History is awesome. It’s how we learn about where we came from, why we are the way we are, and who we want (or don’t want) to be. It’s full of inspiring tales of bravery and cautionary tales of woe. Each of us has our own history, and our own lens through which we look at historical tales. Unfortunately, many of the best stories of history are forgotten.
But not today! Today we’re discussing some fascinating stories you’ve never heard before. Tales of pirates, beer-loving colonists, and the wily ways of corpses and noses. You ready, Squatch Nation?
The World's Most Successful Pirate
No, friends, neither Blackbeard nor Jack Sparrow take the crown of most notable pirate. Though you may find it a surprise, the world’s most successful pirate was a Chinese woman named Ching Shih.
Ching Shih was born in 1775, and grew up to be a prostitute who worked on a floating brothel. Renowned for her beauty, she caught the eye of famed pirate Zhèng Ye. She negotiated a marriage with him and became an equal partner in his pirate business.
The husband and wife pirating duo grew their pirate fleet from 200 ships to over 1700 ships. By the time Zhèng Ye died, six years after their marriage, they commanded over 50,000 pirates.
Ching Shihthen took command, and stepped into the role of pirate lord of the fleet. She ruled with an iron fist; she set up very strict laws and taxes for her ships and dealt out harsh capital punishments for pirates who violated her laws.
Her navy took on and defeated ships from the Chinese, English, and Portuguese Navies. No one stood a chance.
She became such a threat that the royal Qing Imperial Government decided that the only way to reclaim the seas was to offer her amnesty. Ching Shih bartered the terms of her peaceful retirement and ended up keeping 100% of the loot she and her pirates had claimed. The terms were settled, and in 1809, she stepped down as the most successful, and undefeated pirate of all time.
Captain William Martin: The Dead Man that Outsmarted Hitler
It was 1943, and the allied forces were preparing to invade the Nazi-occupied island of Sicily. The island was heavily guarded, and the only way it would work was if there was an element of surprise. Their solution? Floating a corpse to shore.
The British took a random body from a London morgue. They gave it a new identity—Captain William Martin—and planted forged documents on the body that hinted that the invasion would be in Greece, not Sicily. The body was dropped near Sicily and washed ashore, making its way into the hands of the Germans.
The ruse worked and Hitler quickly shifted the might of his army from Sicily to Greece. When General Patton invaded Sicily, the Germans did not have the manpower to hold them back.
The deception was so successful, that even weeks after the successful invasion, Hitler was still expecting an attack on Greece, which never came. This devious plan—known as Operation Mincemeat—was a foundational battle in the eventual Ally Victory of the war.
Attila the Hun: The Fatal Nose Bleed
In the 5th century, Attila The Hun led an army of half a million men and was known as the most feared enemy of the Roman Empire. There was only one battle on record that he lost, in his whole career. His only weakness, it seemed, was a history of chronic nosebleeds.
Attila’s domination came to an abrupt, and strange, end. On his wedding night, he drank himself into a stupor. In the morning, he was found dead with no visible wounds, and his new bride weeping over his body.
It was discovered that he had a nosebleed in the night. And due to his drunken state, he choked on the blood and died. For this famed warrior, it wasn’t a ferocious enemy in war that proved to be his greatest threat. Nay, his greatest downfall was his own nose.
Beer: The Pilgrim’s Real Reason for Landing at Plymouth Rock
Did you know that the Mayflower, the ship that carried the Pilgrims in 1620, was supposed to land not at Plymouth Rock, but in Virginia? Due to a bad storm at sea, they were blown off course and hit land in Massachusetts, in the near-winter month of November.
Rather than pushing on south to their desired location (and a much better place to spend the winter), they made the decision to stay. Their logic, as claimed in some diary entries, was clear: They couldn’t carry on because they had run out of beer. The first colonists were beer lovers—purists, even—but not in the way you might imagine.
In those days, many illnesses were borne through drinking water, and purification was difficult. A good way to prevent illness was by turning that water into beer, which was safer because of the fermentation. So this decision to stay in Plymouth was not only driven by taste—but by very necessity.
History was forever altered by this, as the struggles and encounters they had in Plymouth were certainly different than those they would have faced in Virginia. And, keeping up with their priorities, one of the first things they did when they landed was build a brew house.
About the Author: Jonathan Littauer
Jonathan is a freelance writer and rock climbing routesetter based in Boston, MA. He was the managing editor of Philly Current Magazine for two and a half years. And he just finished writing his first book!
When he’s not wielding words or making people fall off walls, he’s probably outside somewhere, hiking or climbing or surfing poorly. He’s been known, on occasion, to peace out and travel the world for months at a time.
The Greatest Stories Never Told, by Rick Beyer