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Pirates & Sailors
Note: The Golden Age of piracy took place from late 1600s to the early 1700s.
Although there was little in way of universal pirate code, each ship did draw up a code that everyone was required to follow. This could include when lights would be put out, the banning of certain activities like drinking, gambling, violence, bringing women or new crew aboard or deserting, how treasure and food would be rationed, what weapons crewmembers could or couldn't have, and what crewmember's jobs were. Pirates often had to settle disputes off the ship on land and weapons had to be kept clean.
Unlike navy and merchant ships, pirate ships were always democratic. Captains could be voted in and out, punishment of crewmembers was voted on, and many other important decisions were decided by the crew, such as whether or not to attack another ship. Although a captain ultimately held the final say, it was unwise to go against the crew's vote because it usually ended in them being replaced. The one right the captain reserved was unfaltering loyalty during battle.
The following are such Articles of Agreement as have commonly been entered into by the Captains of Privateers and their Crews.
Articles agreed between captain A.B., commander of the private ship of war, called the Terrible, (with twenty guns mounted, carrying nine-pound shot, twenty brass patereroes, four mortars, and some wall-pieces,) manned with two hundred men, now lying in Chruch-hole, (designed to cruise against the French and Spaniards,) on the one part, and the said ship's company on the other, witnesseth.
1. That the said captain A.B., for himself, and in behalf of the owners of the said ship Terrible, shall put on board her great guns, swivels, powder, shot, and all other warlike ammunition necessary for them…the owners, or their assigns, shall lie reimbursed (out of the first prize or prizes taken by the said ship Terrible before any dividend is made thereof) the whole charge of warlike stores (great guns and small arms excepted,)…after which, one half of the nett proceeds of such prize or prizes, as shall be taken, to be for the account of the owners, and at the disposition of the managers; and the other half of such nett proceeds to be the nett property of the ship's company; the captain's share of which to be six, (in some 8) per cent…
2. That, for preserving decorum on board the said private ship of war, no man is to quit or go out of her, on board of any other vessels, or on shore, without leave obtained of the commanding-officer on board, under the penalty of such punishment as shall be esteemed proper by the captain and officers.
3. That it shall be entirely in the captain's power to cruise where he shall esteem most beneficial to the interest of the owners' and ship's company. (In some, it is to cruise where the managers, and, in others, where the owners, shall direct.)
4. That, if any person be found a ringleader of mutiny, or, causing a disturbance on board, refuse to obey the command of the captain and officers, behave with cowardice, or get drunk in time of action, he or they shall forfeit their share, to be divided amongst the ship's company, and be otherwise punished according to law.
5. That all clothes, bedding, watches and rings in wear, buttons, buckles, and what else is deemed small plunder by custom, is to be divided amongst the ship's company, according to ther[e] several stations, the captain not to interfere with them; the cabin utensils in present use for the commander.
6. That if any person shall steal, or convert to his use, any part of the prize or prizes, or be found pilfering any money or goods, and be convicted thereof, he shall forfeit his share to the ship and company.
7. The captain has the power of taking, out of any prize or prizes, whatever stores he may judge necessary for the ship Terrible, without paying for them; provided the prize is not disabled thereby.
8. That whosoever first spies a sail, which proves to be a prize, shall have seven pounds, (in some only one guinea, in others, five,) and the first man proved to board a prize before she strikes, shall have a gratuity of ten pounds (in some ten, and in others fifteen guineas) for his bravery, to be deducted out of the gross sum of the prize.
9. That, if any private man shall lose a leg, arm, or eyes, in the time of action, or in the ship's service, he shall, besides the advantage of Greenwich-hospital, have a gratuity of £25, and in proportion to the officers, exclusive of shares; (in others only £20 to a private man, £50 to the captain, £40 to the first lieutenant, and £30 to each of the other lieutenants, master, and surgeon;) the said sum to be deducted out of the gross sum of the prize…
12. That, on the death of the captain, the command do devolve on the next officer, and so on in rotation; and, for the encouragement of the able seamen and others, on the loss if officers, they are to be replaced out of the ship's company, according to their gallant behaviour, as the captain shall appoint.
13. That whoever deserts the ship Terrible, within the time herein-under-mentioned, shall forfeit his prize-money to the owners and company, to enable them to procure others in their room.
14. All and every one on board does covenant and agree to serve on board the said ship Terrible the term of six months, beginning at the said ship's departure from the Downs.
15. And, lastly, for the true performance of all and every the afore-mentioned covenants and agreements, each and every the said parties do bind themselves, their heirs, executors, and administrators in the penal sum of five hundred pounds…the said parties to these presents have hereunto severally set their hands and seals, the day of in the year of our Lord, and the (fiftieth) year of the reign of our sovereign lord King George the Third.
David Steel: Shipmaster's Assistant, 1817. pp 70-71.
TYPES OF PIRATES
Buccaneers were semi-legal sea raiders that generally based in the Spanish Main, a Spanish colony
Buccaneer of the Caribbean, www.wikipedia.org
that ran around the Caribbean islands, the Northern most part of South America and Southern most part of North America. They generally lived around Port Royal or Tortuga. The buccaneers were originally French backwoodsmen. They got their name from the boucans the backwoodsmen used to smoke meat. These men were hired by the island governors to attack Spanish ships. Fugitives from Spanish law, being slaves, criminals, seamen, and other outlaws eventually joined the buccaneers. A great contempt for Spain grew and it wasn't long until the Buccaneers were completely lawless and uncontrollable.
Buccaneers would have worn clothes made from animal skin, often stained with blood and smelling of smoke. They wore wide brimmed hats and bull-skin leggings, the hairy side facing in, which protected their legs from thorn bushes. They often carried leather bags of food and a hollowed out gourd waterproofed with leather.
Privateers were sailors hired during times of war. They received a letter of marquee from the government allowing them to attack enemy ships during times of war. They were to keep the ships as intact as possible and give some of the prize back to their government. These sailors often turned to piracy after the wars were over and they were dismissed.
Barbary Corsair, http://www.cindyvallar.com/barbarycorsairs.html
Corsair Corsairs were short on sympathy. If ransoms were not paid quickly the captives were sold into slavery or put to work at the oars. The corsairs roamed the Mediterranean for hundreds of years, although some ventured into the Atlantic. They originated along the Barbary Coast of North Africa and ships wishing to trade there had to pay the corsairs. By the 1700s Holland, France, and England's strong navies enable them the right to trade freely. The main corsair ports were Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis. They were strongly fortified with strong walls.
In the early 1800s President Thomas Jefferson sent frigates to blockade Tripoli, but in 1804 one of the ships was captured. Stephen Decatur eventually captured a corsair ship and, in disguise, sailed to the stolen ship and set it alight. The next year Trioli agreed to let American ships sail freely.
Ships were usually cramped, crowded, and airless with next to no privacy. Sailors slept below decks in hammocks and occasionally on deck if it was particularly hot, although someone was always steering the ship and someone else was on guard. Personal belongings like razors, snuff boxes, which were used instead of pipes because of the fire hazard, or extra clothing were kept in a sea chest. Lights were usually required to go out at 8 o'clock, but it depended on the contract the crew had drawn up.
Much of life at sea consisted of waiting for something interesting to happen. To keep crew from mutinying or entertaining themselves with gambling or fighting, rigorous work, which was often needed although repetitive, was a constant part of life at sea. Sails often needed to be furled and unfurled and a skilled sewer was often needed to mend sails. Rope and other pieces of the rigging also needed to be fixed. And weapons needed to be cleaned. Often times when a sailor had no job they would be ordered to swab the deck, especially since it needed to be done daily. Another job like this was the bilge pump, which pumped out water that had seeped into the ship. The stinking water was pumped onto the deck and ran out through holes in the side of the ship called scuppers. At all times a look-out, who would stand in some elevated place on the ship, was needed.
Skilled laborers included the carpenter who repaired minor pieces on the ship if they broke in battle or a storm. He could also make planks with a tool called an adze. Because of his skill with tools he could also be a doctor. The cooper was skilled at sealing barrels which food would be stored in. If he didn't do his job properly the crew would run out of food within a couple weeks because the rest had rotted. The helmsman steered the ship with a tiller, following the navigator’s directions. A final skilled laborer was the caulker, who opened up gaps between rotten planks and then filled them with oakum (fibers pulled from ropes) and hot pitch.
To repair a ship's hull it had to put into port, usually a deserted island for pirates, and careened, put onto its side, to scrape off barnacles and weeds or repair.
Most of the time sailors wore simple, inexpensive clothing because it was ruined easily and they had to wear it all the time because they only had one pair. Sailors, however, seldom wore identical clothing because it was usually stolen from ships they attacked. Something, usually a scarf or kerchief, was worn on a sailor's head to keep off the sun and keep out the dirt and dust. When they were doing hard work it wise tied as a bandana to keep out sweat. Sometimes a cravat was worn around the neck for a similar purpose. Shirts were almost always white and made from cotton. A dark, often blue, coat with buttons from bone or wood was saved for cold days. A sash was worn around the waist for holding up trousers and storing weapons and trousers were extremely movable and made from cotton called calico. Shoes were leather with large buckles, although many sailors found it easier to fight and work in bare feet.
The captain generally wore fancier attire that was either fashioned off royalty or generals. Although sometimes they chose a more exotic look pieced together from different people. And sometimes pirates would have a spare pair of nice clothing to wear in port.
From 1660 onward wigs were highly fashionable, but because they were expensive and cumbersome sailors usually grew out their hair and tied it up instead. More wealthy pirates, especially captains, might have intricately carved gold buttons or silver buckles. Lace might also adorn cuffs or collars. Gold earrings were often worn so pirates killed in battle could pay for their funeral.
Pirates from North Africa were highly influenced by the Mediterranean. They wore large and baggy harem pants with tall boots and a sash around the waist. Short jackets and round neck shirts were highly embroidered and turbans were worn by all Muslims
Coming from the West Indies, these pirates wore full-skirted and belted jackets with knee-length breeches, trousers or stockings. Many also wore knee-high, bucket-top boots and hats when convenient.
Gambling with cards and dice was a common past time, but because of the violence that could occur it was banned on some ships. Music and dancing was also popular. Many sailors could play a fiddle at the very least. And the Sabbath was almost always taken off besides minor jobs. Some sort of service was held on all ships, being less formal on a pirate ship and more formal on navy or merchant ships.
Sea turtle (especially for buccaneers and in the Caribbean)
Eggs (either from chickens on board or hard-boiled)
Hardtack (a type of biscuit usually infested with weevils and maggots)
Limes (for scurvy)
Wine, rum, beer (water was often used to dilute the wine, but though some was taken aboard the water was usually infected with disease)
Spices (listed below in treasure)
Salmagundi (a mix of meats, vegetables, spices, and anything else on board)
The ship's cook made meals in the galley on a brick stove. A large amount of wood was needed so it was gathered whenever they landed at port. The cook also always kept sand nearby incase of fire.
On long voyages fresh food and water ran out very fast until sailors were left with hardtack and dried or salted meat.
Pirates would receive their rations below decks and eat in the Great Cabin.
Robbing or harming another crewmember, hiding loot or lying were all particularly terrible things a pirate could do that often landed them on a deserted island, supplied with only a musket, a couple shots, powder, and a flask of water. The cat o' nine tails, a type of whip with nine knotted pieces of rope, was used for flogging and keelhauling, where sailors were bound by the hands and dragged through the water next to the ship, often scraping up alongside the ship, was also popular. Walking the plank, however, most likely never took place. It was much easier for victims to be simply thrown overboard.
However, punishment was rarely enacted, only threatened, and it was agreed upon by the crew before taking place. Flogging was also frowned upon because it was a common navy practice.
Illness and Injury
The slightest wound could kill a sailor and good doctors and medicine cabinets were therefore prized. Sailors risked injury in every battle they fought in and most of their work, therefore pirates would compensate crew that lost limbs or eyes. Losing an arm caused serious disability in a pirate and they were usually paid 600 pieces of eight for the right arm and 500 for the left. Amputations were the only option for shattered limbs and later infection often killed the sailor. At the time there was no anesthetic so sailors were given brandy, which didn't usually help much. Similarly, scurvy from lack of vitamin C causing swelled and bleeding gums, fever, malaria, and dysentery plagued sailors.
Surgeons' tools were usually dirty and the cause of infection.
Saws and chisels were used to cut off limbs
Bone chisel for chiseling through bone when a limb was being taken off
Needles for stitching deep cuts
Tourniquets for cutting off the blood before a limb was removed
Mortar and pestle for grinding herbs
Lancet for piercing swellings to let out fluids and digging out bullets
Heated cauterizing iron for sealing the stumps after limbs were removed
A middle-class and well-respected man, he had been in the army and owned a plantation in Barbados when he turned pirate. He sailed with Blackbeard for several years until e was capture and hung in Charleston in 1718.
Knighted in 1581 by Queen Elizabeth I of England, he was considered a national hero because of his attacks on Spanish ports. In 1586 he attacked the Spanish treasure fleet's harbor Cartagena, in Colombia. To the Spanish, Drake was a terrible pirate.
He was known as the Arch Pirate because of his huge seize of a Mogual ship
, which was returning from Mecca.
Jack was known for his brightly colored attire made from stolen calico. He was known to treat his victims kindly and was the captain of Mary and Anne (below). He only had a small sloop and thus limited his attacks to smaller ships.
Notorious pirate and smuggler, he controlled much of the illegal business in New Orleans. In 1812 when the United States declared war on Britain, he turned down a British bribe and instead went to work as a privateer for America.
Sir Henry Morgan
Morgan was the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and knighted by King Charles II. He and his crew were hired by Port Royal for many years as its official army because it couldn't defend itself from the French and Spanish. When the town finally reformed and gained a sufficient army, Morgan was no longer needed. From 1668 to 1671 Morgan led his crew on raids against Puerto Principe, Portobello, Maracaibo, and Panama. In 1668 he led a surprise attack on the Spanish town Portobello. They used the town's mayor, priests, and nuns as shields until the town surrendered. Morgan died in 1688 and was honored with an elaborate funeral.
Known as Black Bart he was one of the most successful pirates to live during the Golden Age of piracy. The Welsh pirate captured over 400 ships and loved fine clothing. He was known for living a dignified life, but he met his demise when the HMS
caught the ship when the crew was drunk.
Better known as Blackbeard, he was obsessed with looking like a true pirate. He braided his long black beard and put smoldering pieces of fuse under his hat so he would smoke. A terror in America from 1716 until his death in 1718 after a huge reward had been offered by the Governor of Virginia and he was killed in hand-to-hand combat by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the HMS
, his most famous ship was the
Queen Anne's Revenge
, which he used to attack ships off South Carolina and blockade the port town Charleston.
Ollonais's real name was Jean David Nau and he was a fierce buccaneer. Originally a Caribbean servant, in 1667 the governor of Tortuga paid him to attack Spanish ships. He often escaped from near death experiences, including a shipwreck. Legend has it that Ollonais cut out the heart of a living Spanish captive and ate it. He was eventually killed by the Darien Indians of Central America and burned.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read
Born in Cork, Island, she eventually became Captain Rackham's partner and, disguised as a boy, fought fiercely on his ship, which attacked Spanish ships off Cuba and Hispaniola. Mary Read, born in 1690 in London, was brought up as a boy by her father. She became a footman to a French lady, fought in the army, and ran a public house (bar) before sailing on a merchant ship. She joined Rackham's crew as a man when her ship was captured. Rackham was eventually captured and his whole crew executed. Bonny and Read only escaped death by revealing that they were both pregnant. Read died in jail, but Bonny's death is unknown.
Their sentence (before they revealed they were pregnant) read thus:
You Mary Read, and Anne Bonny, alias Bonn, are to go from hence to the place from whence you came, and from thence to the place of execution; where you shall be severally hanged by the neck till you are severally dead. And God of his infinite mercy be merciful to both your souls.
Smaller ships were used for swift attacks and element of surprise, however larger ships often faired better on ocean voyages especially through storms. Larger ships were also better armed. But sometimes small ships could look vulnerable, especially if they slowed themselves down. They could then retaliate with their full force when enemy ships tried to attack. Ultimately it is was important to have a fast ship so they could bear down on ships and quickly run away.
Ships with these rigging were not as swift or maneuverable, being 350 tons and 110 feet long. But they were more seaworthy. They were crewed by 150 to 200 with 20 plus cannons and many swivel guns. These ships often had a large cargo area. She was big enough that it was even possible to beat a navy frigate.
Similar to the square rigger, but more sturdy, she was at about 360 tons with 26 guns, 110 feet long and with a crew of 195. The man-of-war was often only a scout, but they were very dangerous.
The schooner was often used in North America and Caribbean. It would sail at 11 knots in a good breeze and, at 90 to 100 tons, she could have a crew of 75 to work her eight cannons and four swivel guns. She also had a narrow hull and shallow draft of 5 feet, so shallow waters and remote coves could be entered.
The two-masted was slender and streamlined. It had a pointed bow, which helped her cut through waves. She was swift and easy to maneuver because the sails were in line with the hull.
The three-mast was much bigger, able to carry up to 200 crew. The biggest were 60 feet long and used the square-rig. Some had holes in the lower decks for oars. This particular ship was favored by many pirates because it had better speed and stability in bad weather, not to mention the bigger ship could be more heavily armed.
The flute was inexpensive, needing only 12 members to crew her. She was 80 feet long and weighed 300 tons. She also had a large cargo capacity.
The sloop was fast, at 113 tons and 65 feet long she carried 70. She had oars that extend from holes between the gun ports. She had 12 nine-pound cannons and used sails in-line with the hull.
This version of the sloop was under 60 feet and was 100 ton with a rapier bow and being easily maneuvered into thin caves and shallow places. She moved at 11 knots or plus having 75 crew.
The frigate was a naval vessel from the late 1700s and early 1800s. It generally had a high up rigging and it was heavily armed on one or two decks.
The snow had only a fore-and-aft trysail. It was 90 tons and 60 feet and used as a patrol vessel. It was a faster ship with 80 crew members.
This ship was modified merchant ships. She had 30 or 40 guns and because of her size was used to scare enemy ships.
The brigantine was small and could be maneuvered in thin caves and shallow places. She had a small crew and tillers instead of a wheel so helms men could change course faster.
Fast and better armed than the galleon with 16 heavy guns
A traditional vessel used around China had three masts held together with bamboo. The largest held twelve guns.
Corsair ships were long and streamlined. Prisoner oarsmen were used to power the vessel and during raids they had to row for hours, being whipped if they did not row fast enough. Many of these slaves did not last long.
Compasses would point to magnetic north. They had to be occasionally rubbed with lodestone to remagnetize it.
The astrolabe was used to measure the latitude by finding the altitude of the North Star or sun. However, it was difficult to do on rough seas and impossible to do on cloudy days.
The backstaff was a large metal version of the relatively small astrolabe. However with this the navigator could stand with their back to sun instead of staring directly at it.
The lead weight measured the depth of the sea and picked up items on the bottom of the sea to help ships recognize the area they were in.
The log and line estimated the ships speed. A line with a weight on the end and equally spaced knots was thrown overboard and the time with an hourglass between the knots measured.
The octant, which didn't show up until 1731, was a difficult instrument to use, but it was much more accurate and measured horizontal, landmarks, and vertical, heavenly bodies, angles.
A nautical ruler and dividers were used to record on charts all the information gathered by other navigation equipment.
Accurate charts were the most priceless pieces of navigation. The Spanish were known for their amazing charts. A Spanish ship, the
was once captured by pirates and although they attempted to throw the charts overboard, the pirates took the charts and took them to Charles II of England.
Pirate flags were displayed to terrify their victims. Flags were either black or red. Although the skull and crossbones took over in the 1700s, it was originally one of many popular symbols. The flag of Bartholomew Robert standing on two skulls and Blackbeard's was that of a Skelton holding an hourglass and aiming a spear at a bleeding heart. The famous crossed swords beneath a skull were the flag of Jack Rackham and Thomas Tew was that of a scimitar. A less menacing flag was the communication flag, which was green and had a man blowing a trumpet. This flag was raised to invite nearby pirates to come aboard and converse. Although along with these flags, sometimes false flags were shown to trick other ships be it to avoid capture or catch them by surprise when they attacked.
Red—battle or blood, in that no one would be spared
Hourglass—the victims’ time was short
Bleeding heart—a slow, painful death
Spear—a violent death
Pirates’ main advantage over other ships was their large number of weapons.
Cannons and iron balls with hooks were used to bring down ships' rigging
Earthenware stinkpots filled with sulfur created smoke that choked and blinded the sailors
Grappling hooks were used to pull the two ships together
Muskets, flintlock pistols, ad grenades were used to injure and create confusion, although guns didn't become accurate or particularly useful until the 1800s
Powder for guns was kept in a long horn and pirates wore baldricks with spare powder around their waist or across their shoulder
Swords were used instead of guns usually, especially cutlasses and daggers. Long swords couldn't be used on crowded ships but were used for land raids
Axes were also used to pull pirates aboard and then destroy the rigging
Caltrops or crowfeet were spikes thrown on deck, causing serious damage to anyone who stepped on them
During attacks pirates hoped to scare the other ship to such an extent they would surrender. Fierce war cries and explosions were used to encourage this. Often times this worked and very little fighting took place.
Nassau harbor in the Bahamas was a pirate harbor
Boulogne and Dunkirk were corsair ports in the English Channel in Northern France
St. Malo was, to the French, La Cite Corsaire, but to the English it was a nest of wasps, rich because of privateers
Deadman’s Cay, now called Rackam’s Cay, was a small island within sight of Port Royal where dead pirates were displayed
Port Royal in Jamaica was taken by the British in 1655. Because it could not defend itself from the French and Spanish the town hired the welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan. The city gained a reputation as being a vial den for pirates and prostitutes, brimming with taverns, and the 1692 earthquake that devastated it was thought to be God's punishment. When the town later reformed it become known as a place pirates were captured, tried, and hanged.
Tortuga Island was a small island and pirate harbor near Hispaniola
The island of Madagascar, being in the Indian Ocean, was a place for pirates to sail to and use as a base for raiding ships in the East
New Providence in the Bahamas was an island rich with fruit, water, fish, lobsters, and turtles and because of its lack of a law was a perfect hideout for pirates
The United States, lacking a proper army, relied on pirates attacking British ship in the American Revolution.
The Pirate Round was a route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean many pirates took multiple times because it was so profitable. The route followed that of merchant ships going to China and India
Precious metals: |Gold| |Silver| |Copper| |Amber|
Pendants with: |Garnet| |Emerald| |Opal| |Amethyst| |Ruby| |Gold| |Rose-Sapphire| |Malachite| |Bloodstone| |Silver|
Gold in the form of: |Bars| |Dust| |Doubloons| |Chains| |Plates|
Spices: |Angel dust| |Saffron| |Cinnamon sticks| |Turmeric|
Cloth: |Silks| |Linen| |Lace| |Velvet| |Taffeta|
Household goods: |Cooking pots| |Candles| |Spare sails| |Clothing for the crew|
Tobacco in the form of: |Twists|
Treasure was shared equally among the crew, although the captain usually received a double share a ship's boy would receive half.
Silver and gold especially in the form of doubloons or pieces of eight were generally being shipped from the Americas to Spain when pirates attacked them.
In more remote pirate bases it was very difficult to change loot into money. Thus, some pirates would risk sailing to the Caribbean and America to sell the loot there.
Despite the enormous fortune most pirates made, many found it next to impossible to hold onto their fortune once they reached port. It was immediately spent on wine, women, and gambling.
Many pirates lived short lives. Pirates were not only subject to plague, but every battle they engaged in could be their last and the slightest injury could kill them. Others were hunted down by the law and if they were not killed in battle would be taken back to land to be tried. Death almost always awaited them while they spent time in stinking, overcrowded, and unhealthy cells. Pirates either died in prison, were beheaded, tarred, drawn and quartered or hung. Later many would be hung in a Gibbet cage, which was a full body metal cage were dead pirates would be displayed to warn others. Although, rich pirates or those with business deals with influential leaders could sometimes bribe their way free. And even those pirates that managed to live their pirating days often died penniless. This was true for all pirates be they captains or ship boys.
The World of the Pirate
. Portugal: Peter Bedrick Books, 1998.
The Pirate's Handbook
. New York, New York: Breslich and Foss, 1995.
. New York: DK Publishing, Inc, 2005.
. New York: Kingfisher Publications, 1997.
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