Maybe he felt old. That's one plausible answer to the riddle of Palgrave Williams. Why, historians still wonder, would a wealthy 39-year-old leave his wife and kids to become a pirate?

Whatever spurred him, Williams joined Samuel Bellamy in "the sweet trade" of piracy. He served as Bellamy's quartermaster, then became captain of the Mary Anne, a sloop in Bellamy's small fleet.

When the fleet sailed north from the Bahamas in spring 1717, Williams took a detour that saved his life. He stopped at Block Island, Rhode Island, to visit his mother and sisters. Thus he escaped the storm that sank the Whydah and most of his compatriots.

Williams retired from piracy a year later, but quickly grew bored. Returning to piracy, he sailed and stole for several more years. At 45, in 1723, he retired a second, final time. It is believed that Williams settled down with a new wife and a new name and began another family. He eventually died in peace—a rare ending for a pirate.