The 10 Most Famous Captains in History

The 10 Most Famous Captains in History

Let’s take a look at 10 famous captains -including admirals, pirates, and explorers- in history.

10. Ferdinand Magellan

Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480 – 27 April 1521) was a Portuguese explorer who organized the Spanish expedition to the East Indies from 1519 to 1522, resulting in the first circumnavigation of the Earth, which shattered the belief that the world was flat.

Having studied astronomy and cartography, the legendary explorer captained the first expedition across the Atlantic Ocean to the Strait of Magellan and across the Pacific Ocean. He couldn’t finish the first circumnavigation of Earth himself, because he was slain in a local dispute in the Philippines. However, the job was completed by Juan Sebastián Elcano after his death.

9. Bartholomew Roberts “Black Bart”

Bartholomew Roberts (17 May 1682 – 10 February 1722), was a Welsh pirate who raided ships off the Americas and West Africa between 1719 and 1722. He was the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy as measured by vessels captured. He captured and looted over 400 ships. Even though he never used this name when he was alive, he is also known as Black Bart.

His largest flagship was a 40-cannon monstrosity. It was manned by 157 men. The ship could fight out with any British Royal Navy ship of the time. Bartholomew Roberts probably is the inspiration behind the Lord Bartholomew character in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.


8. Horatio Nelson

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805), was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He joined the Navy at age 12 and became a captain at age 20. He was a spectacular leader and strategist. His unconventional tactics led to many decisive British naval victories, especially during the Napoleonic Wars.

Admiral Nelson was wounded in combat, losing sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 35, and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 38. He was fatally shot on the first day of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which then became one of his greatest victories.

7. John Rackham

Commonly known as Calico Jack, John Rackham (December 26, 1682 – November 18, 1720) was an English pirate captain operating in the Bahamas and Cuba during the early 18th century. His nickname was derived from the calico clothing that he wore.

The two things that made Calico Jack very famous are that he designed the famous pirate flag (the Jolly Roger flag, which is a skull with two crossed swords) and that he had two female pirates (Mary Read and Anne Bonny) as his crew.

6. William Kidd

William Kidd (c. 1655 – 23 May 1701) was a Scottish sailor who was asked by the King William III of England to become a captain of a powerful ship and capture the French ships as well as the pirates of Madagascar. However, he soon turned into a pirate himself as he recruited a gang of cutthroats and sailed for Madagascar. In 1968, he won his biggest loot by taking the Quedagh Merchant, a 500-ton Indian ship loaded with gold, silver, satins, muslins, and a wide variety of East Indian merchandise.

Kidd was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Even though he is regarded as one of the most well-known pirates of all time, some modern historians (Sir Cornelius Neale Dalton, for example) deem his piratical reputation unjust.

5. Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540 – 28 January 1596) was an English explorer, sea captain, privateer, naval officer, and politician. He is famous for his circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition, from 1577 to 1580. This journey made him the first English captain to circumnavigate the globe.

During his journey, Drake claimed a portion of California, which was unexplored at the time, for Queen Elizabeth I. After his return, the delighted queen awarded him a knighthood in 1581. He is also famous for his heroic role in the battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588.


4. Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (born sometime between 25 August and 31 October 1451, died 20 May 1506) was an Italian explorer and navigator. He completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean, opening the way for European exploration and colonization of the Americas. These expeditions were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.

Even though he is known as the man who discovered America, Columbus always argued that the lands he visited were part of the Asian continent. This refusal is one of the reasons why the American continent was named after the Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci, instead of Columbus.

3. Edward Teach “Blackbeard”

Edward Teach (c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was one of the most feared and probably the cruelest pirate of all time. He was famous for battling with two swords, several knives, and pistols ready, as well as his fearsome image with his thick, black beard which gave him his nickname.

The Englishman became a captain on one of the ships he stole and started preying on ships that travel the American coast. In 1717, Blackbeard captured the colossal, 200-ton, French slaving ship La Concorde. He mounted 40 canyons on board it, made it his flagship, and renamed it to Queen Anne’s Revenge. With this ship, he ruled the waves of the eastern coast of North America and the Caribbean. He also defeated the famous warship HMS “Scarborough” and its pirate army of 300 in a sea-battle.

Blackbeard was killed in a battle with the British Navy. Legend has it that he received 20 stab wounds and five gunshot wounds before finally succumbing.


2. Henry Morgan

Sir Henry Morgan (c. 1635 – 25 August 1688) was a famous Welsh buccaneer, known for plundering Spain’s Caribbean colonies during the late 17th century. He was hired by the government to protect British colonial interests in the Caribbean area at all costs.

For a total of 20 years, he raided more than 400 ships -most of them being Spanish- and caused chaos in the cities. He has been accused of widespread torture and horrific acts. His greatest achievement was when he captured Panama City with more than 30 ships and around 2,000 men.

Even though he was arrested in 1672 as a result of his raid in Panama City, King Charles II chose to knight him and release him as a deputy governor of Jamaica. With three plantations and 129 slaves, Morgan lived here until he died.

1. James Cook

Captain James Cook (7 November 1728 – 14 February 1779) was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the British Royal Navy, whose legacy of geographical and scientific knowledge influenced many scientists in the 20th century.

He achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand. Mapping of the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand, thanks to him, changed the Western perceptions of world geography. Before his famous three voyages to the Pacific and Australia, he also had made detailed maps of Newfoundland.

Cook was attacked and eventually killed by the natives in the Hawaiian Islands, during his attempt to kidnap the Hawaiian chief to reclaim the cutter stolen from one of his ships.

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