The following is reprinted from Uncle John’s Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.
The Capture of the Pirate Blackbeard by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1718
We've all got an idea of what it was like to be a pirate in the 1700s - but a lot of it is pure Hollywood hooey. Here's a few of our most common misconceptions about pirates … and the truth about them.
Why did so many pirates have colorful nicknames like "Blackbeard" and "Half Bottom"? The main reason was to prevent government officials from identifying and persecuting their relatives back home. (How did "Half Bottom" get his nickname? A cannonball shot half his bottom off.)
WALKING THE PLANK
Few (if any) pirate ships ever used "the plank." When pirates took over a ship, they usually let the captured crewmembers choose between joining the pirate crew or jumping overboard. Why go to all the trouble of setting up a plank to walk off? As historian Hugh Rankin put it: "The formality of a plank seems a bit absurd when it was so much easier just to toss a prisoner overboard."
Another myth. No pirate would have trusted his captain to bury treasure for him. According to pirate expert Robert Ritchie, "The men who turned to piracy did so because they wanted money. As soon as possible after capturing a prize they insisted on dividing the loot, which they could then gamble with or carry home. The idea of burying loot on a tropical island would have struck them as insane."
BOARDING A SHIP BY FORCE
It's a scene from the movies: A pirate ship pulls up alongside another ship, and then the pirates swing across on ropes and storm the ship. But how realistic is this scene? Not very, experts say. Most ship captains owned their cargos, which were usually fully insured. They preferred to surrender the minute they were approached by a pirate ship, seeing piracy as one of the costs of doing business.
THE JOLLY ROGER (SKULL AND CROSSBONES)
Pirates used a variety of flags to communicate. The Jolly Roger was used to coerce nearby ships into allowing the pirates to board. But it wasn't the only flag of choice - some pirate ships preferred flags with hourglasses on them (to let would-be victims know that time was running out); others used black or red flags. How did the Jolly Roger get its name? Nobody knows for sure - although some historians believe it comes from the English pronunciation of Ali Raja, the Arabic words for "King of the Sea." (Image source: Jolly Roger [wikipedia])
In the movies they're huge - but in real life they were much smaller. "Real Pirates," one expert writes, "relied on small, swift vessels and hit-and-run attacks."
Not all pirate ships were rough-and-tumble. Pirates often operated under a document that had some similarity to a constitution. Here are a few of the articles from an agreement drawn up by the crew of Captain John Phillips in 1723.
1. Every man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full Share and a half in all prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain, and Gunner shall have one share and a quarter. 2. If any man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be maroon'd with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm, and Shot. 3. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be maroon'd or shot. 4. That Man that shall strike another whilst those Articles are in force, shall receive Moses's Law (that is 40 stripes lacking one) on the bare Back. 5. That Man that shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit. 6. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight; if a limb 800. 7. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer Death.
|The article above, titled "Pirate Lore," is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader. This special edition book covers the three "lost" Bathroom Readers - Uncle John's 5th, 6th and 7th book all in one. The huge (and hugely entertaining) volume covers neat stories like the Strange Fate of the Dodo Bird, the Secrets of Mona Lisa, and more ... Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute