Ten of the most common myths about pirates

Pirates' captive walking the plank

Pirates have been romanticized by story writers and Hollywood to the point where we believe many of the myths surrounding them as facts.

Here are ten myths about pirates that have been proven to have no basis in fact.

10. Pirate Lingo

The character of captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp’s lead role in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

“Shiver me timbers”, “Avast me mateys”, and “Arrgh” are all common phrases heard in the best pirate movies. While Jack Sparrow mumbled his way through Pirates of the Caribbean, most of his crew used these phrases at one time or another, effectively emphasizing that this was authentic pirate talk.

This is, sadly, all Hollywood’s creation. Pirates most probably spoke in a manner similar to all British sailors of the time, along with a spattering of curse words picked up from French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Arabic.

9. All pirates flew the skull and crossbones

The traditional “Jolly Roger” of piracy Photo Credit

The skull and crossbones, or “Jolly Roger”, was flown by many pirates, but not everyone flew the same flag. Pirate captains designed their own flags, and while many were based loosely on the skull and crossbones, many others used skeletons or plain colors.

8. Pirates were a bloodthirsty bunch

A pirate Photo Credit

Pirates, like most marauders, were very well aware of the dangers inherent in battle. The dangers of valuable members of the crew being injured or killed meant that pirate captains relied upon their bloodthirsty reputation to try and take a prize with as little bloodshed as possible.

They were also businessmen who knew that their pay came from selling captured ships and their cargoes, so they were loathe to take the risk of a valuable cargo being damaged by cannon fire or, worse still, of sinking the prized ship and losing all chance of a payday.

7. Pirate ships were chaotic places to live in

The Charles Galley, a contemporary vessel of a comparable design to Adventure Galley

Many pirate crews and their ships were far more orderly and disciplined than most merchant ships and many Naval vessels. Pirates subscribed to a code of conduct, called the Articles of Agreement, which ruled the behavior of those on board. Most of these codes prohibited gambling and insisted that arms be kept at the ready; they also provided punishments for disobeying the rules.

6. Pirate captains ruled with an iron fist

Treasure being divided among pirates in an illustration by Howard Pyle.

Most pirate captains deserved their bloody reputations, but they did not rule the ship’s company with an iron fist, and most were not in a position to abuse the ship’s company. Pirate captains were voted into power and, so long as they found ships to plunder and provided for the crew, they were allowed to lead. But unlike merchant vessel captains who wielded absolute power, pirate captains depended on the crew to keep them in the captain’s cabin.

In addition to electing the captain, the crew elected a quartermaster, who wielded almost as much authority as the captain and could be used to balance the captain’s authority.

5. Pirates buried their loot and came back to it later

Illustrations of the 1911 edition of Treasure Island

Pirates understood that their life expectancy was not long and they tended to spend their money as fast as they made it. Any shore leave was used to spend almost everything they made in prize money on booze and loose women. The people who made real money were those entrepreneurs that set up shop and supplied these services to the crews in places such as Port Royal, Nassau, Barbados, the Bahamas, and Jamaica.

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