One of the
most predominant myths about pirates is the belief that they were all a bunch of
evil men completely lacking in any moral standards or beliefs. This was simply
not true. Yes some pirates were rapists and murders, and some were truly
sadistic killers. But most pirates were not much different in their moral
beliefs then the other sailors of their time. Some worked as privateers and some
on military ships before becoming pirates. Furthermore, not all buccaneers
volunteered to serve as pirates of their choosing. Some were pressed men who
were forced into serving when their ships were captured by pirates. Other men
were abducted in ports and forced to join the pirates crew. (Note: Abducting
seamen in ports to serve aboard naval warships was also a common practice in the
military back then. As was the use of black slaves to do some of the back
breaking manual labor and dangerous tasks aboard ship.) Not to try and justify
their actions but in a world of poverty and little opportunity for most, some
found in the brutal life of piracy a risk worth taking.
The majority of these pirates were by nature rebellious and lazy.
However they took their work quite seriously, and in most cases before a
crew would sail off on a voyage, a set of written articles was drawn up
which every member of the ships company was expected to sign. These
articles regulated the distribution of plunder among the crew, the scale
of compensation for injuries received in battle, and set out the basic
rules for shipboard life and the punishments for those who broke the
rules. The written articles varied from one ship to another but most
were generally very similar. These articles were well needed as pirates
were tough and ruthless men, notorious for their foul language, and
prolonged bouts of drinking, which frequently led to quarrels and
violence. They came together in a rather uneasy partnership, attracted
by the lure of plunder and the desire for an easy
The word pirate simply means one who robs or plunders at sea. Piracy is a
term for sea-robbery. Reason tells us that pirates were no more than common
criminals, but some still see them as figures of romance. As they are associated
with daring deeds on the Spanish Main, with rakish black schooners and exotic
tropical islands and sea chests overflowing with gold and silver coin.
Over the years many stories have been told and fact has merged with fiction.
In reality seamen who resisted a pirate attack were commonly hacked to death and
thrown over the side. The plunder was not usually chests full of doubloons and
pieces of eight, but typically a few bales of silk and cotton, some barrels of
rum or tobacco, spare canvas for sail, carpentry and navigation tools, food or
medicine, and perhaps a half dozen slaves.
These were pirates or privateers who operated in the Mediterranean. The most
famous were the Barbary Corsairs from the Barbary Coast of North Africa who were
authorized by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries.
Some of these states even helped organize the pirates and the ones that operated
from them were called corsairs. Among these states were Morocco, Algiers, Tunis
One of the most famous Barbary corsairs was Barbarossa. Less well known were
the corsairs of Malta. They were sent out to loot shipping by the Knights of St.
John, a military order created during the crusades to fight the Muslims on
behalf of the Christian nations. At first these men were driven by religion but
after a while the rewards of piracy became to great.
The Barbary Corsairs intercepted ships traveling through the Strait of
Gibraltar or coming from the trading ports of Alexandria and Venice, swooping
down on the heavily laden merchantmen, in their swift galleys powered by oars
and sails. They looted their cargos, captured their passengers and crews, and
held them for ransom or sold them into slavery.
The term privateer could apply to an armed vessel, its captain or its crew.
Many of the pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy began their careers as
privateers. Privateers worked under letters of marque from the various countries
that used them to basically wage a form of economic warfare on there enemies.
Maritime nations made use of privateers in times of war as a cheap way of
attacking enemy shipping (saving the cost of building and maintaining a navy).
Usually the limits of the Marque were vague, leaving it up to the captain
and crew to determine what they could undertake. Privateers often worked beyond
the limits as detailed by their letter of Marque, many attacking neutral
countries as well as hostile nations. These men did the same kind of things as
pirates, but unlike pirates who were regarded by most as villains, they were
seen by some as patriots by their respective countries because they were only
suppose to attack hostile nations ships, and shared a part of their plunder with
their countries rulers.
When the various countries with interests in the New World were openly
competing for the riches found there, some men saw that it could be quite
rewarding becoming a privateer. But eventually most of these countries began to
turn away from the use of privateers as they made peace with there rivals, and
many of these men where unwilling to give up their wicked ways....and so began a
career in piracy.
Originally hunters of cattle and pigs on the island of Hispanola (now Haiti
and Dominica), buccaneers got their name from the French word boucan which means
barbeque. This was because of the way they barbequed their meat on grills.
Driven out by the Spanish, the hunters joined the groups of runaway slaves,
deserters and others who preyed on the ships of the hated Spanish. These
buccaneers called themselves "The Brethren of the Coast".
By the end of the 17th century the word buccaneer was being applied
generally to most of the pirates and privateers who had bases in the West
Indies. The buccaneers established their headquarters on the little island of
Tortuga. Later they used Jamaica as a base of operations. One of the most famous
buccaneers was Sir Henry Morgan. Under his command five hundred buccaneers from
Tortuga and one thousand buccaneers from Jamaica captured Panama in 1671.
Scallywags of Old
Captain Thomas Anstis
Captain Samuel Bellamy
Captain John Callice
Captain Peter Easton
Captain Edward England
Captain Henry Every
Captain William Kidd
Captain George Lowther
Captain Christopher Mings
Sir Henry Morgan
Captain Nathaniel North
Captain Jack Rackham
Captain Simon Simonson
Captain Thomas Tew
Captain Charles Vane
Captain Richard Worley