The golden age of pirates spanned from 1620 until roughly 1720, as they savagely sailed the seven seas seeking booty and booze. The term pirate was given to any man who committed a crime while at sea, crimes which usually involved extreme violence and theft. The first known accounts of these marine marauders emerged around 14th century BC., when a clan known as the Sea Peoples ransacked ships of the Aegean and Mediterranean civilizations. Soon, region and rivalry caused different bands to claim ownership of certain jurisdictions—— with the pirates of the Caribbean probably being the most influential. A close second were the pirates of Penzance, and the pirates of the Mediterranean, who used inlets around Europe to corner and trap their enemies. Today, September 19th celebrates national Talk Like a Pirate Day, and anyone can change their Facebook settings to pirate talk. Just be sure not to confuse ‘Ahoy’ (Hello) with ‘Avast’ (Hey, stop)— as nothing peeves a pirate more than an imposer. Here are 8 amazing things we bet you didn’t know about pirates.
10. Ho Hum And A Bottle Of Rum
In lore and legend, pirates are romanticized as a jolly bunch who, save for plank walking and the plundering of treasure, liked to drink and have a good time. While a large bulk of pirating was done in the Caribbean, where Spanish, French and British ships were preyed upon, pirates attained copious amounts of rum by raiding said ships or purchasing large quantities at the port. As long-haul sailing expeditions was part of the job, seamen often ran into problems with sanitary drinking water, so mixing the barrels with alcohol was a wise alternative. Once started out as innocent tipsiness turned into full-fledged fun and debauchery. The most well-known pirate elixir is Grog— a blend of run, water, lime, sugar and sometimes cinnamon for taste. Most pirates began as sailors for the navy and there they were given grog twice daily for hydration, but many abandoned these positions to turn to the much more fun, less regulated life of being a pirate.
9. Pirates Were Gender Neutral
Although women were known to bring bad luck and misfortune on board a sailing ship, this didn’t hinder those determined damsels who donned the clothing of men, change their birth-given names, and pursue the pirate dream every little girl grows up to have. Some mentionable names include Mary Read and Anne Bonny: two famed female pirates who joined forces and worked together as men on board the famed Captain Calico Jack’s ship in the Carribean. While each believed the other to be male, feelings ensued, and Read revealed her secret identity only after Bonny confessed to feelings of love.
8. Pirate Pride
Love was abundant on-board pirate ships. Myths denote these booty looting buccaneers as womanizers with a soft spot for rum. In actuality, homosexuality was widely welcomed aboard ships, and this could well be attributed to a man never setting eyes on a woman for weeks to several months at a time. Gay marriages were performed on deck as the term Matelotage defined the civil union between two male pirates. Under these terms the pair were legally obliged to take one another to bed, share property and live together. Two crimes under the marriage code was punishable by death— desertion and seducing a member of the opposite sex, especially in the case of bringing her onboard in disguise.
7. Jolly Roger
When one thinks of a pirate ship, they think of the Jolly Roger— a black flag with a skull and crossbones emblem. As history goes however, this was not the primary pennant used by pirates to adorn their ships. Most pirates had their flags handmade by a sail-maker’s widow who implored payment in brandy. While the feared Blackbeard bore a personal flag of a skeleton with horns, hourglass in one hand and a spear with three drops of blood in the other, most flags symbolic of pirate mischief were solely black.
6. Sea Monsters And Pirate Maps
Sea monsters came into existence solely because medieval and renaissance pirate maps insisted they were real. In fact, if one were to read any map forged by these crude crusaders, chances are it would be beautifully decorated with monsters of the sea in various areas throughout. Boldly marked were parts of the where alleged sightings not only occurred but threatened past voyages. X’s marked the spot with depictions of these sea beasts and a warning to all who dared to venture there. The most famous of all pirate myths is the Kraken— a giant ship sinking octopus. Interestingly enough, what pirates feared most about this infamous monster were not the giant tentacles thought to be the creatures most feared weapon, but rather the deathly whirlpool left in its wake, and formal induction into Davy Jones’ famed locker. Another noteworthy sea beast was first mentioned in 1621 by St. Brendon. The monster known as Jasconius was said to be a giant sea turtles with an 80 to 100 long foot shell. Luckily for pirates, it was also said to be a strict vegetarian, and in some cases helped sailors from other imposing threats of the sea, such as sharks and storms. Probably the most well known to this day was the sea serpent, also known as the Loch Ness Monster. This infamous ocean snake was first mentioned in 1555 when Norwegian folklore and sailors alike stake claim for many sightings and accounts. Perhaps the maps were meant to misguide others from uncovering buried treasure; maybe it was a case of too much rum— in any case, it’s best to believe a pirate than to cross one.
5. Blackbeard, Black Bart & William Kid
Shiver me timbers, it was Blackbeard who was the most feared pirate at sea. To appear demonic, this famous captain would weave hemp into his beard and light it on fire before seizing a ship. As if that weren’t enough to torment his victims, the grisly gent would stick lit fuses in his hat and light them. Blackbeard would also make his entrance onto ships dressed all in black in his fume of flames and surrounding cloud of smoke. This façade caused crewman to assume he was the devil and would surrender without a fight. As the old pirate parody goes, Blackbeard had an actual wooden peg for a leg after he lost his own to diabetes. Ho hum now that’s no fun. Once, after holding the city of Charleston hostage, Blackbeard’s sole request was a doctor’s bag filled with medicine. Despite the dangerous name he made for himself, this fierce leader’s reign only lasted about two years. In 1996, Blackbeard’s famous ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered off the coast of North Carolina with thirty-one canons and roughly 250,000 relics on board. Discoverers even found a urethral syringe in which mercury was used to cure syphilis. Interestingly enough, mercury does no such thing. Rumors swell that after Blackbeard was killed, his body and head were thrown into the sea, unto which he purportedly swam around the ship three times before both sinking.
This legendary buccaneer by the name of Black Bart was perhaps the most productive of all his piratey peers, as in the early 18th century over 400 ships fell to his sword. His somewhat more refined name, however, was Bartholomew Roberts, a Welshman who was known to wear a nice waistcoat with according to documents— “snappy breeches and a dashing red feather in his cap.” This civilized leader was known to drink tea and water, with rules in place such as a musician hired to play hymns on Sunday, and lights out by eight pm.
William Kidd, also known as Captain Kidd, was never known to be a proper pirate, yet paid the price to seem like one. In 1701 Kidd was hung for getting up to some naughty antics and his body was displayed in chains and hung for three years over the River Thames. Despite the fact that the captain never marooned any of his victims nor tortured them, having only been convicted of one murder, his ruthless demise was a lesson for other would-be pirates. The most famous association with Captain Kidd his the notion of his buried treasure, which have been sought out by many and featured in literature such as in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Gold Bug.”
4. Chivalry Is Not Dead Just A Dead Man’s Tale
Despite their ruthless nature towards others, each pirate ship had a civil code of conduct that all aboard had to follow. Rules included how to properly divide loot so it would be fairly distributed to all— for the finding of treasure was every pirate’s greatest achievement. The rules determined which chores belonged to who and when they were delegated; lastly, what was expected from everyone in terms of hygiene and manner. The most important instruction to abide by—no fighting on board! Not only were pirates somewhat civilized, they were also well versed in the alphabet as well. What is a pirate’s favorite word—Rrr? Wrong, matey. It’s the Cccccccc.
3. Eyepatches & Earrings
Pirates were not as fashionable as one might think. For starters, the parrot myth is just that, as due to the rigorous journeys and months at a time at sea, a furry companion would have been better off as a sizeable snack than pet. Eye patches weren’t worn because pirates lack an eye, in fact, quite the opposite. A patch over one eye was thought to enhance night vision, or the ability to see while below deck. One eye bare and the other covered was said to train the eye to function in different types of light, or lack thereof. To add insult to injury, the shiny gold hoop adorning a grisly pirate ear wasn’t a fashion accessory either; rather, these fashion-less freebooters believed that the only jewelry worth keeping were those taken off a dead man.
2. The Legend Of Davy Jones
While Davy Jones was an actual pirate, not much is known on him, except that he lived on the Indian ocean and in myth cut out his own heart after upsetting the sea goddess Calypso. The character was made popular in the 2006 film Pirates of the Caribbean whose persona was based on the superstition of Davy Jones’ Locker. This term merely stands as an idiom for the state of death of drowned sailors and sunken ships, destined for eternity on the bottom of the ocean floor. The locker then signifies the euphemism for one being consigned to an untimely fate. Another legend identifies Davy Jones as a British pub owner who threw intoxicated sailors into his ale locker before surrendering them to any ship who’d take them. One story goes so far as to claim that the pub owner couldn’t pay his debts and resorted to a life of piracy— capsizing ships and locking the ben on board before sinking the vessel.
1. Walking The Plank Was All For Show
Unfortunately for Captain Hook in Peter Pan, pirates didn’t really make their captors walk the plank. While this is a popular concept in contemporary lore, the deviant desperados preferred the simple act of killing prisoners straightaway. If torture were to ensure, it was done through lashing of a leather whip, being left to die on a deserted island, or through keelhauling— dragging a hogtied sailor in the water from the back of a fast-moving ship.