Many people know about pirates and their legend and lore. Many know about pirate terminology, but few know the origins of these words, and also how to properly place them in typical conversation or how to identify these terms as true or false in the world of entertainment.
Here are the basics:
Pirate: A pirate will attack any ship regardless of the ships nationality. A little fact about our little town of Pittsburgh, before the Pittsburgh Pirates were called the 'Pirates,' they were called the Alleghenies. In the 1880's and 1890's the owners of the Pirates would use very questionable tactics to sign players to play for Pittsburgh. Since Pittsburgh was known for the 3 Rivers, owners around the league coined the phrase Pirates.
Buccaneer: A French backwoodsman from the island of Haiti. During the Age of Exploration and the Colonial Era, this island was called, Hispaniola. The word Buccaneer is from the French word, 'Boucan.' This word is French for barbecue because of the way that the backwoodsmen would prepare and cook their meat. The most famous Buccaneer is the logo for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League. During the time of the Age of Exploration and Colonial Era, both Spain and France had territory in the state of Florida. The French Buccaneers would be stranded in Florida, and held a large hatred for the French in the region.
Privateer: A man or ship under contract to a government like England, France, Spain, and later the United States. The contract states that these men would stage attacks/raids on foreign ships that are in conflict with the bosses. This was done because during this time period, many of the European countries were in a type of Cold War status, in which they wanted to disrupt and bother their competition, but they did not wish to go to war over these shipping issues.
The Era of the Buccaneers were 1640-1690
Typically buccaneers were more like hunters/frontiersman than sailors. The Spanish disliked the Frenchmen and in 1630, they attacked the buccaneers in Tortuga. For the most part, this raid/attack was a failure. The surviving buccaneers moved to piracy over hunting because of the need for revenge over the Spanish.
The Golden Age of Piracy was 1690-1730
The Golden Age of Piracy created because the Era of the Buccaneers was ending. The major European powers of Britain and France were focusing on each other on international waters and they pushed towards privateering over lawlessness. Also, at this point of history, the Spanish were on the way down as a European power. Having a stranglehold on the New World since 1492, the Spanish managed their territories and wealth from the New World poorly.
What we know about Pirates
Many of the things we think we know about pirates, we really don't know. Most of what we believe we know is from the realm of entertainment, first through books and then later through movies all through the 20th century.
The most famous of all pirate books is Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883. This book is what people believe about pirates, the most famous may be how to find buried treasure; X marks the spot.
Surprisingly, the next famous pirate work was written in 1904 by J.M. Barrie. It's name is Peter Pan. Most people think of the Disney movie by the same name created a few decades after the original. From this, we get the Captain Hook, and the legend that pirates would place wooden legs and hooks to replace lost body parts.
During the early parts of the 1920's and 1930's many filmmakers would create films about pirates like Treasure Island, Captain Blood, The Black Pirate, The Sea Hawk, and the Black Swan. None of them really focused on historical accuracy, but the adventure of the open sea and the mentality of the pirates were created and replicated in the name of entertainment.
The History of Piracy
Historically, piracy has been part of the entire world. Even today, there are reports of pirates in various parts of the world. Reports of piracy have been found as early as the ancient Egyptians. Pirates of the Mediterranean Sea have roamed from the shores of the Middle East, to the Strait of Gibraltar. One of the most famous men in history was a victim of Piracy. Julius Caesar early in his military career was kidnapped and held for ransom. Pirates at this time would often kidnap Patricians of Rome for a larger payday. Caesar was treated very well, and promise that he would hunt these pirates down and kill them all, he did. During the Medieval period of Europe pirates attacked trade routes from Italy to all parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. The most famous pirates of the era were the Vikings. They classify as pirates because they would attack on sea and also land. Even the traditional pirates and buccaneers would attack targets on land as well as the sea. During the Late Middle Ages, the most dominant pirates were found on the northern coast of Africa, they were called the Barbary Pirates and they were most dominant during the 15th century. A counter group to the Islamic surge was created, the Knights of Malta. They were Christian pirates that attacked Muslim ships exclusively.
The Caribbean was the hot bed of pirate activity, however, pirates during the Age of Exploration would be found in both western and eastern Africa, and the Indian Ocean. The most commonly heard term is the Spanish Main. The Spanish Main is the region of the Caribbean Basin to the northern coast of South America. It also stretched from the Isthmus of Panama in the west to the eastern part of South America, specifically the mouth of the Orinoco River, and the island of Trinidad and Tobago. This was all Spanish territory. This region was attractive to the pirates because of the amount of gold and silver that was being transported to Europe.
The two most famous pirate bases were Port Royal and Tortuga. The earlier of the two ports was Tortuga. It is found in the northwest coast of Hispaniola, Haiti. It was named Tortuga because of the turtle shell shape. During the years of 1620-1670 buccaneers would use this as their hideout. After the Spanish attack, the major pirate base shifted to Port Royal. Port Royal is found in Jamaica. It was a perfect base because the pirates could see government ships come and they could leave in the opposite direction. Port Royal was created in fear of the Spanish attacking English pirates and privateers. Port Royal was a dangerous place, and in 1681 the Anti-Piracy Act scattered pirates all over the Caribbean. The final straw of Port Royal was in 1692 when an earthquake dropped half the town in the sea.
Where Did They Sail??
Most people that became pirates first started out sailors for their respective governments. Sailing for the royal navies was a very difficult life; many were pressed into service and hated their new profession. When they could get out, they got out. Ships were rarely sunk during a pirate raid. Pirates would try not to damage ships because pirates would high jack the ships when possible. Sailors of hijacked ships were given a choice to join, all then had to do was sign the book. If pirates were caught, many of the new pirates would state that they were forced to join or die. This would be done to avoid the death penalty.
Pirate ships were dirty and crowed. Many diseases were found below decks because of the dark, wet, warm conditions of the Caribbean. The diet of the pirates was very poor; many had to deal with diseases that were caused by the lack of vitamins and fresh fruits. The discipline on a pirate ship contributed to the lack of cleanliness and poor appearances. Living as a pirate was tough because sailing disasters would occur even when not attacking. The most common sailing death was falling off the lines of the sails in the ship, during hurricane season; many would die because of the nature of season. Here are some examples of pirate rules:
•1. Every man has an equal vote, equal provisions
•2. Theft of fellow sailors would be met with cutting ears and noses and also being put ashore
•3. No gambling on board
•4. No lights after 8:00
•5. All weapons will be worn at all times
•6. No women on board, death to violators
•7. Deserting the ship is cause of death
•8. No fighting on the ships
•9. Crippled pirates will be given compensation
10. Musicians are allowed to rest on Sunday
How To Be A Pirate
Types of Ships
Sloops: Small single masted crafts were fast and maneuverable. They had a shallow hull to increase their speed. Typically, there was a crew of 75 men and the sloop was able to hold 14 small cannon.
Schooners: Narrow hulls and a large spread of sails made them fast. They could sail 12 knots, or 22km per hour. Because of their narrow hull, they were able to hide in shallow water and then attack. Typically, the schooner would hold 75 men and 8 small cannon. The major disadvantage was a small hull which meant they couldn't steal money.
Brigantines: Larger craft, about 80 feet long. They could hold 100 men and hold about 12 small cannon.
John Bartholomew Roberts: Black Bart, England.
In a 30 month period, Black Bart captured over 400 prizes and controlled the American shipping lanes. He was able to push his influence from the Caribbean all the way up to New England and Newfoundland. He was able to capture French, English, and Dutch ships. He was also known for his good looks and fine dress. He was also seen as vicious and intimidating.
Captain Kidd, Scotland
Captain Kidd was mostly seen as a privateer instead of a pirate. First reports of him sailing independently came in 1689. He sailed from New York all the way to the Indian Ocean. He continued to raid for the crown in 1697. Unfortunately, politics placed him under the category of pirate. Captain Kidd, was upset by this and sailed to New England to clear his name in 1700. On the way it is rumored that he buried his treasure on the island of Long Island. Things did not go well in New England, he was transported to England and was held for trial. He was found guilty. On May 23, 1701 he was hung and then his body was placed in an iron cage to rot to show everybody that the crown was not going to tolerate piracy any more.
Sir Henry Morgan, England
Occupied Panama, Sir Francis Drake could not hold Panama. In 1664, sailed into Central America, 2 year voyage plundered many cities. Retired and lived in Jamaica. During 1667, the English and Spanish had a non-aggression pact, but Morgan was encouraged to work as a privateer. Half went to the British the other half to Morgan and his men. Dec. 1670, 2,000 English and French buccaneers and 33 ships go to Panama. July 1670: Spanish had to recognize English holdings in the Caribbean, stopping Piracy between the two. The English promoted Morgan to an admiral. He was 'arrested' in 1672, but during his time in London, he was knighted and made a lieutenant governor.
Edward Teach: Blackbeard, England
Worked as a privateer, but in 1714 during the peace, he was unemployed. In 1717, he commanded his own sloop, captured a French Slave Ship and renamed it the The Queen Anne's Revenge. With the Queen Anne’s Teach blockaded the city of Charlestown, South Carolina. He would place fuses in his beard, to intimidate the enemy. Blackbeard was hunted down by Lieutenant Maynard, in a battle in March 1719, he is beheaded.
Sir Francis Drake: England
At 29 Drake launched a one man war vs. the Spanish. He earned the name, El Dragon. Drake first sailed with a pirate name John Hawkins. Drake concentrated on raiding Spanish ports and capturing ships, it was like privateering for England. Drake captured the greatest treasure from the Spanish. He had a pirate fleet of 27 ships vs. the Spanish in 1595. In 1596, he dies of a fever and a national hero.
Pirate Legend and Lore
Black Cat: Carry the gale on their tails
Cutting nails or hair: Cutting nails were to enrage Neptune for making offerings to other gods in his domain
Drown: Never learned to swim, never mentioned at sea. Why fight the sea, it will win
Earrings: Believed gave them better eyesight, protected from drowning
No Flowers: Associated with death
Porpoise: Good luck to see one, bad luck to kill one
Rats: When escaping they would kill them because it meant the ship was sinking, and they wanted to prevent bad luck.
Davy Jones's Locker: Davy Jones is the name of the devil, his locker is the bottom of the sea
Flying Dutchman: Ship that eternally cannot dock, ghost ship
Mermaids: Sing to sailors and lure them to their death by crashing them against rocks.