Daily Life of Pirates


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A Pirates Life - Baby Got Booty

God-fearing people thought it the most wicked of cities and believed that the earthquake that brought about its destruction in was payment for its sinfulness and debauchery. Tortuga and Madagascar also welcomed pirates.

Daily Life of a Pirate - The Eighth Sea

Ashore, some pirates emulated gentleman merchants by wearing knee breeches, stockings, embroidered waistcoats, lace-trimmed shirts, long coats, and shoes with silver buckles and high heels. A few wore powdered wigs or ornate jewelry. They acquired these brightly colored garments as shares of booty taken from captured ships.

Some pirates dressed like gentlemen when facing their own executions by hanging: velvet jackets, taffeta breeches, silk shirts and hose, and felt tricornes. One of the best dressed pirates was Black Bart who dressed in a rich crimson damask waistcoat and breeches, a red feather in his hat, a gold chain round his neck, with a diamond cross hanging to it. While at sea, they usually wore one outfit until the garments were no better than rags.

Life inside the den of Somali pirates - 16 Jun 09

These were often coated with tar to make them waterproof and to deflect sword thrusts. Shoes were worn on shore, but rarely aboard a ship. To protect themselves from the hot sun, they wore knotted scarves, tricorn hats, or various styles of caps. The Ilanun of Borneo, the most feared pirates in the waters around Southeast Asia during the mid s, wore sarongs and embroidered belts. Most men who chose to go to sea did so at a young age.

Modern Day Pirates Attack Cruise Ship

Life at sea required stamina and dexterity that older men no longer possessed. Seamen hauled on wet ropes during the day and at night. Aloft, they handled heavy sails in calm or stormy weather. They manned pumps for hours on end. Their damp and dark quarters smelled of bilgewater, tar, and unwashed bodies as well as the assorted livestock that provided them with fresh meat.

They spent weeks, months, and sometimes years at sea far from home. They weathered storms, attempted to steer clear of uncharted shoals, and worried about having sufficient food and water until they made their next port. Some who crewed naval vessels did so against their wishes. A common practice, especially in Britain, was to fill crews short-handed from chronic desertion or insufficient skilled seamen by pressing landsmen into service.

While in port, these men were shackled to prevent their escape. Seamen, whether pressed or not, found life aboard ships of the Royal Navy deplorable. Wages were low. Corruption impacted the quantity and quality of food served them.

Mistakes or infractions were countered with violent discipline. Poor ventilation and cramped quarters ensured that epidemics swept through the crew, killing many. If such was the life endured by seamen, why did they risk their lives further by turning pirate? Until when most countries signed the Declaration of Paris, governments supplemented their navies by issuing letters of marque.

The profits realized by such ventures encouraged others to become privateers. The problem was that when the war ended, those same governments had no use for the privateers, who often found themselves unemployed. Piracy offered them a choice between starvation, beggaring, or thievery and possible riches beyond their wildest dreams, which outweighed the threat of execution if caught and a short life-expectancy rate.

Another aspect to the financial rewards was that pirates owned a share of the spoils they captured. Privateers turned over their booty to the governments that licensed them.


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Although they received a share after the goods were sold, that money was either a long time in coming or a paltry amount when compared to the risk taken. Treasure — Latin American gold, Bolivian silver, and Asian silks, spices, and gold — lured many to turn pirate. Some saw piracy as a means of escaping the grueling work and terrible conditions that seamen endured. In addition to the filth, cramped quarters, and insufficient or spoiled food and fresh water, dampness permeated their lives.

Each new port exposed them to new diseases that often swept through the crew because they ate, slept, and worked in close quarters.

Somali Pirates

Disease — including scurvy, dysentery, tuberculosis, typhus, and smallpox — killed half of all seamen. Other men wished to escape the cruelties inflicted on them for minor and major infractions. Piracy promised them a better way of life, the chance to make their fortunes, and the opportunity to leave the drudgery of life on land. As pirates, all men were equal.

No longer did one man outrank another. The crews chose their captains, and signed articles of agreement to ensure that everyone earned a share of any prize taken. Such freedom was unavailable to men who remained on the right side of the law. In some parts of the world, though, people became pirates out of economic necessity. Fishing and boating were their means of livelihood. This has been true for centuries along the southeast coast of China.

It also happened to the buccaneers and privateers who worked in the logwood industry of Honduras. After the Peace of Utrecht, the Spaniards destroyed their livelihood, leaving them to starve or join one of the pirate crews that sailed the Caribbean. For many centuries, Europe was plagued by wars interspersed with times of peace.

When at war, nations recruited men to serve in their navies. When peace came, these same men were forced to find other employment or die of starvation. Those who knew only the trade of sailing often turned to piracy.


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Such was the case following the War of the Spanish Succession. Prior to the cessation of hostilities, the Royal Navy employed 53, men. There were no fans, no ice, no toilets, no refrigeration — basically nothing that would make life comfortable in any way. You were stuck on a creaky, crowded ship, with nothing to make you smile — except, that is, the prospect of actually leaving the ship someday.

The problems grew worse with food and drink. As Smithsonian Magazine pointed out , the lack of refrigeration meant food like meat and vegetables would spoil extremely fast. Beans and flour could rapidly get moldy too, because ship conditions were perpetually wet. And even storing fresh water was hard, due to the possibility of algae scum forming in it. Their only solution most of the time was to eat terrible food like hardtack: super-hard, dry bread that was barely edible and had weevils crawling in it half the time.

As for their liquid solution: they just got stinking drunk off of rum. Alcohol didn't spoil, so they typically drank that in place of water. They weren't getting drunk because "yo ho ho it's a pirate's life for them" — they did it because it was either that or death from dehydration. When fictional pirates go a-plundering, it's almost always for gold, jewelry, or some other form of priceless, shiny treasure. After all, once you've sailed hundreds of miles to find something worth keeping, why not settle only for the absolute best?

Real-life pirates would agree with you, except their version of "the absolute best" wasn't often gold and jewelry, but rather mundane stuff, like what you'd put on your grocery list. So while they certainly wouldn't say no to priceless treasure they may have been crazy to spend their lives on the high seas, but they weren't stupid , more often their preferred prizes were more practical, everyday items like soap, candles, or utensils — anything that could help turn pirate life into something more than "float around aimlessly until bacteria or a sword sent you to Kingdom Come.

More importantly, though, Kidd went for goods like silk, sugar, iron, cotton, and most important of all cocoa. Even the famous Captain Kidd understood that if you only looted money, you wouldn't have time to spend it, because you'd likely be crocodile chow in record time.

You didn't say ARRRRRRRR

Don't think all this talk of sugar and silk being a pirate's preferred treasure means they rejected riches. On the contrary, if they found gold, silver, or anything else valuable, they took all they could carry.


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But all this talk of buried treasure hidden here and there is almost complete bunk. And the idea of treasure maps promising gold if you just follow the X? That's actual complete bunk. As National Geographic explained , if you were a pirate and came across gold or silver, you spent every last penny or whatever they used for pennies back then as quickly as you could. You went to popular pirate hangouts — like Port Royal or Tortuga — and bought up all the goods, food, alcohol, and women you could afford.

What do pirates do?

If you think about it, this was the only way to survive as a pirate. The scurvy sea-outlaw life carried the risk of death behind every wave, so it made absolutely no sense to bury your booty and go back for it later. Chances were good there'd likely be no later. And if you didn't use your money to buy what you needed to survive, there'd definitely be no later. So now you know — if some shyster tries to sell you a map to Blackbeard's lost treasure, walk away, because it's a scam.

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