MYTH: Pirates were rowdy drunks who buried treasure and traveled on huge ships

Well I hate to shatter your dreams of being a pirate, riding around on big wooden ships, drinking rum, fighting and burying treasure but pretty much all conceptions about pirates are completely false. All the way down to walking the plank.

Few (if any) pirates ever used a plank to force people off of a ship. When a ship was captured the crew had the option of joining them or jumping overboard. There wasn’t any kind of weird ceremony where they blind folded crew members poked them in the butt with a sword until they reached the end of a board. That’s a waste of time, and pirates where all about business.

Pirates certainly never buried treasure and no pirate would trust his captain to bury it for him. While there may be some isolated cases of buried treasure, it is certainly not something a pirate just did all the time for the hell of it. The men who became pirates did so because they wanted money, not to bury it, and as soon money was made it was divided and then they would typically gamble with it or bring it home. They would have thought of it as insane to bury their earnings on some deserted island, or anywhere.

If you’ve seen a pirate movie you have probably seen the pirates swinging from ropes, storming a ship with reckless abandon, swords swinging, pistol packing, cannons blasting. Again, another misconception. Most ship captains owned their cargos and had everything fully insured so they would typically just surrender when pirates would show up as not to risk the lives of them and their crew. It was just a part of doing business, and they accepted it as something that just happens. If only the RIAA would have the same mentality.

Another common thing associated with pirates is the skull & crossbones, or “Jolly Roger,” flag that would fly all the time from their ships and has become synonymous with pirates. The truth is that pirates used lot’s of flags for different reasons. The Jolly Roger was used to coerce ships to allow them to board. It was their, “we mean business flag.” Some pirate ships would actually fly a flag with an hourglass on it that signified that “time was running out.” And it is believed that the term Jolly Roger comes from a mispronunciation of the Arabic word, Ali Raja, which means “King of the Sea.”

And the big ships just did not make sense for what pirates did. Having a big ship is hard to maneuver and is certainly not ideal for catching or escaping from anyone. Real pirates relied on small, swift vessels for hit-and-run attacks.

And the biggest misconception is that pirates where rough-and-tumble, dirty, drunks who loved to drink rum, rape women, hang with parrots, and fight. While there were some who were like this, most pirates were a strict order and functioned much like a small navy and operated under a small document similar to a constitution with some rules and regulations such as:

If any man shall offer to run away, or keep and secret from the company, he will be marooned with one Bottle of Powder, one bottled of water, one small arm, and shot.

That man that shall not keep his arms clean, fit for an engagement, or neglect his business, shall be cut from his share, and suffer such other punishment as the captain and the company shall think fit.

If at any time you meet with a prudent woman, that man that offers to meddle with her, without her consent, shall suffer death.

So there you go. Pirates…debunked!


6 Responses to “MYTH: Pirates were rowdy drunks who buried treasure and traveled on huge ships”

  1. Keith Lehman Says:

    Except one thing …
    Rum was a normal thing aboard ships, rationed of course, but nonetheless a common drink – even aboard English ships (usually ale, however). Rum was also used by the ship’s cook to prepare food, concoctions that if you looked at the ingredients would certainly turn your stomach.
    However, this is an accurate portrayal of the myths of pirates during the Golden Era and in the Caribbean.
    Good stuff.

  2. Thanks for the follow-up. What is it about rum that made it so popular on ships? Was it cheaper or was it just preferred over other types of alcohol?

  3. This is a pretty good article and pretty accurate. Another cool fact is that because fresh drinking water was so low in supply, pirates often mixed it with rum to help it last longer.

  4. NastyNate Says:

    I’m not an advocate for pirates by any stretch of the imagination, but your “little article” here is flawed my friend. First and formost, what sources are you using? It’s funny you actually quote a myth in yor article that is about debunking a myth?

    And it is believed that the term Jolly Roger comes from a mispronunciation of the Arabic word, Ali Raja, which means “King of the Sea.”

    Kind of contradicting don’t you think.

    You state that not all pirates misbehaved insidiously like the legends wants us to beleive. Have you read accounts on all pirates? How many accounts have you actually read?

    The parallel with your article and other similar flawed claims like it is that history was just that “his story”. And we know that there are 3 sides of the story. his story, her story, and the truth.

    I commend you for your audacity to disprove pirate myths, but when you make a claim like,
    “If you’ve seen a pirate movie you have probably seen the pirates swinging from ropes, storming a ship with reckless abandon, swords swinging, pistol packing, cannons blasting. Again, another misconception.

    you must first understand that like all things in Hollywood they exaggerate to increase profit. Take for instance the fact that pictures and clips of actors holding a gun next to their face at the ready are used to promote the actor and movies. Therefore increasing sales and eventually profit. The actually way to hold a hand pistol at the ready is pointing it down to the ground, so that in the event there is a physical struggle you can drop to one knee and engage your target.

    Another claim I don’t agree with is the code that they abided by. Do you believe that those policies were always inforced? It would take the leadership and moral courage rebermand a pirate each time they broke the code. I know firsthand of orginizations and their codes and to tell you the truth moral courage especially among close peers, will always be a factor in holding others accountable.

    Lastly, I would like to close and say. more proof equals conviction less proof well your lack of proof just wasted 20 mins of my time.

  5. First of all “NastyNate” I want to tell you that you are wrong, because I am always right. See my logic? It’s pretty easy to grasp. Second of all, please proofread your responses before posting on here; it makes you look like a moron when you misspell everyday common words. But I digress; on to your response.

    Your claims are much appreciated and if you want my sources all you need to do is Google “pirate truths”, go to the library, or talk to a historian who specializes in these kinds of things. Information is everywhere. And I never said the Jolly Roger theory was a myth. That was you. It is a theory, based on profound evidence from written documentation and maritime piracy studies that led many “pirate experts” to come to that conclusion.

    Nice little quote about “his story”. Did you make that up by yourself? I doubt it, so why don’t you list your sources?

    And pirate movies are just the beginning of the image of an overly animated pirate that we see today. Read a pirate novel, listen to people pretend to be pirates, look at what we see as “pirate costumes.” The modern day pirate is just ingrained in society. Not that I care one bit about pirates; I just wanted to point out that it is inacurate. Of course movies over indulge when they make an action movie. It sells yes; but it is inaccurate. And so are you.

    You missed the point of this article completely and you are a moron for wasting my time. Although, I’m sure anything you read is a waste of your time because your are either too stubborn, ignorant, or obstinate to be able to come to some form of rational conclusion about what you have just read. If you want sources and more information, go look it up. I’m not your fucking teacher. I’m just here to tell you that you are wrong. Your mother is wrong, your father is wrong, your dog–wrong, cat–wrong, everyone is wrong because I am absolutely and 100% correct.

    No go and play with your toys in the sand, NastyNate.


  6. Ahh, you guys excel at disrespecting folks. Freon, i see you are single-minded in everything (well at least in this myth busting thing). I can see why NastyNate’s comment caused you to become defensive but why disrespect?

    Honestly i asked myself the same questions. Where did you get your info from? I think it is your duty as a myth buster to point us to some of your sources, it should be your honor. Google? oh please. I can find anything on google. Point us to your source man.

    I think I know a bit about writing english. But since i’m not in school, not getting paid and my life does not depend on it I don’t give a crap how anybody writes. Just as long as i understand it.

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