The real pirates of the Caribbean

Rodney
17th June 2013, 20:42
The golden age of the pirates of the Caribbean was 1700-1729.

The distinction between pirate, privateer, corsair and buccaneer were:

Pirate: One who committed high crimes or misdemeanors upon the high seas, rivers, creeks and other areas under the jurisdiction of the "Lord High Admiral of England and its Colonies".

Privateer: Licensed by the sovereign of England or France to attack and seize vessels and treasures of hostile nations - Letter of Marque and Reprisal - with portions of the value retained by the respective crown and investors.

Corsair: Pirates who were based and operated within the Mediterranean Sea.

Buccaneer: A 17th century blend of privateer and pirate. One who plundered the Caribbean and coastal Central and South America. Typical examples: Hawkins, Drake and Morgan, who sailed with or without prior approval of either the crown or a governor of a Caribbean colony, however, they would often receive post dated approval - once the treasures were counted and shared.

The romantic fascination with pirates began in the 17th - 18th century; books, poems and plays captured the public imagination. But the popularity became immense in the 19th century with such literary works and characters as R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island with Long John Silver; J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Captain Hook and the popularity of Gilbert's and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

The world was becoming ready for the movie version....And nothing could be further from the truth.

Pirate captains were not aristocrats or gentlemen forced by evil circumstances to seek refuge or replenish their fortunes upon the high seas, as portrayed by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. or Errol Flynn. Neither were they wigged fops in lace jabots; gold buttoned quarter coats and satin waistcoats. Nor were they compassionate father figures, much beloved by their fun loving crew as created by Hollywood and Ealing Studios, and portrayed by: Alistair Sym, Robert Newton, Burt Lancaster, Dustin Hoffman and of course Johnny Depp. Pirates were evil murders, who delighted in torture of the most foulest kind, lazy by nature, drunkards, and in short: scum!

A pirate vessel was a democratic institution, and all hands participated in the electoral process. The captain was an elected position - usually voted and awarded to the one with the most knowledge of navigation. As was the boats course; areas of operation, punishment procedures, and the division of spoils. The captain could just as easily be voted out if pickings were slim. In fact, every decision was by consensus.

Longevity was not a pirates lot. The average length of time for a pirate's career was 2 years. The average age was 27 years, and corresponded to seamen in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. Both legitimate and pirate seamanship required agility and stamina to work a sailing vessel in heavy seas and to fight.

The British Merchant Navy was the principle provider of the majority of pirate vessels and crews. The ethnic composition of the pirates were;

35% native born Englishmen. The majority coming from London and the balance from Bristol and the west counties.

25% Colonial Americans originating from Boston, Charleston, New York, and other east coast ports.

10% Scots.

8% Welsh.

2% Swedish, Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Additionally, there were as much as 30% Blacks, typically, runaway slaves from Jamaica, kept in bondage to perform the hard and dirty jobs: The manning of pumps, hauling on ropes, keening the hulls, and cleaning decks and bilges etc..

The typical formation of a pirate vessel and crew was by mutiny. Murder the Master and maroon or murder those deemed a threat or of little use to the pirate venture.

A navigator and carpenter were indispensable to a pirate venture. The navigator for his directional knowledge and the carpenter for his skill in laying over the vessel for keening and repairs. Keening would be done much more frequently than non pirate vessels. Marine growth - which grew rapidly in the tropical waters - slowed the "boat" down and speed was king.

Additional or replacement crew members were gathered from on-the-beach seamen and from volunteers and kidnapped seamen of captured prizes.

Pirates never used galleons or large cumbersome vessels. This was a necessary movie fabrication. Fictional heroes needed decks and spas to leap from when sword-fighting dastardly villains; simultaneously surrounded by cameras, best boy, second unit director and crew; make-up, hairdresser, the director, and numerous minions. They needed space. Real pirates required speed, manpower and overwhelming fire power, coupled with utter ruthlessness. The vessel of choice were sloops and occasionally brigantines. The sloop of yore did have a fore and aft sail, but they arranged them in variable style of rigging...and they were called boats not ships. All deck housing would be discarded, all unnecessary bulkheads removed. These modifications permitted a level platform to launch a massive boarding party, many additional cannons and additional space for cargo and sleeping quarters.

Typical manning for a merchant naval sloop was 14 - 18 depending on sail configuration and tonnage. The same vessel modified, carried up to 80 pirates, brigantine's as much as 200.

Most victims came about and surrendered without a fight once the black flag was run-up. After transferring the cargo; treasure, and victuals, the vessel, if the crew was lucky, was allowed to sail on to spread the tale and a warning: surrender immediately. Should, however, the prize vessel attempt to escape - forcing the pirates to give chase - death was inevitably the penalty.

Most prizes carried a few slaves who could be converted into cash quickly. Slave ships were most popular being lightly armed and slow. A pirate boat would pull along side the victim and load up with: food, water, weapons, maps and anything that struck their fancy, and then remove as many chained slaves as they could safely carry and sail to the nearest Caribbean island for a quick sale.

All pirate boats sailed under articles; once conditions were agreed upon; all pirates "signed on" knowing that the boats articles would be strictly enforced. Typical articles were:

All weapons to be kept clean and ready for action at all times. Typical hand weapons: cutlass', daggers, belaying pins, and as many as 6 pistols ( the guns loaded and primed and dangling by cord or colored ribbons from the individuals shoulders).

No fighting among each other on board the boat. Disagreements to be settled timely. On the nearest beach by pistols, and if a miss then by cutlass. First to draw blood won.

Lights out and no singing or shouting below decks after 20.00 hour, and drinking up on deck only.

No gambling for money; clothes; weapons, or anything of value.

Deserting the boat, or deserting battle stations: death or marooning on a deserted island with one day's food and water...and a pistol with one shot!

Sexually molesting boy seamen punished by death. Sexual congress between crew members or molestation of female captives death or marooning.

The banning of shipboard sexual relations was not for the security of boys; homosexuals, or females, or that pirates were against this form of entertainment, it was simply to stop any jealousy forming amongst the crew.

Typical division of spoils:

Seaman. 1 share

Boy seaman 1/2 share

Captain 1 1/2 - 3 shares

Navigator 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 shares

1st Mate 1 1/4 - 2 shares

Carpenter 1 1/2 - 2 shares

Additionally, a graduated scheme of payout for loss of eye, limb or limbs.

There are no documented histories of victims "walking the plank", as this was purely a literary invention. The normal method was simply to toss the victim overboard, or bludgeon to death; kill by cutlass or torture. One imaginative French pirate was known to make an incision in his victim stomach; remove a length of gut, and nail it to the deck, then force his victim to run....Ah yes, fun and games on the high seas.

When Caribbean pirates were captured they were originally shipped to England for trial. Later, trials and punishments were allowed in: Spanish Town, Jamaica; Nassau, Charleston, and Boston. This speeding up of the judicial process, coupled with Britain's cessation of hostilities with France, and Holland and larger British "rated ships" patrolling the seas, was the beginning of the end for Caribbean pirates. Over 300 pirates were hanged. Many ring leaders bodies were coated with tar, and hung in custom made link-chained suits at the entrance to the harbor, as a warning to others ( blacksmith's invoice for payment remain in existence). Many though were imprisoned for lengthy terms. This was a probable death sentence in the tropics.

One would have expected more hangings; however, fairly frequently the governors of the British West Indies would declare an amnesty. Many would accept, but recidivism was rife amongst on-the beach seamen.

Hurricanes; storms, disease, and fighting - in addition to the aforementioned justice system - led to a short life.

So there you have it: villains all.

Yo, ho, ho, Rodney

ben27
18th June 2013, 02:35
good morning Rodney.today.05:42.re:the real pirates of the Caribbean,a very informative and historical article.it is not all Hollywood and erroll flyn.it sounds quiet gruesome.and a short life span.great post.have a great day.regards.ben27

expats
18th June 2013, 10:29
And modern pirates; Somalia, Caribbean, Indonesia, etc....