**This page is a collection of Fun Fact Fridays that we have posted on our Fernandina Pirates Public Facebook Page. These fun facts are gathered by scouring the internet looking for a treasure trove of Pirate lore, and fun little articles. We do not claim to have written any of these articles or created the images below. We have enjoyed sharing these facts with our adoring public for the past few years, so we thought we would just put them all into one fun little page. We hope you enjoy….. Arrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!
No shrimp for you!
One would assume that pirates would have made a hearty diet out of the seafood that could be found basically all around them. After all, they were pretty much living in an ocean full of edible fish. But remember, Pirates weren’t just leisurely sailing around, waiting for a line to get a bite. Pirates usually didn’t fish, because not only did it take up too much of their time, but it also didn’t yield enough food to even be worth it. With today’s fishing technology, we imagine Pirates might live completely different lives. No shrimp for you!
Famous Pirate Flags
Did you know, no matter how they looked, all Jolly Roger Pirate flags had one purpose: to send a message? They announced to anyone who saw them that the crew of the ship was pirates and that if they surrendered, they’d be given mercy.
Pirates Symbols and Meanings:
Red Pirate Flag – Warning sign for no mercy
Skull and Bones – Death
Bleeding Heart – Slow painful death awaits you
Edward Low (red skeleton) – Torment with eventual death
Hourglass Symbol – Time is running thin
Nude Pirate – Pirates with no shame
Clothed Pirate – Most likely stood for pirate captain
Lifted Drinking Glass – A toast to dying or to Satan
Horned Skeleton – Satan
Weapons – Incoming fight
Eye Patches and Peg Legs
Many Pirates Had Eye Patches and Peg Legs. Life at sea was harsh, especially if you were in the navy or on board a pirate vessel. The battles and fighting caused many injuries, as men fought with swords, firearms, and cannons. Often, the gunners — those men in charge of the cannons — had the worst of it. An improperly-secured cannon could fly around the deck, maiming everyone near it. Other problems, such as deafness, were occupational hazards.
The Tricorn Hat
The tricorn is a style of hat that was popular during the 18th century. Hats of this general style were referred to as “cocked hats”. At the peak of its popularity, the tricorn varied greatly in style and size, and the hat’s most distinguishing characteristic was that three sides of the brim were turned up (cocked) and either pinned, laced, or buttoned in place to form a triangle around the crown. This was practical, particularly at sea: the turned-up portions of the brim formed gutters that directed rainwater away from the wearer’s face, depositing most of it over his shoulders.
Ornamented with long ostrich feathers, known as “weeping plumes”, the crown was often encircled with a jeweled necklace or a silk band sewn with gems. A large gold ornament held the plumes. In those days of free sword play, the feathers were placed to the back or left side of the hat, permitting freedom of the sword arm.
Furthermore, in courtship, the hat ornament was often a love token, and the position on the left side signified the heart or love. The decoration has ever since remained on the left side.
Good Guys or Bad Guys?
One of the things that people tend to forget is that pirates considered themselves to be the Good Guys. Not only did most of them take up piracy in a fight for justice, but the words of historic pirates frequently repeat the mantra that pirates themselves were the only honest men in the world.
“Try telling the truth for a whole week. And just see how much trouble you get in.”
– Sam Conniff Allende, from the book “Be More Pirate or How to Take on the World and Win”
Cats and Dogs and Pirates
Some historians believe that cats and dogs joined pirates on their adventures on the open seas, in addition to parrots. As cats and dogs have been living amongst humans for thousands of years, and it is likely they served the same purpose to pirates as they do today in modern times. Cats and dogs have long been a great companion for humans, and while on board they could help eat any unwanted mice that could threaten precious food supplies on board. A good mouser cat on a sailing ship would have been very important to help prevent loss of food rations that would be impossible to replace until the ship reached dry land. In addition, it is common knowledge that pirates were very superstitious and some seaman actually considered a black cat on board to be good luck. Legend was that as long as the cat was well fed and kept safe from harm, nothing would happen to the ship. On the flip side, there was a belief that if a cat was thrown overboard, a bad storm would soon form which meant bad luck was on its way.
How did Pirates make repairs to damaged ships?
Pirates did not have regular access to dry docks as most pirate ships were unlawfully commandeered, so they had to be more creative when it came time to make repairs to their ship’s underside. The pirates would find a hidden cove or a secluded beach and hove the ship over on one side as the tide went out.
If the ship received damage such as a cannon shot around the waterline, planks would need to be replaced. This was no easy task since the crew had to locate the right trees to cut their own lumber.
Before the ship would be laid over on its side, weapons and other provisions were offloaded to set up camp which included just about anything that could not be tied down. An armory would be set up and lookouts posted to keep watch as a ship and her crew would be quite vulnerable in these conditions. After repairs were made the ship would then be up righted with the incoming tide. The ship and crew would then set sail on to pillage and plunder once again.
How did Pirate krewes stay warm aboard their ships?
They did and they didn’t…
In the days of wooden sailing ships life at sea was tough. Living conditions for Pirates and all other sailors were extremely basic and there was no heating or air conditioning. Conditions changed according to the weather and the region you were in.
There was no way to keep warm on a pirate ship apart from huddling round the galley fire. This was not really a problem in the tropics but for ships operating in the North Atlantic in the winter months the cold and freezing conditions must have been terrible.
How did pirates navigate?
With a little skill and a whole lot of luck!
Using a combination of a compass, the horizon, and the stars, pirates and other sailors were able to determine fairly accurately where they were.
Pirates would have used sea charts, which were primitive maps of the known seas. Pirates also combined the science of early GPS technology by using the North Star to plot their latitude and a compass to plot longitude.
Latitude and longitude are measured in degrees, minutes, and seconds (minutes and second because each degree is divided into 60 parts, then 60 even smaller parts). Above the equator and to the right of the prime meridian are considered positive, and below the equator and to the left of the prime meridian are considered negative.
So, now if you are ever sailing, you know how to locate your home!
A Pirate’s Christmas Tale
Twas’ the night before Christmas on the Tropical Seas,
looking for Islands & Tall Palm trees.
The Pillaging & Plundering had all been done,
& now it was time for Rum in the Sun.
When up in the Skies to my surprise,
Santa was moving much faster than I.
It looked as tho his work, it was done,
& seemed that he was also looking for Rum!
I shouted to him, “Hey, just follow me”, as we sailed on thru the Tropical sea.
Lucky for us, it wasn’t too far, we found a beach with a cool Tiki Bar.
So we ordered up Shots & drank lots of Rum,
then stumbled on back as the evening was done.
I heard him shout as he flew out of site,
“Merry Christmas Beach Bums & to all a Good Night!”
Did pirates celebrate Christmas?
Coming primarily from Christian countries where Christmas was a major social and religious holiday, it seems reasonable to assume that they did. If pirates excelled at anything, it was having a good time!
So, how would they celebrate Christmas at sea? The most dramatic Christmas tradition 300 years ago was decorating with evergreen. Not only pine boughs, but boxwood, rosemary, lavender, bay, and flowers were traditionally brought into the English homes and churches for the holiday. These greens and blooms were a celebratory decoration that raised human spirits during the darkest time of the year.
Caribbean pirates, if they felt like decorating, had ample access to both pine boughs and tropical blossoms. We know that pirates often went ashore along uninhabited shores to find water, gather fruit, hunt wild animals for meat, and clean their ships. So it’s no stretch to imagine them stopping off to gather some Christmas decorations.
The centerpiece of the traditional English feasting table, the roasted boar’s head, was also an item that pirates had easy access to, as the Caribbean was overrun with wild hogs, introduced by the Spanish. For pirates, the hunt would be part of the excitement of the holiday!
A pirate Christmas would have been a multi-cultural one. Pirates had no ambitions to convert anyone to anything, and demonstrated over and over that they judged compatriots by character, not religion. On a pirate ship, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and several kinds of Pagans might live and work side by side. Pirates were interested having a good time, and if some of the crew had an idea for any type of celebration, it was likely to be warmly welcomed. (Some things never change)!
How did Pirates Entertain themselves?
Sailors have a long tradition of entertaining themselves with song, and Christmas carols were very popular at the time. Pirates wouldn’t have sung about Rudolph or Santa Claus. Even traditional songs like “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings” wouldn’t be written for well over a hundred years. But “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “The First Noel,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” and most appropriately “I Saw Three Ships” were all songs contemporary with pirates. Many writers over the years, including Robert Lewis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island) and Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol) have written scenes in which sailors, far from home, remember their families by singing the old traditional songs. Pirates, who had left behind their entire culture to become outlaws, were even more likely to use this kind of ritual to comfort themselves.
How to talk like a Pirate…
Avast Ye: A command meaning pay attention or listen
Aye, Aye: Yes, I understand
Batten Down the Hatches: When everything on a ship is tied down to prepare for an approaching storm
Booty: Refers to any ill-gotten goods swiped from another party
Bounty: The reward for capturing a criminal
Chantey: A song that sailors sing in unison while working
Davy Jones’ Locker: Graveyard at the bottom of the sea for those killed or drowned
Dead Men Tell No Tales: Meaning dead people will not betray any secrets. Used as a threat to kill someone, or a way of saying there were no survivors.
Doubloons: Types of gold coins
Fire in the Hole: A cannon is about to be fired
Grog: Diluted rum, but can be used to refer to any alcoholic concoction
Hang the Jib: To pout or frown
Hearties: Friends, comrades
Hornswaggle: To swindle something, usually money, out of someone else
Lad, lass, lassie: A child or young person
Landlubber: Someone without sailing ability
Loot: Stolen money or possessions
Old Salt: Experienced pirate or sailor
Scallywag: What an experienced pirate would call a newbie
Shiver Me Timbers: An exclamation of surprise
Sink Me: An exclamation of surprise
Thar She Blows: A whale sighting
Walk the Plank: When someone is forcibly ordered to walk off a wooden board into the sea, resulting in drowning
Yo Ho Ho: A jolly expression
Pirate safe havens
Pirates who plundered the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean during the Golden Age of Piracy (1690-1730) needed a place of refuge where they could enjoy their loot. Pirate havens like Port Royal on Jamaica, Tortuga on Hispaniola, and New Providence in the Bahamas provided safe harbours, the possibility to sell looted cargo to crooked traders, and were within easy reach of the main shipping routes.
The havens were a safe place for pirates to rest their weary sea legs and let their hair down. Here they quickly spent their ill-gotten loot on wine, women, and gambling. Pirates sold captured cargoes to unscrupulous dealers who had set up business in the various pirate havens in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. The dealers were on to a good thing since they acquired goods at a much cheaper rate than from legitimate merchant vessels in any other port, and the pirates were happy enough to get their cash, even if they were obliged to sell at a price much below the real value. The dealers then smuggled their dubious goods into legitimate ports where it was sold through the channels it would have reached if the pirates had not interrupted the trade process.
Pirates and Rum
Centuries ago, there were no known ways to pasteurise or preserve food. Therefore, sailors risked dying because their food would go bad and the water was not drinkable. But they started adding distilled or fermented beverages to the water to turn it into a drinkable liquid. Thus, pirates began to add rum to their water to be able to drink it. As a bonus rum also seemed to have some medicinal properties. Pirates drank it to prevent diseases such as scurvy, the flu, and to eliminate stress.
Rum was inexpensive and it quickly became popular among sailors and in the pirate community. In fact, the seafaring explorers and conquerors soon began consuming it in industrial quantities. The English Navy itself loaded rum among its provisions and they gave a ration to the crew every day. However, the excessive rum consumption onboard the ships led to several battles, as the rum increased violence among the sailors.
The ships carried three types of drinks: water, beer, and rum. The water was the first to go off. Therefore, they had to add a certain amount of rum to extend the life of the water. The Caribbean rum contained around 70 % alcohol, which was detrimental to the health of the sailors. As a result, they began diluting the rum with water to keep the crew relatively sober. Savvy?
Greek legend says that once, some pirates captured the god Bacchus or Dionysus who confused him with a Prince, with the intention to ask for ransom. Dionysus raged and turned the ship’s oars into snakes, which frightened the pirates and made them jump into the sea. However, the god had mercy on them and decided to turn them into dolphins so that from then on they would help men. According to the legend, this explains why dolphins accompany and save shipwreck survivors, as they are the pirates who want to expiate their guilt.
Storms at Sea
Storms at sea, whatever their magnitude, are fearful and awesome things even today, and in the Golden Age of Piracy they were most often deadly.
With no way to know when they might hit or how long they would last, pirates would have been justified in fearing storms above all other dangers.
How pirates survived storms and hurricanes:
Remain onboard and hang on for dear life.
Staying onboard the ship might seem like trite advice, but it was harder than it sounds during a storm. Pirates would have to make do with tying themselves to the ship with ropes (risky if it went down) and pray that they made it through. A man overboard was a man lost to the tides forever.
The Heavier the ship the better.
In stormy weather a fully-loaded ship was much safer than an empty one (so long as the cargo was stowed correctly) as the weight in the hull counteracted the force of the winds on the sails and rigging during a hurricane. This reduced the risk of broaching (the ship rolling on its side); if this happened the ship would be lost along with its crew.
Keep the ship moving through the storm.
The trick was to keep the ship on the move, and to keep it moving into the waves while avoiding putting too much strain on the sails and masts. The ship needed to keep up speed to move up the oncoming waves, and also to keep its rudder in the water so that it could steer. Can you imagine doing all of this without a way to measure the speed of the wind or the height of the waves?
Stay away from land.
Worse by far than simply being caught in a storm, however, was to be so close to land as to strike the shore. “A lee shore” it was called, and it was the pirates’ worst nightmare; with wind and water driving a boat to shore the crew were helpless. They could only wait for the bottom to be torn from the ship.
Batten down the hatches, mateys!
The infamous Blackbeard was born Edward Teach, and was one of Ocracoke Island’s most frequent and most notorious visitors in the early 1700s. He gained his infamous nickname, as one would expect, from his long black beard, which he would twist into coils and light on fire to intimidate merchant vessels he was about to attack.
Blackbeard was originally a privateer during the Queen Anne’s War. Privateers were enlisted and paid to attack and plunder merchant ships, and after the war, many privateers put their newfound skills to good use by becoming pirates.
Blackbeard began his pirate career in the Caribbean under the pirate captain Benjamin Hornigold, and was so effective that he was rewarded with his own vessel, which he later renamed the Queen Anne’s Revenge. In 1717, Blackbeard headed north, and began trolling the waters near the newfound colonies with his fair-weather friend, Stede Bonnet.
North Carolina, and specifically Bath and Ocracoke, became his preferred home. Blackbeard had a makeshift camp on the island, where he had wild pirate parties and a permanent home in the small inland town of Bath where he was supposedly the neighbor of the North Carolina Governor, Charles Eden. In fact, rumors persist that there was an underground tunnel in between the homes of Blackbeard and the governor, making it easy for Gov. Eden to pop in and enjoy the wild pirate bashes without anyone in the community finding out.
For about 18 months, Blackbeard terrorized the ships that were entering and leaving Ocracoke Inlet, and secretly (and supposedly) bribed Governor Eden to turn a blind eye to his coastal piracy.
North Carolina residents and merchants finally appealed to the Virginia Governor for help, and in secret, the VA governor arranged for a barrage of British ships to advance on Blackbeard.
Led by Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard, the navy approached Blackbeard just off the coast of Ocracoke on November 22nd, 1718, and in the ensuring battle, Blackbeard suffered a reported 25 stab wounds and five bullets. Blackbeard was subsequently beheaded, with his head hung on the bow of Maynard’s ship, but his legend still persists in Ocracoke today.
Varieties of Pirate Ships
If there is one thing that all pirate ships generally had in common, that would be the fact that they were not bought and sold as a pirate ship, but rather stolen and conditioned for the purpose of piracy. What this generally meant was making more space for a larger crew and cannons by removing cabins and changing the sail arrangements.
Take a look at the different varieties of potential pirate ships below:
Sloops were the most common choice during Golden Age of Pirates during the 16th and 17th century for sailing around the Caribbean and crossing the Atlantic. These were commonly built in Caribbean and were easily adapted for pirate antics.
Another favorite of the pirates of the Caribbean and Atlantic were the two-masted schooner. Like the sloop, this boat was fast, easy to maneuver and enjoyed a large capacity for guns and cannons.
Another shallow-draft boat, the brigantine was popular in the Mediterranean thanks to its great maneuverability and speed. Oars were also common in some designs that could be employed during low winds.
Square-rigged Ships were more often than not merchant ships, identified by their large square sails and three masts. The large hold meant that they were slow but great for longer crossings.
The Dutch Fleut was perfectly designed for carrying large amounts of cargo. Flat-bottomed, wide and strong, this was not very swift and weighed over 300 tons.
A Spanish design, the galleon combined the need to carry cargo and be able to defend itself at the same time with cannons. A galleon, could sustain a crew of over 200 with more than 70 canons and guns.
Pirates and their colorful outfits.
Sumptuous reds and crimsons, deep violets and blues were some of the colors that pirates sported. According to Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws, only the aristocracy were allowed to wear these bright colors so pirates appropriated these colors for themselves. Pirates also dressed themselves in coats that were called doublets which were brocaded and decorated with braiding. Under the coats, they wore the typical puffy sleeved shirt that is associated with pirates. Bandannas covered up long hair and a tri-cornered hat was perched on the head.
Not all Pirates had Beards
Most pirates during the Golden Age didn’t wear beards.
What about Blackbeard, you ask? Well, he was the exception that proves the rule. Blackbeard’s black beard didn’t just cause him to stand out because of its size, color and quality. Just the fact that he had a beard made him stand out… And the beard was a disguise.
Pirates followed the fashion for the average man of the time. It was the fashion for all men at the time to be clean-shaven – amazing considering how crude shaving implements were. Steel razors had only recently been invented, and were still the province of the very rich. Poorer men shaved themselves with iron blades, or plucked the individual hairs with crude tweezers. Sometimes, they shaved with broken glass. It was guaranteed to provide a sharp edge.
Let’s talk about the ship’s barber. Men had been going to the barber since ancient Roman times. And the event was probably as social event as well as a grooming ritual. Barbers not only had specialized tools, the best blades, and experience, they had gossip and style advice for men who wanted to look their best.
This wasn’t an every-day thing. Most men of the time shaved only twice a week – Sundays, and some time mid-week. Additional barbering was done for special events. In the Navy, this meant national holidays, ceremonies of promotion, and visitations between ships. Pirates probably kept the ritual of the Sunday shave, and saved their “special event” shaves for times when the ship was coming into port. There’s considerable evidence that pirates liked to look their best for the ladies.
Hot water came from the ship’s galley, soap was whatever cleaning compound could be had. A good barber would have served an apprenticeship of several years, during which he would have learned how to care for the blades and tools of the trade. A few notes from traveling barbers does tend to confirm that ship’s barbers did indeed shave men while on a moving ship.
But if a man didn’t want to have a sharp blade so close to his delicate skin, another option presented itself. Some men removed facial hair by using a pumice stone. Rubbing the porous stone over the face wore away some of the hair, and pulled other hairs out by the roots. Commenters of the time had two observations about how this felt. One was “It doesn’t hurt at all.” The other was “After your face toughens up, in a month or two, it doesn’t hurt at all.”
Sharp steel? Chunks of glass? Rubbing rocks on your face? Seems like the very act of being well-groomed proved a pirate’s courage.
José Gaspar, also known by his nickname Gasparilla (supposedly lived c. 1756 – 1821), is a Spanish pirate, the “Last of the Buccaneers,” who is claimed to have roamed and plundered across the Gulf of Mexico and the Spanish Main from his base in southwest Florida. Details about his early life, motivations, and piratical exploits differ in different tellings. However, the various versions agree that he was a remarkably active pirate during Florida’s second Spanish period (which spanned from 1783 until 1821), that he amassed a huge fortune by taking many prizes and ransoming many hostages, and that he died by leaping from his ship rather than face capture by the U.S. Navy, leaving behind an enormous and as-yet undiscovered treasure.
Though the pirate Gaspar is a popular figure in Florida folklore, there is no evidence that he actually existed. No contemporaneous mention of his life or exploits have been found in Spanish or American ship logs, court records, newspapers, or other archives, and no physical artifacts linked to Gaspar have been discovered in the area where he supposedly established his “pirate kingdom.” The earliest known written mention of José Gaspar was a short biography included in an early 1900s promotional brochure for the Gasparilla Inn on Gasparilla Island at Charlotte Harbor.
José Gaspar’s legend is celebrated in Tampa, Florida during the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which was first held in 1904.
The Pirate Life
We like to think of a pirate crew as being jolly fellows, out for a good time, drinking rum to excess and then sleeping it off with abandon. But the Golden Age of Piracy was an age of wooden ships, and wooden ships need taking care of, especially in a tropical climate.
About every six weeks to three months, the pirates “stopped to clean” the bottom of the ship, the proper name for the task was “careening,” and doing so took quite a lot of work. First, a safe harbor had to be found, far from the prying eyes of the authorities, because the pirates would be effectively helpless for the duration. A spot with fresh water, fruit trees, and wild game was ideal.
Next the vessel had to be lightened. This was done by putting everything in it, piece by piece, into the longboat, and rowing it to shore. There it was unloaded, so the boat could go back for more. Soon the island’s shore would be stacked with crates and barrels.
Then long, heavy ropes were run from the ship to the land, and the pirates went to work. Using nothing more than the strength of human bodies, they dragged their entire ship onto dry land. Of course, this was very difficult, but they had a few tricks to aid them – a beach with a long, gentle slope would have been selected & the work would be done at high tide, with the ocean helping. Then, as the water retreated at low tide, more of the boat would be out of the water.
The pirates were removing barnacles, seaweed and other marine growths. An uncleaned hull could be dragging tons of shells, and hundreds of yards of trailing seaweed. Such things could cut a ship’s speed in half. Pirates depended on speed, both to catch their prey and to escape from Navy ships.
Another thing that drove the pirates to clean so carefully was a the common shipworm, which was not actually a worm at all, but a saltwater clam. But its home was on floating wood, and in the age of wooden ships it was a plague like no other. Shipworms dug into the hulls of ships and turned them into honeycombs, so riddled with holes that they could be torn apart by a man’s hands, making it a floating coffin, constantly leaking, delicate enough to break apart at the slightest stress from wind or water.
A universal practice was the after-careening party. With the ship back in the water, work turned to gathering fresh provisions… shooting birds, hunting for wild pigs or goats, picking fruit and peppers. Sometimes the party lasted for days. In fact, one pirate party, along a particularly popular stretch of beach in the Carolinas, is said to have gone on for months.
The Pirate Captain
Naval captains had the sole authority to look after all the things that concern the affairs of their ship whereas a Pirate Captain’s authority was limited to leading and commanding the ship during battle, looting and chasing enemy vessels, the rest was democratic. No special privileges were attached to being a pirate captain, except a bigger portion of the loot and perhaps better living conditions.
There were lots of jobs on a pirate ship that needed to be attended to in order for the safe and successful voyages that would lead to their great treasures and battles.
Best Jobs on a Pirate Ship
The privileges of a pirate captain make it the best job by far on the pirate ship, although not without its risks. A captain who did not lead his pirates successfully could find himself mutinied, marooned or demoted by his fellow pirate crew and only had absolute authority during battle.
The second best job on a pirate ship was the quartermaster, who would deal with punishments and discipline, including punishing the captain if he stepped out of line. The quartermaster represented the other pirates, taking their issues to the attention of the captain. He would also be the one to take control of any vessels won in battle, becoming his own captain.
The boatswain was one of the most important jobs on a pirate ship and was in charge, like a general manager. The privileges of his position were that he was also in charge of the supplies, so he would be well fed and respected by others.
Worst Jobs on a Pirate Ship
In most cases it would be the carpenter who had the harsh task of surgeon on a pirate ship when it came to amputations. His skills with a saw would come in handy after battles.
Cabin boys were treated like servants on pirate ships and naval ships alike. Tending to the needs of the pirates and officers was a 24 hour job.
This was a dangerous and tiring job during battle. The powder monkeys would run from below deck taking gunpowder to the cannon crews during times of battle.
Mopping the decks was a daily chore and could be particularly dangerous during treacherous weather. Swabs were the lowest rank on a pirate ship and a job that most wished to avoid.
Happy Labor Day!
Where to sell me goods?
Pirates needed a place to sell the goods they plundered, and there were plenty of ports, pirate and otherwise, that encouraged pirate trade. Often pirates were sanctioned by their home countries, like the English Privateer, and their “letter of marque” gave them the legal right to capture ships from enemy nations. With this, they could legally sell their booty to their homeports. Privateering, which was similar to today’s version of military contractors, “spurred the growth of Atlantic cities from Charleston to Dunkirk.” Non-nation pirates had no shortage of middlemen and smugglers who would take the goods off their hands and integrate it into the local economy.
The Pirate Code
Pirate code, pirate articles, or articles of agreement were a code of conduct for governing pirates. A group of sailors, on turning pirate, would draw up their own code or articles, which provided rules for discipline, division of stolen goods, and compensation for injured pirates.
Nine complete or nearly complete sets of piratical articles have survived, chiefly from Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, first published in 1724, and from records kept by Admiralty Court proceedings at the trials of pirates. A partial code from Henry Morgan is preserved in Alexandre Exquemelin’s 1678 book The Buccaneers of America. Many other pirates are known to have had articles; the late-17th century Articles of George Cusack and Nicholas Clough have also survived intact.
Part of the reason that few pirate articles have survived is that pirates on the verge of capture or surrender often burned their articles or threw them overboard to prevent the papers being used against them at trial.
Louis Michel Aury
Louis Michel Aury was a scoundrel born in Paris and as a young man served in the French Navy. He proceeded to work on privateer ships where he accumulated enough wealth to become the master of his own vessel.
Aury headed to Amelia Island, joining pirates Gregor MacGregor and his lieutenants, Ruggles Hubbard and Jared Irwin. MacGregor, without fund for his men and munitions, left on September 4, 1817, leaving Amelia Island in the hands of Hubbard and Irwin. Hubbard and Irwin welcomed Aury, who negotiated with MacGregor’s lieutenants and it was then that Amelia Island was annexed to the Republic of Mexico in September of 1817 and its flag was raised over Fort San Carlos.
Aury surrendered Amelia Island to American forces under the command of Commodore J.D. Henley and Major James Bankhead on December 23, 1817. Aury remained over two months as an unwelcome guest; Bankhead occupied Fernandina and President James Monroe vowed to hold it “in trust for Spain”. This episode in Florida’s history became known as the Amelia Island Affair.
Scottish mercenary, Gregor MacGregor, was also a pirate. It was June of 1817 when MacGregor and his group of 55 men seized Amelia Island at Fort San Carlos. MacGregor and his group are credited with freeing Amelia Island from Spanish rule, hoisting the pirate flag, the “Green Cross of Florida”.
Fort San Carlos was located on the northwestern side of the island with panoramic views of the Amelia River and the Fernandina harbor. The site of Fort San Carlos, called Old Town now, was home to the only settlement on the island – the village of Fernandina. Located in Old Town is Plaza San Carlos (Fernandina Plaza) the most historic site on Amelia Island.
It is reported that MacGregor wasn’t a wealthy pirate and his love affair with Amelia Island was short-lived, ending in the fall of 1817.
Buried Pirate booty on Amelia Island
According to local legend, a buried pirate booty lays unclaimed somewhere in the historic downtown Fernandina Beach. It is marked by a chain hanging from a big oak tree (called the money tree by locals). People have claimed to see the chain on a tree, but when they go back to the place with a shovel, the tree and chain are nowhere to be found.
The Child Pirate
We mostly think of pirates as grizzled old men, but in reality, most of them were probably in their ’20s (with exceptions, of course). Lots of them were guys who had been merchant and navy sailors who couldn’t make a living based on that salary, and the life of a pirate actually offered more freedom and democracy as well.
There’s one very notable exception – John King, who was about nine years old when he joined the crew of the Whydah. He was a passenger on the sloop Bonetta when it was captured by the Whydah crew and he demanded to join them. They said no, and his mother said no, so he threatened to kill himself. They relented, little John became a pirate, and he sank with the Whydah less than a year later. A small shoe, stocking, and leg bone were recovered from the ship’s wreckage that seem to back the story of the young pirate.
The Pirate Outfit
Much of the clothing worn by pirates was developed through necessity and befitted the lifestyle of a pirate seaman.
Bright, miss-matched colors were refereed to as motley clothing.
A bandana was worn to kept the sweat out of the pirate’s eyes.
Pirate captains sometimes wore the tri-cornered hat made of various materials including leather.
Pirates often wore knitted caps called Monmouth caps.
The doublet or coat was an expensive item of pirate clothing.
A waistcoat and scarves were flamboyant additions to pirate clothing.
Tight fitting drawers were worn to allow for the difficult tasks of a pirate.
Woolen stockings were worn as practical apparel, and silk for land use.
The puffed sleeved shirts were mostly suited to pirate clothing on land.
Gold Hoop Earrings were a sign of wealth but also believed to serve a practical purpose in easing sea sickness by applying pressure to ear lobes!
Bracelets, chains, pins and pendants of gold, silver, precious jewels and pearls also expressed wealth.
A sash or baldric made of fine fabrics, was sometimes overlaid with a leather sash to take the weight of pirate weapons.
Braids and ribbons adorned various elements of pirate clothing but were also used to braid a pirate beard or hair.
Pirate Boots ranged from boot covers, to Bucket boots up to thigh-high boots, Pirate seamen often went barefoot – a practical decision when a task might include ‘swabbing the deck.
Wide belts were worn around the waist and diagonally across the shoulder in order to take the weight of pirate weapons.
Ornate buckles were used to adorn pirate belts and shoes.
Fancy buttons were a decorative addition to pirate clothing.
Wigs, stolen or purpose made, were often favored by Pirate captains.
The Golden Age of Piracy
Piracy arose out of conflicts over trade and colonization among rival European powers of the time, including the empires of Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, and France. Most pirates in this era were of Welsh, English, Dutch, Irish, and French origin. Many pirates came from poorer urban areas in search of a way to make money and reprieve. London in particular was known for high unemployment, crowding, and poverty which drove people to piracy. Piracy also offered power and quick riches.
Histories of piracy often subdivide the Golden Age of Piracy into three periods:
1. The buccaneering period (approximately 1650 to 1680), characterized by Anglo-French seamen based in Jamaica and Tortuga attacking Spanish colonies, and shipping in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific.
2. The Pirate Round (1690s), associated with long-distance voyages from the Americas to rob Muslim and East India Company targets in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.
3. The post-Spanish Succession period (1715 to 1726), when Anglo-American sailors and privateers left unemployed by the end of the War of the Spanish Succession turned en masse to piracy in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, the North American eastern seaboard, and the West African coast.
Colonists in British North America were not allowed to mint money of their own, even though they often ran out of English coins to use in day-to-day business. Instead, they resorted to using whatever coinage they could get their hands on. The most common coin used during this time was the silver Spanish dollar, which was worth 8 “reales,” a unit of currency in Spain.
Back then, coins were valued by their actual weight in silver or gold, not just on what they looked like. Spanish coins were preferred over other currency because they had a milled, or patterned, edge. It was expected that, to make change, they literally cut the coins into 8 pieces or “bits.” Hence, the British called the Spanish dollar a “Piece of Eight,” and when they said something cost “two bits,” they meant it cost a quarter of a dollar.
In their quest for treasure, pirates were after silver and gold coins, most of which were silver Pieces of Eight and the 32-reale gold doubloon (a gold coin worth approximately 4 Spanish dollars or 32 reales).
The Whydah Gally
The Whydah Gally (commonly known simply as the Whydah) was a fully rigged galley ship that was originally built as a passenger, cargo, and slave ship. On the return leg of her maiden voyage of the triangle trade, Whydah Gally was captured by the pirate Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy, beginning a new role in the Golden Age of Piracy.
Bellamy sailed the Whydah up the coast of colonial America, capturing other ships as he went along. On 26 April 1717, the Whydah was caught in a violent storm and wrecked off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Only two of Whydah Gally’s crew survived, along with seven others who were on a sloop captured by Bellamy earlier that day. Six of the nine survivors were hanged, two who had been forced into piracy were freed, and one Indian crewman was sold into slavery.
Whydah Gally and her treasure of captured pirate gold eluded discovery for over 260 years until 1984, when the wreck was found off the coast of Cape Cod, buried under 10 ft (3 m) to 50 ft (15 m) feet of sand, in depths ranging from 16 ft (5 m) to 30 ft (9 m) feet deep, spread for four miles, parallel to the Cape’s easternmost coast. With the discovery of the ship’s bell in 1985 and a small brass placard in 2013, both inscribed with the ship’s name and maiden voyage date, Whydah Gally is the only fully authenticated Golden Age pirate shipwreck ever discovered.
Piracy in the Bahamas
The era of piracy in the Bahamas began in 1696 when the privateer Henry Every brought his ship the Fancy loaded with loot from plundering Indian Empire trade ships into Nassau harbour. Pirates became increasingly powerful and the era of true pirate control occurred when a combined Franco-Spanish fleet attacked Nassau in 1703 and again in 1706. The island was effectively abandoned by many of its settlers and left without any English government presence. Nassau was then taken over by English privateers.
“The Republic of Pirates” was formed and was the base of a loose confederacy run by privateers-turned-pirates in Nassau on New Providence island in the Bahamas for about eleven years from 1706 until 1718. While it was not republic in a formal sense, it was governed by an informal pirate code, which dictated that the crews of the Republic would vote on the leadership of their ships and treat other pirate crews with civility.
The “Republic of Pirates”
The “Republic of Pirates” in the Bahamas was dominated by two famous pirates who were bitter rivals – Benjamin Hornigold and Henry Jennings.
Hornigold was mentor to pirates such as the infamous Edward Teach, known as “Blackbeard”, along with Sam Bellamy and Stede Bonnet.
Jennings was mentor to Charles Vane, “Calico” Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read.
Despite their rivalries, the pirates formed themselves into the “Flying Gang” and quickly became infamous for their exploits. The Governor of Bermuda stated that there were over 1,000 pirates in Nassau at that time and that they greatly outnumbered the 100 inhabitants of the city.
Blackbeard was later voted by the pirates of Nassau to be their “Magistrate” and to be in command of their “Republic” and enforce law and order as he saw fit.
Practice Practice Practice
Pirates needed to keep their skills sharp, and if they had extra ammunition then practice was one of the common ways to have fun! For basic arms practice, they could set up targets on the ship and shoot. However, if they had the time pirates would pull out the big guns, their cannons: They would let drift a target in the water – anything that could float would usually do – and practice aiming and firing their cannons so they would be able to sight distances and quickly fire when a real battle came along.
Pirates often came from all different kinds of social levels, representing a wide range of education (or no education at all). But the best pirate crews were the smartest and most learned, so it became quite common for more educated pirates to spend their downtime teaching others new skills. A pirate who was able to read, for example, might have spent his time teaching illiterate pirates how to read or write.
Menu at sea
Pirates had a special menu suited to life at sea. Pirates didn’t have refrigerators on their ships, and so they needed a special menu suitable for life at sea. That means that they brought food onboard that wouldn’t rot right away and relied on cured meats and fermented vegetables. They might have also kept animals that could provide the crew with milk, eggs, and, ultimately, fresh meat.
Pirates had extensive networks on land that kept them in touch with the outside world. They had a mail system of sorts (ships ferrying letters back and forth) that enabled them to communicate with relatives, and even a commuter service to take “retiring” pirates from their famous haunts to more mundane lives in America.
Most larger pirate ships were made of cedar and oak. They had a raised deck near the bow called a forecastle and a higher deck near the stern called the sterncastle. The deck on top of the sterncastle was called the quarterdeck. This was where the helm or the wheel was located. Most navigational decisions were made on the quarterdeck. Just under the quarterdeck were the captain’s cabin and officer’s quarters.
The gun deck was just beneath the ship’s main deck. This was where the cannon were located.
Pirate Ships part 2
During the era of buccaneers and the Golden Age of Piracy (1690-1725), pirates in the Caribbean adapted cargo vessels for their own use. Captured ships were often turned into pirate ships. The best pirate ships were fast enough to catch or escape from powerful enemies.
Smaller, lighter ships like sloops, brigantines, or schooners were preferred.
Sloops were the most common ships in Caribbean waters in the 17th and 18th centuries. The name was used to describe a single-masted craft with a large spread of sail. They were fast and highly maneuverable, carrying a crew of 75 men and 14 small cannon.
Brigantines were two-masted ships in use for coastal trading in American waters. The foremasts carried square-rigged sails, while the mainmasts carried a fore-and-aft-rigged mainsail and square-rigged top sail. They were up to 80 feet long and could carry 100 men and 12 small cannon.
Pirates of Ireland
Did you know? Not only did Ireland have a plenitude of pirates and buccaneers by the boatload…but also, for one era in history, Ireland was Pirate Central. Buccaneers arrived in large armadas and ruled over an alternative economy where the only acceptable coins were pieces of eight.
In fact, around 400AD, the most famous captive of Irish pirates was St Patrick – and nearly 1,400 years later, in 1780, privateers like Luke Ryan were still ravaging British shipping in aid of America’s War of Independence.
Buccaneers like Anne Bonny from Kinsale, George Cusack from Meath and Peter Roach from Cork sailed west to terrorize the waters off America.
The Ouzel Galley was a merchant ship that disappeared after leaving Ringsend and was declared lost. Five years later, it returned laden down with pirate treasure. Whether its crewmen were the victims of pirates, or were pirates themselves, was a question never resolved – and the “puzzle of the Ouzel” remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of Ireland’s Pirate Trail.
Piracy in Ireland roared unabated for at least 14 centuries of our recorded history, so, when ARRR-ish eyes are smiling, trouble might just be brewing!
The Jolly Roger
The Jolly Roger is commonly shown as a white skull and crossbones on a black background, even though very few captains used this design on their ships.
Really it was the red flag you had to worry about. If a ship approached flying a red flag with an hourglass on it then you’d know you were in trouble as red meant ‘give no quarter’ and the hourglass basically meant your time on earth was about to run out.
Women were not allowed on board pirate ships because many women of the time were unable to perform the physically demanding tasks required of the crew. Additionally, women were often regarded as bad luck among pirates – it was feared that the male members of the crew would argue and fight over the women. On many ships, women (as well as young boys) were prohibited by the ship’s contract, which all crew members were required to sign. However, some wanted the freedom and adventure of pirate life.
Mary Read and Anne Bonny joined the pirate crew of John “Calico Jack” Rackham. This fearsome duo dressed as men and fought fiercely – female pirates disguised themselves in loose pirate clothes and carried the cutlass, a short, broad sword that was good for fights on deck (long swords could tangle in a ship’s ropes).
Many other women joined pirate ships, from Charlotte de Berry who commanded a ship off the African coast in the 17th century, to Ching Shih, who led a pirate fleet in the China Seas.
Pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy were generally very superstitious. Fears and superstitions often played a big part in behavior and habits on board. For example, many pirates believed that whistling on a ship was bad luck. Supposedly, if you whistled while on board, the wind would consider it a challenge and could send unlucky winds your way which could mean disaster when at sea.
When Captain Kidd was captured (and before he was hanged in 1701), he claimed to have left behind a buried treasure. In 2015, hundreds of years later, a group of archaeologists reportedly believe they have located a part of the missing riches. Off the coast of Madagascar in the area of Saint Marie Island, divers found a 121-pound bar of silver, which may be just a small part of the pirate’s booty.
Black Sam Bellamy
Black Sam Bellamy might have been a pirate, but he considered himself the “Robin Hood of the Sea.” According to the New England Historical Society, “Black Sam Bellamy became the wealthiest pirate in history not because of greed but because of anger—anger at the English system that exploited poor country boys and sailors like him.”
Along with his crew being a democracy and there being no record of the pirate ever killing a captive, “in a famous speech attributed to Bellamy, he scorned the wealthy merchants he plundered: ‘They rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage.”
To be Marooned
One of the most notoriously chilling acts associated with pirates is the fact that they would maroon troublesome crewmembers on a deserted island. If someone onboard was causing issues, they would be deposited on an uninhabited island and left to die, according to National Geographic. And just like in the movies, they would often be given a gun with a single shot so that they could end things quickly.
Where to Sleep?
When they weren’t attacking other ships or keeping watch, pirates needed to get some sleep. And while higher-ranking officers were usually lucky enough to enjoy private quarters, the rest of the crew slept in hammocks below deck. Hammocks were ideal since they would rock and sway with the ship, making for an easier night’s rest.
Pirates and Parrots
Pirates and their Earrings
When pirates accessorized with earrings, they weren’t just trying to be fashionable. Sailors believed that applying pressure to the earlobe would ward off seasickness. In many cases, the pirates would accomplish this by popping on an earring. Unfortunately, though your inner ears affect your sense of balance, and putting earrings in your earlobes does nothing to mitigate seasickness.
Francis Drake, nicknamed “my pirate” by Queen Elizabeth I, was among the so-called “Sea Dog” privateers licensed by the English government to attack Spanish shipping. Drake sailed on his most famous voyage from 1577 to 1580, becoming the first English captain to circumnavigate the globe. On that same trip he lost four of his five boats, executed a subordinate for allegedly plotting a mutiny, raided various Spanish ports and captured a Spanish vessel loaded with treasure. A delighted Queen Elizabeth immediately knighted him upon his return. Eight years later, Drake helped defeat the Spanish Armada.
Spanish Frigate Hermione
As a way to prevent desertion and increase morale, the Royal Navy changed the rules so that plunder from captured ships went to the captors rather than the Crown. This led to some massive financial windfalls, the biggest of which was the capture of the Spanish frigate Hermione, which resulted in each individual seaman netting £485 ($1.4 million today) with the two responsible captains receiving £65,000 each ($188 million today). So, essentially, the Royal Navy legitimized piracy. Arrrr!
Queen Anne’s Revenge
Blackbeard’s Ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge went aground in 1718 just offshore from Beaufort, SC. A few months after the grounding, Blackbeard was killed in a battle with British naval forces in the Pamlico Sound. The wreck was found off the coast of North Carolina in 1996 by Intersal Inc., private salvagers based in Palm Bay, Florida. Thirty-one cannons and 250,000 artifacts have been recovered.
Be my Pirate Valentine
Avast, Ye Scurvy Dogs! Even pirates need a bit o’ love! The celebration of Valentine’s Day has been around since Roman times in the form of Lupercalia and the 14th February was officially designated the day for remembering St Valentine by Pope Gelasius in the 5th Century.
But it was not until the 15th Century that people began to associate the day with romance. Chaucer wrote about birds choosing their mates on 14th February as early as 1381 and the oldest existing Valentine poem was one written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife.
What has this to do with pirates ye be askin’?
Well, pirates and privateers did celebrate Valentine’s Day and there are certainly some good historical romances associated with famous pirates.
In his book – ‘The Sea Rover’s Practice – Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730’, Benerson Little (an historical consultant for Black Sails tv series) talks about how high days, holidays, celebrations and rites of passage were celebrated and regarded as a way of bonding the crew closer together.
‘accompanied invariably by much drinking and often by the firing of volleys of great guns or small arms,’
Happy Valentine’s Day from your Official Ambassadors of Good Will, the Fernandina Pirates Club! Arrr you going to be our Valentine!?!?!
Corsairs (French: corsaire) were privateers, authorized to conduct raids on shipping of a nation at war with France, on behalf of the French crown. Seized vessels and cargo were sold at auction, with the corsair captain entitled to a portion of the proceeds. Although not French Navy personnel, corsairs were considered legitimate combatants in France (and allied nations), provided the commanding officer of the vessel was in possession of a valid letter of marque (lettre de marque or lettre de course, the latter giving corsairs their name), and the officers and crew conducted themselves according to contemporary admiralty law. By acting on behalf of the French Crown, if captured by the enemy, they could in principle claim treatment as prisoners of war, instead of being considered pirates. Because corsairs gained a swashbuckling reputation, the word “corsair” is also used generically as a more romantic or flamboyant way of referring to privateers, or even to pirates. The Barbary pirates of North Africa as well as the Ottoman Empire were sometimes called “Turkish corsairs”.
Pirates tended to be very superstitious – that is, they had a fear of the unknown and used it to explain misfortune (bad things that happened).
Living and working on a ship in the middle of the seven seas was a very dangerous job. Over time they invented stories and rules to help them believe they could avoid terrible fates.
Below are just some of the many superstitions of sailors and pirates.
Sharks-A shark following the ship is a sign that a death of a crew member was going to happen.
Dolphins-Dolphins swimming with the ship brings good luck.
Albatross-The seabirds were thought to carry the souls of dead sailors and it is considered bad luck to kill one. But if you saw one you had good luck.
No Whistling on Board-Sailors have long held the belief that whistling or singing into the wind will whistle up a storm.
Earrings-A pierced earlobe on a sailor meant that he had sailed around the world or had crossed the equator. Superstitious sailors wore gold hoop earrings because they believed it brought good fortune. Some even believed that the gold would prevent the wearer from drowning.
Manta Rays-Sailors believed these sea creatures could attach themselves to a ship’s anchor and drag her under the waves to Davy Jones’ Locker.
Davy Jones-Davy Jones is the evil spirit of the sea. He was one that leads the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, resting and waiting in the rigging before wild storms or shipwrecks and other disasters. He was there to welcome new sailors to their watery graves.
Davy Jones’ Locker-The bottom of the sea; the mythical resting place of drowned sailors and ships.