captured crewman. He would be forced to enter the circle of candles at which point a violin would begin playing a merry tune.  Then the ordeal would begin, the victim would be forced to run around the circle for several minutes. While the pirates viciously poked and prodded at his exposed flesh with whatever sharp instrument they were holding in their hand.

The slower the man moved the more deeply he would be stabbed. After the ordeal had ended the exhausted and wound covered men might have thought the worst of it was behind them, but Spriggs was not a man known for mercy.  The ship was promptly set on fire with all the prisoners still on board condemned to die by being burnt alive. While Spriggs and his crew watched with glee from a safe distance. 

Spriggs taste for unusual tortures was further demonstrated when in 1724 after several close run-ins with Navy warships.  He considered the possibility of trying to obtain a royal pardon for his crimes as a gesture of goodwill he released his latest batch of prisoners to the authorities.  However, closer examination revealed that the prisoners were covered in a variety of wounds and injuries. The men told authorities how they were forced to eat plates of hot wax by the unhinged Spriggs.  Needless to say, the royal pardon never materialized.  These tortures along with his general disregard for human life, would cause the mere mention of the name Frances sprigs to strike fear into the merchant crews operating in the Caribbean waters.  Unlike many other pirates who used fear as a weapon, they carefully cultivated a fearsome image so as to make capturing ships easier.  Frances Spriggs and his men operated more like a roving band of barbarians, with little subtlety or care for the suffering they were causing.  Yet with fame came the attention of the Royal Navy which was keen to clamp down on the piracy.  Which was proving so destructive to trade between the old and new worlds.

Heavily armed British warships would be continually harassing Spriggs throughout the Caribbean but each time he managed to evade them.  He continued to terrorize the shipping, but his eventual fate remains unconfirmed although according to one newspaper article.  In a strange twist of fate, he may have ended up marooned on the same island as Edward Low the pirate captain he had betrayed two years earlier. 

Daniel Montbars is unlike most other infamous pirates. He was born into wealth and privilege.  He was raised as an educated gentleman in southern France.  By a well-to-do family who catered to his every whim. Yet perhaps the studious background planted the seeds of hatred which would blossom into extreme violence and bloodshed.

According to legend his burning hatred for the Spanish which so marked his later life would in part be borne from reading tales about atrocities committed in the new world. By the brutal conquistadors especially those carried out on the numerous native tribes.  Who was so harshly treated by the invading Spanish when war broke out between France and Spain.  In 1667  he hurriedly joined with his uncle enlisting in the French navy keen to serve his country, as well as kill Spaniards.  However, the war soon brought tragedy upon Montbars.  When his ship was sunk in the West Indies sending his beloved uncle to a watery grave.  The loss of his uncle sealed his hatred for the Spanish and Monbars made his way to the pirate haven of Tortuga.  Where he became a Buccaneer captain however unlike his fellow pirates Montbars was not in this line of work for the plunder.  For he was Already a wealthy man his only motivation was to exact revenge upon the Spanish.  In the battles and raids against the Spanish that would follow.  He would earn the nickname of Montbars the exterminator a title which leaves little to the imagination about his conduct. 

When a new ship was captured it was not the treasure which fixated the exterminator, but the pleasure which would be had at the sight of the dead and dying Spaniards. His one-man war against the Spanish saw him lead raids on settlements all over Central America and the Caribbean.  As he captured and destroyed important forts and towns in his seemingly never-ending campaign of vengeance.  No quarter was given to those who stood against him, and word of the terrible tortures he would inflict upon survivors. 

The terror he created spread like wildfire among Spanish soldiers creating fear at the very mention of his name.  One of his favored yet incredibly bizarre torture techniques was to slice open a prisoner's abdomen and pull out one end of his intestine which would then be nailed to a post.  The suffering but still alive victim would then be beaten on the backside with a burning log effectively forcing him to dance himself to death.  What finally became of Montbars is unknown. However, it's widely believed that he was lost at sea at some point during 1707. His enormous undiscovered treasure hoard still buried somewhere in the Caribbean.

Bartholomew Roberts. His career was a short one. He became a pirate Captain in 1718, and he died on 20th February 1722.  Born in Wales in 1680 Roberts did not set out to become a pirate.  Yet over the course of his short career he would become by far the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of piracy.  Eclipsing his rivals by capturing over 400 vessels during his lifetime.  He got his first taste of life on the open seas at just 13 years of age.  However no further records of his existence can be found until 23 years later when he took work as a third mate on a slave ship.  Operating out of West Africa while the ship was anchored in Ghana, it was captured by a pirate captain named Hal Davis,  a fellow Welshman. The slave ship's crew, including Bartholomew, were forced to join the pirates.

Captain Davis quickly grew to admire Roberts abilities as a navigator. The two men were able to converse in private both men no doubt built up something of a friendship. While Roberts was reluctant to become a pirate at first he was soon seduced by the lifestyle.  He soon realized that compared to his old existence of poor wages for hard labor.  The life of a pirate could provide freedom power wealth and pleasure.  In a strange twist of fate just weeks after Robert joined the pirate crew.  Captain Davis was killed during a brazen raid in which he planned to kidnap the governor of the island of Príncipe and hold him for ransom.  After the sudden death of Captain Davis, Bartholomew Roberts was elected by the pirate crew to be the new captain. He was as bold a man as Davis. As the newly elected pirate captain, his first order of business was revenge for the killing of Captain Davis.

Roberts and his crew headed back to principal, under cover of  darkness, slaughtering the majority of its male inhabitants as well as plundering any of value they could lay their hands on.  They fled with the loot and headed towards Brazil to look for fresh targets. Over the coming months Black Bart as he had now become known ruthlessly hunted down any ship he came across.  Often capturing much larger military vessels which would then use as his new flagship.  This increased his potency, in battle his crew were amazed by his bravery and the success he brought them. Black Bart was widely believed to be pistol proof by all those who served under him.  Yet he wouldn't operate unopposed.

The inhabitants of Barbados and Martinique armed two ships which were sent out to try and bring an end to black Bart's.  Their futile effort failed, however in the ensuing battle twenty of Roberts crew died enraged. He swore vengeance against the people of Barbados and Martinique.  Even changed the pirate flag of himself and death holding an hourglass to a more sinister one of himself standing upon two skulls one labeled B.H.  for Barbadians head. The other M.E.H for Martin Eakins head. 

 

Dozens more ships would fall to Black Bart and his crew.  Before finally revenge could be served the governor of Martinique was captured aboard a French warship and was promptly hung from the yard on where he would remain hanging for several months.  As a stark warning to any others who might be thinking about crossing him.  Although he was not as cruel as many of the other Pirates of his era.  His ability for savagery would once again be demonstrated when an African slave ship dared defy him by not surrendering.  When politely asked as punishment the ship was set on fire with 80 enslaved Africans still shackled on board.  All aboard the ship roasted in the flames of the fire or drowned while chained to the sinking ship. It was not long after this event that Black Bart would also meet his end his enormous successes had earned him the attention of the Royal Navy which was now actively hunting him. Towards the end of 1722 he was finally caught off guard by the HMS along with many of his crews still drunk from the previous night's antics. The ship was hit by a devastating broadside from the HMS swallow and Captain Bartholomew Roberts was hit in the throat and fell dead by grapeshot while standing on the deck.  His men threw the body overboard. 

The surviving crew would not escape justice though with many of them sold into slavery, hung for their crimes or transported to serve hard labor.  The legendary of black Bart's death is seen by many to mark the end of the Golden Age of piracy.  With no other pirates ever coming close to matching the sheer chaos and destruction unleashed by the humble boy from Wales who had never even intended to embark upon a life of piracy.

Francois Lolani. His parents unable to support their child Francois Lalini was placed into indentured servitude by his own parents. Which was essentially slavery with the contract they saw him relocated from his native France to the Caribbean.  Where he eventually ended up in Haiti by 1660 his contract was fulfilled and he was once again a free man.  He had the no doubts harsh existence of his early life had already left its mark a normal life was never in the cards for Francois. He set out to make a name for himself as a Buccaneer which was a state-sponsored pirate.  Who would raid the treasure Laden Spanish ships which were transporting enormous amounts of wealth.  From the new world back to Spain his official letter of marque, on behalf of the French government technically gave him legal backing for his activities. France and Spain were fierce rivals during this period yet he quickly developed a reputation for extreme brutality that bordered on psychosis.   A year or two into his career an event occurred which seemingly magnified his already brutal nature. It would eventually earn him the title  "Flail of the Spaniards" which represents frightful cruelties he did to the Spanish people.

Operating off the coast of Mexico, he was shipwrecked along with his crew a desperate band of stranded men.  They were ambushed by a group of Spanish soldiers eager to slaughter these notorious enemies of Spain in the resulting hail of musket fire most of the crew were cut down.  However desperate to survive the encounter Lalin covered himself in the blood of his dead comrades dragging their still-warm corpses on top of him.  In an effort to conceal himself from the vengeful Spaniards the ruse succeeded and Lolani survived the encounter.   He dressed himself in the clothes of a dead Spanish soldier before slipping away in the marsh with some slaves that he had persuaded to help him. He made his way back to the pirate haven of Tortuga.  Where he obtained two fully crewed ships eager to exact revenge upon the Spanish for his dead friends.  He sailed towards Cuba intent on pillaging the coastal town of chaos.  However, the local governor was aware he had survived and sent a heavily armed warship to end it once and for all.  But killing him would not be that easy. Lolani caught the warship unaware capturing it and beheading the entire crew. All but one sole survivor who were given the task of returning with the chilling warning that Lolani would give no quarter to any Spaniard he encountered.  His fleet soon grew to eight ships and several hundred pirates which he intended to use to deadly effect.  He began attacking Spanish towns in modern-day Venezuela where he would torture local residents until they told him where they had hidden their valuables. His favorite technique was known as walden which involved tying a rope around a person's forehead and then slowly twisting it tighter against the victim's temples until eventually, their eyeballs burst out of their skull.  He seemed to enjoy inflicting such pain upon his victims and developed a varied set of methods, including slicing off portions of flesh until the victim told him what he wanted to know.  As well as burning victims alive. 

Over the following months, he carved a bloody path across the Venezuelan coast burning raping and pillaging in an orgy of violence and destruction.   Yet although the expedition had made him a wealthy and famous man, retiring to enjoy a life of luxury was the furthest thing from his mind.  He set out on yet another expedition this time to Central America.  However, karma would soon catch up with him after some initial successes.  He was ambushed by a large Spanish force while heading for San Pedro. During the ensuing battle, he managed to evade capture escaping with his life and even taking some Spanish soldiers prisoner desperate to continue on to San Pedro. 

Despite the losses his men had suffered he questioned the prisoners about which route to the settlement was most lightly guarded.  What happened next would forever seal the Pirates legend as a savage and brutal killer.  The men refused to comply and so Lolani drew his Cutlass and cut open the chest of one of the prisoners tearing out his still-beating heart he then bit and gnawed on the man's heart like a hungry animal. Before warning the remaining prisoners, I will serve you all alike if he shows me not another way, the terrified men showed him a clear route to San Pedro.  However, the small number of pirates left under Lolani command was unable to take the town and the men were forced to retreat back to their ship.  Sailing south their misfortune continued as the ship ran aground near Panama forcing them to head inland to search for food. The weary starving men were quickly captured by a native tribe.  Who just so happened to be cannibals. Lolani met a sordid but fittingly brutal end, the natives tearing his body to pieces cooking him on an open fire and devouring every last piece of him.  So that the only trace of the man left were the terrible atrocities he committed in life.