13 Bizarre Pirate Traditions Most People Don't Know About
Pirates have a reputation, admittedly earned for being ruthless, bloodthirsty killers. Life on the high seas demanded so much of those willing to brave it that it became customary for new
pirates to develop an honorable accord.
Pirates had a surprisingly complex culture. And what's crazier to us is that movies have barely scratched the surface of their
traditions. Today we're going to look at the
traditionsyou may have never heard about. But before we do that, use that mouse. Click and subscribe to Weird History, and leave us a
pirateinspired line or two. Now, here we be, matey. Arr! Blackbird's vessel, Queen Anne's Revenge, brought 40 cannons to every boarding party. Ditto Black Bart's Royal Fortune. Sam Bellamy snatched a British slave ship, the Whydah, and immediately mounted 28 guns, port and starboard. William Kidd had 34. You get the idea. If you don't want a short drop and a sudden stop at the nearest port, you'd best be ready to sink whoever crosses you. We get it. It's hard to argue against the thunder of 40 cannons. Unfortunately, it's literally deafening to your crew. What's a captain going to do? Recall your Homer, then your Jack Sparrow.
Pirates figured out that they could hang wads of wax from those big bangley earrings of theirs. Pop some into the old tune catchers. Pack the barrel. Light the fuse. And boom. Moderately less severe auricular damage. Could probably still benefit from a visit to a good ENT,...
though. Besides being handy for wax storage and personal expression, buccaneer bling served an eminently practical insurance policy.
Pirates are all about the sea, but there's nothing romantic about an eternity bobbing about in the bottom drawer of Davy Jones' locker, slowly being eaten by hungry halibuts. A pair of gold or silver earrings meant a
piratecould breathe easy on that count. Melt them down and sell them, and you've got enough cash to pay for a casket. And if they're really shiny, a funeral of your very own. Even if your corpse is less than fresh because it washed up on a beach somewhere.
Pirates had a bunch of superstitions about the hoops too. Fish stories abound about the bling. They prevent seasickness. They cure bad eyesight. A gold earring can keep you from drowning. Those
pirates who had homes to go back to engraved their home port and home folks' contact info inside their earrings. But considering the penalty for piracy and the accompanying public spectacle, a lot of those baubles probably went to wigs, or opium, or a new fence for the yard. In spite of the free wheeling swashbuckling image we like to put on our rum bottles,
piratelife was a little like prison. You spend 20% of your time fighting, stealing, or smuggling. And the rest is pretty much standing around doing chores, going through the exact same routine every day.
pirates were dudes. But dudes have needs. And even
pirates need love. Pack 100 guys in a confined space for...
weeks. Put them through some hot, sweaty, adrenaline soaked adventures, and bromance is in the air. The best thing about bromance is that nugget of real, manly love at the bottom. And there was no shortage of it at sea.
Pirates who shared a deeper connection than, we're bang buddies, mate, entered into matelotage, a sexy word for a special, serious sort of seamanship. Men joined in matelotage shared property, affection, even sexual partners if that fit their jib. They often wore gold rings. And they got death benefits should their partner meet an untimely end. The French were so upset by all this brotherly love, situational or not, that in 1645 the French governor of Tortuga shipped hundreds of prostitutes to the ports of the new world, which fairly naturally led to a spike in threesomes, rather than a dip in the DL. Edward Teach, a.k.a. Captain Blackbeard, was arguably the
piratein the world. And he owes that cred to a combination of hemp and psychological --ery. He would weave the handy little plant into his beard and under his hat, then light it on fire. With the smoke wafting from his head and smelling like the wrath of a stoner god, to say nothing of the couple swords, pistols, and knives he carried at all times, and those 40 cannons he talked about, or the fact that he regularly, willingly shoved a syringe up his urethra, Blackbeard scared the absolute shit out of everyone. Cut him up for the cap first. For as long as there have been builders there...
have been griefers. Likewise, as long as humans have been messing around with boats,
pirates have been aggroing. It wasn't all buried treasure and grand theft hydro. You could also make a killing if you grabbed the right hostage. In 75 BCE a group of
pirates captured Julius Caesar. But he was not, in fact, the right one. When they demanded a ransom of 20 talents-- that's somewhere around $20,000 to $600,000-- he laughed and told them he was worth at least 50. He serenaded them with poetry, had the ransom paid, then crucified everyone. Under the ever present threat of scurvy, tetanus, syphilis, gangrene, and bodily injury, veteran
pirates could get pretty raggedy. Some of them were out an eyeball or two, but others wore those iconic eye patches to preserve their night vision. If you've ever squeezed one eye shut to keep from stubbing your toe on your way to the bathroom at 3:00 AM, you
knowexactly what we're talking about. Even on modern ships, the quality and intensity of light changes dramatically above and below deck. And a
piratehad to be able to swash, and buckle, and navigate stairs without breaking his neck. Credit for the invention of grog goes to sailors in the British Navy, who first started making the drink sometime in the 1600s. No one wants to drink slimy barrel water contaminated with algae and microbes just raring to give you dysentery. But the life of the sea doesn't leave a lot of options. Rather than distilling their urine or whatever,...
the sailors opted for the kill it with fire strategy and just dumped a bunch of booze in there. In 1731, that strategy became official policy. The British Navy gave each sailor half a pint of rum per day. That's about five shots, folks. Par-tay.
Pirates borrowed the recipe for grog and made it legendary by adding lemon juice, which helped prevent scurvy, and sugar, which made the lemon barrel water rum a little less foul. Truly, a drink to put hair on your tongue and a tingle in your chest. Even though it's easy to picture a
pirateburying treasure on a tropical island, there was literally one guy who actually did it. Captain William Kidd of the adventure galley deposited his loot off the coast of Long Island. This backfired horribly when a not so good buddy dug it up and used it as proof to convict Kidd of piracy, and get him hanged twice, and gibbeted.
Pirates didn't bury treasure for good reason. Al
mostnone of the actual booty was ever gold and jewels.
Pirateswag tended to be made up of food, alcohol, weapons, lumber, cloth, hide, anything you might find on a trade ship in the Atlantic. And there was no reason not to sell them immediately, and every reason, as poor Billy found out, not to bury them. Piracy was more than a bit of a bad old boy's club. So the few women who crashed that club had to be smarter, meaner, and tougher than hell. Anne Bonnie, for example, served aboard the
pirateship Revenge as the awesomely named Captain Calico Jack...
Rackham's first mate and lover in 1720. Her friend, Mary Reid, served as well, dressed as a man. Their careers ended when the ship was captured and they went to jail, for which Bonnie blamed Calico Jack. She cursed him after his execution, saying, sorry to see you there. But if you'd fought like a man, you would not have been hanged like a dog. While there is some evidence
pirates did use walking the plank as a form of psychological torture, there was not evidence to prove it was widespread practice. It got its roots not in fact, but in the rise of
piratemania in 19th century entertainment. Have you any last words before you walk the plank, sir?
Peopledon't walk the plank!
Pirates got really creative when they off
people. And they weren't averse to torture. But
mostof them were just ready to be done. Quick and clean was the rule. Actually, the
mostcommon form of death by torture involved something much worse than a plank. It was called keelhauling. And it's absolutely savage. You throw the victim under the boat. Then you hoist him up one side, pass him under the ship's keel, which will be covered in barnacles sharp enough to unzip your flesh, and then secure a weight to his legs to keep him underwater while the ship drags him to his end. If he's lucky, maybe the blow from the keel will be enough to kill him before he drowns. Very cold,
pirates. The first mention of the Jolly Roger comes out of the A General History of the
Pirates by Charles...
Johnson in 1724. But there are a few different versions of it. Your alternative
pirateflag might have red skeletons, hourglasses, men standing on skulls. You see the pattern here. Blackbeard's flag, for example, had to be as hardcore as the man himself. He settled on a skeleton toasting the devil while spearing a bleeding heart, because that's how he rolled. We can't help but feel like a syphilis syringe would have been even more chilling, though. The Jolly Roger flag that flew from
piratemasts was terrifying before it was a cliche. But the
mostdreaded sea flag was red, not black. A ship hoisting a red flag warned its enemies that no mercy would be given to a captured ship. Everyone on board would be slaughtered on sight. The flag was called the bloody red. And if it went up, sailors, even other
pirates, under siege would, more often than not, say, no thanks, and jump ship. Talking of cold mofos,
pirates did historically maroon
peoplewhen they did something wrong enough. It was one of the worst death sentences you could get, because it was slow. Typically those marooned were the big time screw ups, disgraced
pirates who violated the rules of their ship. They were dumped on an isolated sandbar with just the clothes on their backs, a small portion of water, and a weapon for short term survival. And if they were cowards, you
know-- It'll be one pistol as before. And you can be the gentleman and shoot the lady, and starve to death yourself. Some men actually...
managed to survive being marooned. Another