For centuries now, old-time pirates have captured the imagination of the masses. Living aboard a pirate ship and sailing the high seas has been romanticized by a variety of films and storybooks in recent times. Romanticized or not, piracy could still be a very lucrative endeavor.
In 2008, Forbes published an article that featured the wealthiest pirates of all-time, based on what their fortunes would equate to in modern times. With that in mind, we are going to take a closer look at the ten wealthiest pirates and find out what made them so successful. As we will see, getting rich was the easy part. However, for many pirates, staying alive to enjoy their wealth was actually quite difficult.
10 Edward “Blackbeard” Teach ($12.5 Million)
Though he is arguably the most famous pirate of all-time, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach just barely makes the list of top-ten earners. During a career that lasted from 1716-1718, “Blackbeard” manged to haul in around $12.5 million worth of booty.
Teach is believed to have been born in Bristol, England. He sailed the Atlantic Ocean in his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, and was known for his fearsome appearance, including his signature long, black beard. He made a good bit of his fortune by maintaining a blockade in front of the port town of Charlotte, South Carolina. The legendary pirate was eventually killed in an assault by the crew of an English Lieutenant named Robert Maynard. “Blackbeard” was somewhere between the age of 35 and 40 at the time of his death.
9 Henry Morgan ($13 Million)
Sir Henry Morgan had such a successful career that he became the namesake for the popular rum brand, Captian Morgan. The privateer/pirate had an impressive career in which he earned about $13 million.
The Welshman was based in Port Royal, Jamaica and made a good deal of his fortune raiding settlements in a location known as the Spanish Main – an area surrounding the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. He was active from 1663 –1671 and became a wealthy and respected member of society. Morgan would later go on to be knighted and serve as the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. He is one of the few pirates that ended up dying of natural causes, having succumbed to illness at the age of 53.
8 John Halsey ($13 Million)
John Halsey began his career as a privateer for the Kingdom of Great Britain, before becoming a full-fledged pirate in 1706. At the height of his run, the native of Boston, Massachusetts was worth a cool $13 million in today’s money.
Halsey's main base of operation was Madagascar and he spent a great deal of time sailing the Indian Ocean. Perhaps the biggest haul of his career came in August of 1707, when he took on five British warships. Despite being significantly outgunned, Halsey and company managed to win the day, capturing two warships and about £50,000 worth of treasure in the process. In January of 1708, the captain's ship was nearly destroyed by a hurricane and Halsey would die from fever soon after – he was about 45 when he passed.
7 Thomas White ($16 Million)
Thomas White isn’t as well known (or documented) as some of the other pirates on our list. However, that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the top earners in the game.
The Englishman was originally a Royal Navy sailor who was captured by pirates and ultimately became one himself. He made the majority of his money serving under other big-named captains like John Bowen, George Booth, Thomas Howard, and John Halsey. He sailed both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans for around seven years before dying of either illness or alcoholism.
6 Jean Fleury ($31.5 Million)
Jean Fleury was a French naval officer and privateer who was born in Normandy. He was active from 1521-1527 and managed to bring in around $31.5 million during his time at sea.
Fleury is best known for being the man who captured Hernan Cortez’s treasure while it was being moved from Mexico to Spain. He made his fortune harassing the Spanish and capturing several of their ships. Unfortunately, for Fleury at least, the Spanish would eventually capture him. As one might imagine, Charles V of Spain wasn’t very pleased with the former naval officer. Fleury was hanged for piracy in 1527.
5 Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts ($32 Million)
If there were a pirate Hall of Fame, Bartholomew Roberts would certainly be a member. The Welsh pirate was no stranger to making money and earned somewhere around $32 million during his run.
Roberts was a member of the merchant navy who was captured by pirates and forced to become one. He eventually took a liking to piracy and became quite good at it. During his career, which lasted from 1719 to 1722, Roberts captured over 400 ships (perhaps as many as 470) – more than any man who set sail during the Golden Age of Piracy. “Black Bart” was shot in the throat while battling British Royal Navy officer Chaloner Ogle’s crew and died at the age of 39.
4 John Bowen ($40 Million)
John Bowen is a famous sea raider who was born somewhere in Bermuda. The pirate was active from 1700 to 1704 and earned a grand total of $40 million.
Bowen had a great deal of success very early on in his career. Sometime between 1700 and 1701, he encountered a fleet that consisted of thirteen ships and captured the majority of them. The single heist accounted for over half of Bowen's wealth. He is one of the few pirates who actually managed to retire. However, after about six months as a retiree, he died of an intestinal disease. Like many pirates of his era, Bowen’s age at the time of his death is unknown.
3 Thomas Tew ($103 Million)
As with many members of our list, Thomas Tew was privateer-turned private. Though he only sailed for about three years, from 1692 to 1695, the Rhode Island native became the third wealthiest pirate of all-time, having earned an estimated $103 million.
During his first big trip, Tew managed to capture a massive merchant ship. The ship was carrying a great fortune in silver and gold. Not to mention plenty of silk, gemstones, and spices – making it one of the all-time great pirate hauls. However, his second big voyage didn’t go so well. The second time around, Tew was disemboweled by a cannonball,while battling a convoy in 1695 – he was around 45 at the time.
2 Sir Francis Drake ($115 Million)
Sir Frances Drake had many titles during his lifetime, including explorer, privateer, naval officer, and pirate. The Englishman’s many occupations helped him bring in around $115 million over the course of his career.
Queen Elisabeth I was a big fan of Drake and even knighted him in 1581. He served as the Vice-Admiral (second in command) of her fleet in their famous battle against the Spanish Armada in 1588. Like many English privateers, he made a good deal of his fortune raiding Spanish ships. He was seen as a hero in his home country, but the Spanish considered him to be a pirate. Though Spain offered a hefty ransom for his capture, Drake ended dying of dysentery in Panama at the age of 56.
1 Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy ($120 Million)
In terms of wealth, Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy is the most successful pirate ever to set sail. Although his career was just over a year long, Bellamy managed to capture a whopping $120 million worth of booty.
Bellamy earned the name “Black Sam” because the pirate preferred not to wear a wig and instead exposed his long, black hair. During his short run, he managed to capture 52 ships. His biggest haul came in 1717 when he took a 300-ton, 18-gun ship called the Whydah Gally. After just one shot, the Gally’s captain surrendered the ship. As an act of kindness, Bellamy gave the captain his own ship in exchange for the massive vessel. Not long after, "Black Sam" was killed at sea, when his prized ship encountered a major storm off the coast of Massachusetts.