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How Does Long John Silver Stack Up?

By Allison Borzoni

CEDAR CITY, UT—Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame may be the best-known pirate, real or mythical, of all time. But how does Robert Louis Stevenson’s character stack up when compared with real pirates? How does he rate when it comes to diabolical acts and a pirate’s life? To see where he is on the scale, we’ve compared him to seven infamous pirates who have each terrorized the ocean in their own special way.

L’Olonnais is the first on the list for his incredible violence and drive to survive. When he captured a Spanish town and demanded ransom, the Spanish responded with a raiding crew. L’Olonnais beheaded all of the attackers, but left one alive to deliver a threatening message back. “The Bane of Spain” committed one act that put him above all other pirates: eating a human heart. During an expedition to Honduras, his crew was attacked. He escaped the bloodshed with two Spanish captives that knew the way to safety, but both refused to speak. L’Olonnais cut the heart out of one captive and ate it in front of the survivor, threatening that he’d eat his heart too if he didn’t start talking. Ironically, L’Olonnais was later captured and eaten by natives when his ship ran aground.                                          

Second up is Bartholomew Roberts, who never balked at overwhelming odds. This English sailor got a promotion when the Portuguese authorities killed the captain of his ship, Captain Davis. Roberts was then voted captain, and his first move as the new captain was to sail back to the Portuguese settlement, burn it down, and kill everyone in it. Although “Black Bart” was a religious man who held his crew to high standards of no drinking and gambling, he did not abate his cruelty. He often used prisoners for target-practice when they refused to become pirates. One of his greatest successes was in 1720, when his crew of 60 defeated all 22 ships and 1,200 men in Trespassey Bay. “The Great Pyrate Roberts” destroyed 400 ships during his career and was eventually killed during an attack.

Anne Bonny was about as crazy as they come. She was as beautiful as she was violent, even before she turned to piracy. She killed a serving girl with a knife; and when a suitor made advances on her, she attacked him so fiercely that he was in bed for weeks. Anne eventually met and fell in love with Calico Jack, and the two went into piracy together. Anne Bonny stole a docked ship for their escape—armed with only a pistol and sword. Her pirating career would end about a year later when a British ship attacked her ship. The drunk pirate crew hid below decks—except for Anne, Mary Read, and one unnamed crew member who fought until they were captured. During her stay in prison, Anne had this to say about Calico Jack: “If he had fought like a man, he need not have been hang’d like a dog.” She wasn’t executed immediately due to her pregnancy, but there are no records showing what happened to her or the baby. 

Charles Vane was another dangerous pirate who sailed in the Atlantic**.** For his pirating debut, he captured two Bermudan ships and then tortured and murdered their crews. He was wildly successful as a pirate, but was also known as a selfish captain. When the governor of New Providence sent two ships to capture him, Vane piled explosives onto one of his smaller ships, set it on fire, and sent it towards the enemy. The distraction worked long enough for Vane and his crew to escape. His crew eventually mutinied, probably because Vane had a bad habit of fleeing battles when the other ship was larger. They left Vane on a deserted island, where he was eventually rescued, recognized, convicted, and hung for his crimes.

Mary Read’s life was of Shakespearean proportions. In order to get money from the in-laws, Mary’s mother masqueraded the little girl as a boy for her whole childhood. Mary never grew out of it, joining armies and navies for several years. She ended up working as a privateer in the colonies until her ship was captured by Calico Jack. She was forced to join the pirate crew and even fell in love with a crew member. When her lover was challenged to a duel by a fellow pirate, Mary took things into her own hands. She challenged that same pirate to a duel and won the fight-to-the-death just before her lover was scheduled to fight. Her career ended when a British ship attacked them, and nearly the entire crew hid below deck. Disgusted, Mary shot into her own ship, killing two of her shipmates. They were all captured, and Mary later died of fever in prison.

Second to last on the list is Calico Jack, a man known for his motley, brightly-colored clothing. He began his career as a pirate captain by mutinying against Charles Vane. He was brave and successful during this time in his career, but ended up taking a pardon. Later, Jack returned to the pirate life with Anne Bonny by his side, stealing a docked ship and shoving the guardsmen over the side once Anne subdued them. He captured more ships and treasure for about a year, but then his ship was attacked by the British. Jack hid below deck with all of his crew except for Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and one other pirate who fought on deck to protect them all. His execution was also on the showy side.  Calico Jack was hung, gutted, and displayed as a warning for other pirates.

Benjamin Hornigold’s pirate crew spawned one of the most famous pirates ever: Blackbeard. Hornigold apprenticed the young Blackbeard, and even gave him the famous ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Hornigold started out as a privateer for the British Royal Navy, but turned to piracy once resources began to run low. Once Governor Rogers began offering pardons, Hornigold left the pirate life. Governor Rogers commissioned Hornigold to go hunt pirates, and gave him the authority to capture or kill any pirates who had broken their pardon. He chased pirates like Charles Vane, Major Stede Bonnet, and John Auger. Out of all of the pirates that accepted pardons, Hornigold was one of the few who regained his esteem and fame through hunting pirates.

Long John Silver’s actions throughout Treasure Island make it tough to categorize him. He was a pirate to the core, leading his cohort of men to mutiny against Captain Smollett and take the treasure for themselves. Despite murdering Tom and attacking Captain Smollet’s men, he did show different sides to his personality. For example, Jim Hawkins described Long John Silver as a clean, pleasant man to be around. Silver even went out of his way to protect Jim from the other pirates throughout the book. Treasure Island doesn’t share much about his past, but Long John Silver is still remembered as a dynamic pirate with selfish motives and an almost-golden heart. Braver than Calico Jack, but less violent than L’Olonnais, Long John Silver seems to fit somewhere in the middle among these historic pirates. For these reasons, we’re putting him in the same area as Mary Read. Hopefully he never gets in a duel with her though, because Mary might just win that one.

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