We see a lot of pirates in Hollywood movies. From the likes of Captain Hook from Peter Pan and Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, we can assume that maybe pirates act or look like this. But what do real pirates really look like? For some, they would portray pirates as violent people whose aim in life was to rape, steal, and rob people. While some other portray them as men who were unwilling to live a life that the government had offered. That’s why they spent so much time on the sea with no money in their pockets. They were considered rebels at their time, living by their own rules in the middle of the sea.
Private or Privateer?
It’s important to note the difference between a pirate and a privateer since the distinction between the two is sometimes overlooked. One example of a privateer is Captain Henry Morgan. During the 17th century, Morgan has done a lot of things such as harassing the Spanish navy in the Caribbean, hoarding Spanish silver and created many widows back in Spain. He also become an agent of the British government. As a privateer, the English Crown granted him a letter of marque that permitted him to commit piracy acts against any and all Spanish ships without fear of repercussion from England. This results to an agreement that gave England an agent of atrocity in the Caribbean, which allows Morgan to have a fair share of loot from the ships he captured.
That’s how a privateer works. While pirates on the other hand, had no relationship with the government and only works by their own desires. A pirate’s biggest authority is only their ship. But it’s important to note that some privateers have turned into pirates during times of peace when there were no more loot to be obtained.
Becoming a Pirate
Transforming from a law-abiding citizen into a pirate is a tough choice. But what motivates some people before to choose to live a life sailing through the sea? Becoming a pirate must have years of sailing experience, either as a navy sailor or a merchant mariner. Life at the sea was filled with hardship, as rotting rations, insufficient pay, and a lot of workload to do has pushed many sailors to their limits. Also, once a merchant or naval vessel was seized by pirates, the captain would offer a deal to the captured crew if some of them would like to join them. And apparently, there are takers. The new recruits will have an equal share of loot from their captured vessels and they’re free from any form of government regulations. In the long run, the life of a pirate for some of these men offered freedom, even though they had to sacrifice in order to obtain it.
The Rules of a Pirate
Life as a pirate is disparate from being a navy sailor or a merchant marine. But there were still rules and regulations to follow in order to stay. A lot of different pirate codes existed depending on what the captain had in mind. If you fail to follow these rules, your share of rations will probably be deducted or you’ll end up being marooned on a deserted island. Some common characteristic of pirate codes includes sharing of loot, pirates who suffer from injury must be compensated, and punishment for improper conduct. Below, we’re going to take a look at the pirate codes that’s made by Captain Bartholomew Roberts.
- Every man has a vote in affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity (not an uncommon thing among them) makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.
- Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because, (over and above their proper share) they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to the value of a dollar in plate, jewels, or money, marooning was their punishment. If the robbery was only betwixt one another, they contented themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that was guilty, and set him on shore, not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere, where he was sure to encounter hardships.
III. No person to game at cards or dice for money.
- The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour still remained inclined for drinking, they were to do it on the open deck.
- To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service.
- No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man were to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to sea, disguised, he was to suffer death; (so that when any fell into their hands, as it chanced in the Onslow, they put a sentinel immediately over her to prevent ill consequences from so dangerous an instrument of division and quarrel; but then here lies the roguery; they contend who shall be sentinel, which happens generally to one of the greatest bullies, who, to secure the lady’s virtue, will let none lie with her but himself.)
VII. To desert the ship or their quarters in battle, was punished with death or marooning.
VIII. No striking one another on board, but every man’s quarrels to be ended on shore, at sword and pistol. (The quarter-master of the ship, when the parties will not come to any reconciliation, accompanies them on shore with what assistance he thinks proper, and turns the disputant back to back, at so many paces distance; at the word of command, they turn and fire immediately, (or else the piece is knocked out of their hands). If both miss, they come to their cutlasses, and then he is declared the victor who draws the first blood.)
- No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.
- The captain and quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.
- The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six days and nights, none without special favour.
Our discussion about pirates will never be complete without mentioning the timeless symbol of Jolly Roger. The naming of the pirate flag originated from the French jolie rouge, which means “pretty red”. This refers to the red flags that’s used by maritime marauders during the golden age of piracy which portrays to fight until death. Some others just use a simple black flag that still carries the same meaning.
Other pirates had custom flags, like the skull crossed over bones that’s made by Edward Low. Some other flags had creepy yet interesting details, like the skeleton devil stabbing a heart using a spear that’s made by Blackbeard. The flag that’s made by Black Bart Robert shows a man and skeleton holding hourglasses, which portrays the pirate’s comfort with the prospect of his coming death.
Unlike the pirates we saw in movies, real pirates don’t raise their jolly rogers at all times. Most of the time, real pirates would raise false flags of a nation to prepare for a surprise tactic. A pirate ship will sail close to another ship that has a matching flag, and then raise their own flag at the last minute which creates a panic to the other ship that’s about to be attacked. At other times, some pirate flags would incite a crew to abandon their ship without executing a fight.