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Pirate FactsPirate Facts


  1. The Jolly Roger flag, with its black background and white skull and crossbones, was designed to be scary. Although this flag was not used by all pirates, it was  usually flown by those sailing in the Spanish Main.
  2. Pirates have been around since we built the first boats. The Roman general Julius Caesar was twice captured by a group of Mediterranean pirates.
  3. Some pirates believed that wearing pierced earrings would improve their eyesight.
  4. It is a fact that many pirates would have had eyepatches, peg legs, or hooks. Ships in the 17th and 18th century were extremely dangerous places to work, and sailors regularly lost limbs and eyes.
  5. Pirates will take over island ports and make them a safe haven for pirates (Ports like Port Royal, Jamaica or island of Tortuga).
  6. The Golden Age of Piracy, was from the early 17th to the mid-18th century.  The distinction between legitimate  privateer's and pirates wasn't entirely clear. Sir Francis Drake was more ruthless than most pirates, but sailed under the Queen's protection as a privateer. William Dampier (1651-1715) was a pirate, but his journals were rich in natural history and geographical detail that Charles Darwin would base his travels on them a century later.
  7. Galley pirate shipsAlmost all pirates stole their ships because they couldn’t afford to buy ships, the life of a pirate was short and rough. But once they had taken over a ship they quickly converted it for pirate life, this usually would mean making more room for the pirate sailors to live on board and strengthening the deck plates to hold the weight of the heavier cannons. Few pirates (or privateers) would sailed in galleons. Most used galleys (with banks of oars rather than sails). Galley's unlike the sailing ships that were their prey could be rowed against the wind and in any direction, making it easier to take over the larger galleons.
  8. There were up to eighty pirates per ship. In contrast, most English ships had only thirty men.
  9. A few  pirate ships were big; for example, Captain Bellamy's Whydah ship was 300 tons and had 28 guns.
  10. The legendary Calico Jack Rackham actually spent much of his career captaining his flagship that was nothing more than a fishing boat retrofitted with a few guns.
  11. Ships sailing on their own would often sail close to warships or join other convoys of ships to protect themselves from pirates. Since pirates could only attack one ship at a time, ships traveling in groups had a less of a chance of their ships  being attacked.
  12. Pirate Captain’s would change out of their expensive, flashy clothes if there was a chance they would be captured. They would just pretend they where only one of the crew, and not somebody important and hopefully escape.
  13. The captain (like Blackbeard or Henry Morgan) was, in fact, a battle leader for boarding ships and leading land raids. The ship’s pilot, the person who actually steered the ship, was the real captain. He received a share of booty equal to the captain.
  14. Hardly any pirate booty was actual treasure like gold and silver. Most of the loot was food, water, alcohol, weapons and clothing. Over one million people were also "pirated", during the 17th century, and sold into slaver.
  15. Pirates probably didn’t have talking parrots.
  16. Although pirates have been around since the 15th century, most pirating happened between 1690 and 1720 which is considered the Golden Age of Piracy.
  17. blackbeards castleOn the Caribbean island of St Thomas you will find a place called ‘Black Beard’s Castle’. It is believed that this is where the famous pirate spent many hours looking out for approaching ships.
  18. Pirates may have thrown men and women overboard, but no one was ever known to have “walked the plank”.
  19. Written accounts dating back to 1611 describe a person who brings bad luck to a ship as a “Jonah”. If a man was marked as a Jonah, he was doomed to be thrown overboard. If the trouble persisted, the pirates suspected they’d thrown the wrong man overboard and would sometimes toss the original accuser overboard to appease the ghost of the innocent man!

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  20. No one has ever found a real pirate’s buried treasure map. Pirates being never too far from death, tried to enjoy their money quickly. At any rate, there aren’t any maps around today, unless some are still cleverly hidden.
  21. The most important source of pirate lore is the 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates by a "Captain Charles Johnson" (No record of a captain by this name exists. Scholars believe it was probably written by Daniel Defoe). The other source of popular pirate myths was Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883).
  22. Pirate ships were orderly. Pirates required “law and order” to prevent their criminal enterprise from collapsing. So, they wrote “ a pirate's code” that laid down rules and provided punishments for disobeying them. These rules prohibited violence and theft among sea mates. And on some ships they prohibited gambling, restricted drinking, and even regulated smoking.
  23. Pirates would democratically elected their captains. On merchant ships, captains wielded authority, which some abused for personal benefit. To prevent this on pirate ships, they developed a democratic system of checks and balances for their leadership. If a pirate captain stepped out of line, his men could (and did) depose him from office. Pirates further checked their captains’ authority by separating his power. They elected another officer, called the quartermaster, who helped balance the captain’s command.
  24. A gang of Pirates from 1714 called the “Flying Gang” were the inspiration behind Jack Sparrow and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
  25. The Flying Gang included many of the most famous pirates in history, including Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy of Whydah fame, the "gentleman pirate" Stede Bonnet, the bombastic Charles Vane, Calico Jack Rackham, and the women pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny.
  26. The Flying Gang pirates were among history's most successful pirates. By their peak in 1718, the Royal Navy was afraid to encounter them at all. Several of the pirates were using ships as powerful as any warship the Navy had posted in the Americas, but the pirates had two or three time the manpower.
  27. Pirates believed that having women on board their ship was bad luck.
  28. Pirates also believed that whistling on a ship would cause the weather to turn stormy (as in ‘to whistle up a storm’).
  29. Lady Ching Shih, once a prostitute working  on a “flower boat,” (a floating brothel), became one of the most powerful pirates to have ever sailed the ocean blue. She commanded one of the most formidable pirate fleets in all of China during the early 1800s, with hundreds of ships under her command.
  30. Throughout history some women have always preferred knives to knitting needles. Anne Bonny went from a privileged daughter of a rich plantation owner to a ruthless pirate. Not wanting to live the “subservient” life expected by women during her day, Anne won over the respect of her pirate crewmembers with her murderous and capable ways.
  31. Mary Read was one of the two famous female pirates in history, along with Anne Bonny. Both worked with a pirate named "Calico Jack" Rackham.

    Mary was born in London, England and had spent most her life dressed up as a man. Even her mother dressed her up as a boy. Mary was travelling on a ship when it was captured by John Rackham and she became a member of his crew as a pirate.

  32. Anne and Mary became fast friends, and were the first in battle and the first to volunteer in any boarding parties. They became well respected by their crew for their ferociousness, and were feared as well for their unpredictability.

  33. “Davy Jones' Locker” is real nautical term that dates back to the 1700s. Davy Jones was sailor slang for the Devil. To send someone to Davy Jones meant killing the individual. Being “sent to Davy Jones Locker” implied that you were not going to heaven.
  34. Every pirate ship had it’s own Code of Conduct specified by the pirate captain. While stealing was the pirate’s job, stealing amongst shipmates was severely punished. Some boats had a “zero tolerance” policy for internal theft that left you dead or marooned if caught.
  35. Long after the "Golden Age" of piracy had ended in the Caribbean, piracy still lived on in the freshwater ports of the United States. Great Lakes pirates like the infamous Roaring Dan Seavy plundered whiskey, timber, and venison instead of rum and gold. Dan was the only man ever arrested for piracy on the Great Lakes. Seavey's crew practiced a form of piracy known as "moon cussing." This involved setting up false lights to fool the crews of other vessels. Sailors would see the lights and think they were sailing into a safe port instead they would find themselves running aground. Seavey's ship would emerge from hiding, at which point Seavey and his gang would kill everyone on board and steal the unlucky ship's cargo.
  36. There are still some pirates around today, mostly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Worldwide losses from piracy are estimated at between $13 and $16 billion US dollars per year. These days pirates operate by speedboat and zodiac


Why did pirates wear earrings?

Earrings were used by seamen, especially warriors such as pirates, for very practical reasons and not for decoration.


  1. Some pirates believed that wearing an earring would improve or cure bad eyesight, they believed that the precious metals in an earring possessed magical healing powers (Much like the Q-Ray bracelets people where).
  2. They were given to young sailors as a symbol of their first crossing of the equator, and their purpose was to protect the eardrums during battle.
  3. The pirates, especially hose who fired the ships’ cannons during closed combat with the enemy, dangled wads of wax from their earrings to use as earplugs.
  4. But the most popular and supported reason is it covered the cost of the burial. Earrings made of silver or gold would be worth enough to pay for a sailor's funeral if his body washed ashore. It is said that some pirates even engraved the name of their home port on the inside of the earring so that their bodies could be sent to their families for a proper burial. So if a man died on a ship, the earrings would help to cover the cost of transporting the body home so that he wouldn't be buried at sea or on foreign soil.


Pirates' Articles

The articles

Many of the pirates used to have strict rules of conduct. Usually such rules were written down in articles and signed by every member of the crew. These rules usually included a description of how the spoils from a succesful attack were to be divided. In the articles the punishment for breaking one or more of these rules was also laid down. These were usually very harsh punishments.


Example 1

The Articles of Bartholomew Roberts' Crew

  1. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  2. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
  3. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
  4. The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
  5. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
  7. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  8. None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draweth first blood shall be declared the victor.
  9. No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of f1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
  10. The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
  11. The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only."

Example 2

The Articles of Captain George Lowther, & His Company

  1. The Captain is to have two full Shares; the Master is to have one Share and a half; ?he Doctor, Mate, Gunner & Boatswain, one Share and a quarter.
  2. He that shall be found Guilty of taking up any unlawful Weapon on Board the Privateer, or any Prize, by us taken, so as to strike or abuse one another, in any regard, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority of the Company shall think fit
  3. He that shall be found Guilty of Cowardize, in the Time of Engagement, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.
  4. If any Gold, Jewels, Silver, &c. be found on Board of any Prize or Prizes, to the value of a Piece of Eight; & the Finder do not deliver it to the Quarter-Master, in the Space of 24 Hours, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority shall think fit.
  5. He that is found Guilty of Gaming, or Defrauding another to the Value of a Shilling, shall suffer what Punishment the Captain and Majority of the Company shall think fit.
  6. He that shall have the Misfortune to lose a Limb, in time of Engagement, shall have the sum of one hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling, and remain with the Company as long as he shall think fit.
  7. Good Quarters be given when called for.
  8. He that sees a Sail first, shall have the best Pistol, or Small-Arm, on Board her.


Example 3

The Articles on Board the Revenge - Captain John Phillips's


  1. Every Man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full Share and a half in all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain and Gunner shall have one Share and quarter.
  2. If any Man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be marroon'd, with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm, and Shot.
  3. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marroon'd or shot.
  4. If at any Time we should meet another Marroner that Man that shall sign his Articles without the Consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.
  5. That Man that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses's Law (that is, 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.
  6. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a Cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.
  7. That Man that shall not kep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.
  8. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight; if a Limb, 800.
  9. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.


Famous Pirate Ships


Famous Pirate Ships

Type of Ship Guns & Crew

Captains of the Pirate Ships

Queen Anne's Revenge guineyman 40 cannons & 200 men Edward Teach ( Blackbeard )
Adventure Galley merchant 34 cannons & 150 men Captain Kidd
The Revenge merchant 20 cannons Captain John Gow
The William Sloop 6 cannons John Rackham ( Calico Jack ),
Anne Bonney &Mary Reade
Victory Galley Unknown Edward England
Fancy Unknown 34 cannons & 180 men Edward England
Fancy Man of War 49 cannons & 150 men Henry Every ( Long Ben )
Royal James Sloop Unknown Ignatius Pell
Royal Fortune Frigate 42 Cannons Bartholomew Roberts ( Black Bart )
Great Fortune Unknown 26 Cannons Bartholomew Roberts ( Black Bart )
Great Ranger Warship 32 Cannons Bartholomew Roberts ( Black Bart )
Amity Unknown Unknown Thomas Tew
Liberty Unknown Unknown Thomas Tew
Delivery Unknown 16 cannons & 50 men George Lowther Delivery
The Rising Sun Unknown 35 cannons & 135 men William Moody
The Ranger Sloop 10 cannons & 60 men Charles Vane & George Lowther
Margaret Unknown Unknown Samuel Burgess




The History of Pirates

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