From buried treasure to whether they really had wooden peg legs, join us as we examine the myths and legends of pirates with these 20 int-arrrrrrr-esting pirate facts.
20. While ‘piracy’ usually designates maritime piracy, the term can also include acts committed in the air, on land, or in other major bodies of water, or even on a shore. Generally the goal is theft of specific cargo or property.
19. The English word Pirate is derived from the Latin term ‘pirata’ which translates roughly as sea robber. It can be etymologically traced further back to the Greek term ‘peiráomai‘ which means ‘attempt’ as in ‘attempted robbery’. Over the years this term evolved into ‘peiratēs’ which English translates roughly as ‘brigand’ – which refers to a gang that ambushes people.
18. The ancient Greeks touted piracy as a legitimate profession. Young men became pirates as it was widely recognised as a way to make a living.
17. A pernicious subset of pirates, known as Barbary corsairs, hailed from northern Africa. They considered themselves holy Muslim warriors fighting Western Christians. It is estimated that between the 16th and 19th century, Barbary corsairs captured and enslaved up to 1.25 million people. Their raids on coastal regions of Spain and Italy became so frequent and violent that villagers were forced to move inland.
16. Prior to the United States declaring independence in 1776, British treaty terms dictated protection from Barbary pirates. However, upon declaring independence, the US soon found themselves under attack by Moroccan Barbary pirates. A peace agreement was eventually negotiated but a monetary tribute was required to prevent attack. By the year 1800, the ransom fees were so high that it equated to 20% of the United States annual expenditure.
15. Blackbeard’s real name was thought to be Edward Teach. He was a fearsome pirate who never shied away from a fight. As his reputation grew, he began to braid his beard with black ribbons. He’d then then stuff slow burning fuses in his hair and under his hat when going into battle so as to look like the devil coming out of a mist.
14. When Blackbeard was finally killed they discovered on his body five bullet wound scars and 20 sword slashes. His head was lopped off and used as proof to cash in on the bounty. His body was pushed into the ocean. Legend has it, that his headless body swam three laps of his commandeered ship before disappearing into the briny waters below.
13. Modern day pirates are still a threat throughout South East Asia, particularly through the Straits of Malacca where they prey on ships transporting oil and other valuable cargo.
12. Pirates were often really good at sewing. It was a vital skill needed to mend torn sails and clothing during the long stints at sea.
11. Pirates used to keep their clothes in something called a ‘slop chest’. On merchant ships it was often used as a sort of store where shipmates could buy and sell goods such as clothing and other merchandise.
10. As long as there’s water, there’s pirates. All across the world river pirates have menaced and robbed merchants and travelers. In the 1800s, river piracy happened along the Ohio River and Mississippi River valleys. They would use a variety of tactics, often hiding in caves along the riverfront, ambushing and assaulting river travelers then selling their wares further down stream.
9. In 1762 the highest bounty ever was paid for the capture of the Spanish frigate Hermione. Each individual crew member who contributed to the capture of the ship received £485. By today’s standards that’s about $1.4 million.
8. Did you know you can change your language on Facebook to ‘pirate’? To do so, click the plus button on the bottom right hand side of your feed. A list of languages should pop up, then choose pirate english and away you go! You’ll be swashbuckling with all your land lubbers in no time.
7. During the 17th and 18th centuries, which is considered to be the Golden Age of Piracy, women would often dress as men to gain positions on pirate ships. Famous examples are Anne Bonney and Mary Read, who did so to take advantage of the rights and privileges granted only to men at that time.
6. The phrase ‘shiver me timbers’ was rarely used by real pirates. The saying didn’t became famous till after Disney’s 1950 adaptation of Treasure Island. But it was around before then, too, being used several times in Robert Louis Stevenson’s original book, published in 1883.
5. Pirates pierced their ears with gold or silver because they believed it would improve their eyesight.
4. Historical studies have shown that scurvy, a disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency, killed more sailors than any battle ever did.
3. Roman emperor Julius Caesar was captured twice by Mediterranean pirates. After negotiating his own release, he promised that he’d have every single one of his captors crucified, a promise that he indeed kept.
2. Evidence shows that some sailors, though not technically pirates, did replace lost limbs with wooden pegs. One famous case was Cornelis Jol, a 17th century Dutch corsair nicknamed ‘pegleg’.
1. Pirate booty was rarely the treasure you’d envision. More often than not, it was food, spices, alcohol and clothing. There is only one documented case of a pirate burying his treasure. William Kidd, a 17th century pirate, buried some of his treasure on Gardiners Island just off the coast of Long Island. He buried it so he could use it as a bargaining tool to save himself. However, an acquaintance of Kidd’s dug up the treasure and used it as evidence against him. He was charged with piracy and murder and sentenced to death. His body was put on display in a cage hanging over the river Thames for nearly 20 years.