The Louisiana Pirate Festival is getting underway in Lake Charles, which is as good a reason as any to talk about two of the most remarkable stories in pirate history: Cheng I Sao, a Chinese pirate queen who commanded 400 ships and 70,000 men and never lost a battle; and Ireland’s Grace O’Malley, who, as the story is sometimes told, gave birth to one of her four children – and then, just hours later, grabbed her gun and successfully drove off a group of raiders.
Cheng I Sao, Female Pirate Extraordinaire (JStor Daily)
Have you ever considered piracy? You’d make a wonderful Cheng I Sao.
Today the Louisiana Pirate Festival is getting underway in Lake Charles, which is as good a reason as any to talk about one of the most remarkable stories in pirate history: Cheng I Sao, sometimes called the Pirate Queen of China.
She had a tough start in life before marrying a pirate, Cheng I, in 1795.
His pirate operation was doing fine up to this point, but once she joins management, it levels up in a big way.
Together they organized small pirate groups into one massive confederation, with 70,000 men and 400 ships.
And then, in 1807, Cheng I, died unexpectedly at age 42.
He had a male heir, a man he’d legally adopted and who was a well-known and respected leader of the pirate navy.
But Cheng I Sao (whose name, by the way, means Cheng’s wife or Cheng’s widow) had already decided that she would take full control of the pirates.
And she’d quietly lined up support from Cheng’s heir; in fact, she later married him.
Now there’s no getting around the fact that pirate armies did some awful and violent things. That’s kind of the nature of plundering.
That said, Cheng I Sao also made a few important advances, through a strict set of rules that everyone in the confederation had to follow under penalty of beheading.
No stealing from the group, no attacking the towns that were paying protection money to the pirates, and absolutely no assaulting of female captives.
Many times the Chinese government, rival pirates and even Western navies tried to stop Cheng I Sao and her Red Flag Fleet, but not once did they succeed.
Though in 1810 the Pirate Queen concluded it would be better to retire undefeated than to end her career in tragedy.
She demanded – and received – a full pardon from the authorities for her and all of her men, and got to keep everything she took.
We can’t end a show on pirates without mentioning another legend of the business.
That would be Grace O’Malley, an Irish pirate queen who, as the story is told, gave birth to one of her four children, and then, just hours later, grabbed her gun and successfully drove off a group of raiders.
Weirdest take your child to work day ever.