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Do you have piracy in your bones?

15th August 2007 Print
English Heritage Ever wondered what interesting ancestry lies behind your family name? Whether yours is a story of rags or riches, clean-living or vagrancy? Well, if your surname is Morgan, Kidd, Teach, Rackham, Bonny or Read you could be the descendent of a real-life pirate!

Furthermore, you just secured yourself free entry to the timber-shivering pirate events at Dover Castle and Whitby Abbey this August!

To celebrate the Pirates of Land and Sea events across the country, English Heritage has delved into Britain’s swashbuckling past to discover more about our rogue pirate ancestors. For example, did you know that Blackbeard’s real name was actually Edward Teach? Or that notorious female pirate Mary Read spent her childhood and much of her early twenties living as a boy?

Abigail Baker, researcher at leading international genealogy research organisation Achievements Ltd, said: “Everyone likes a good story and what can be more exhilarating than finding out you’re related to some of the most colourful characters in Britain’s past. Researching a family tree is increasingly popular and whether you are tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor or indeed pirate, there’s always bound to be a secret to reveal.”

Details of six of Britain’s most infamous pirates are listed below – could you share their history?

• Sir Henry Morgan – born in c.1635 in Glamorgan, Wales. Morgan was a privateer (a legal pirate) – and despite waging a campaign of destruction and torture against the Spanish, went on to be knighted and appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica

• William Kidd – born c.1645 in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Kidd is most famous for the possibility that he left behind buried treasure!

• Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach – thought to be born in Bristol c.1700. Blackbeard fought with multiple swords, guns and knives and wove slow burning fuses into his famous beard to create clouds of smoke around his scowling visage

• John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham’s – Calico Jack was so named due to his penchant for brightly coloured clothing. He flew the distinctive skull and crossed cutlasses flag and is probably the closest historical figure to the stereotyped perception of pirates today.

• Anne Bonny – born c.1698 near Cork in Ireland. Bonny met John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham at a local drinking establishment in the Bahamas and quickly started an affair with him, before eloping and joining his pirate crew

• Mary Read – born in 1695 in London. Read was close friends with Anne Bonny and as part of Calico Jack’s crew was one of history’s most famous and fearsome female pirates

For more information on these legendary sea-dogs visit

Nicole Dobbin, Events Marketing Manager for English Heritage, said: “Piracy has long been a subject of intrigue and the recent popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean films demonstrates its continued appeal. That’s why, this summer, English Heritage is running a series of pirate-themed events for all the family. The heartiest days out can be found at Dover Castle and Whitby Abbey.”

Would-be buccaneers can enjoy dramatic story telling of the high-seas, jovial pirate music and the chance for little’uns to take part in their very own mini cannon drill and eye-patch making to boot.

Visitors will be able to mingle with ‘wanted’ crewmen, join in some old-fashioned pirate dancing and witness the firing of an authentic cannon. Not forgetting the pirate brethren of the land, there will even be a mounted melodrama called ‘The Highwayman’s Petticoats’ complete with pistol wielding actors on horse-back. “Pirates of Land and Sea will really give visitors a taste of the pirate life,” Nicole continues. “It definitely makes an alternative fun-packed day out for people of all ages.”

Pirates raid Dover Castle on 18th and 19th August, before jumping ship and commandeering Whitby Abbey on 25th to 27th August. Ancestors of Britain’s top six most wanted marauders go free on the first day of the event. Simply present your passport, birth certificate or drivers licence to prove your lineage and you’ll gain free entry for the first day at any of these events. Up to three children will be admitted free of charge with any eligible adult pirate descendent.

So, get in touch with your inner pirate and visit one of English Heritage’s pirate events this summer!

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English Heritage