For my 30th birthday, my husband surprised me with a pirate-themed party (eye patches!) Incidentally, he proposed to me that same night by asking me to be his “sea wench.” How can you say no to that, I ask you? I have no less than ten photos of me dressed like a pirate. On my last vacation, I went on a pirate ship cruise. So it goes without saying that I like pirates, fictional and real.
Pirates have been around since 3000 B.C., so it could be considered, ahem, one of the oldest professions. Every great civilization has fallen victim to piracy, including ancient Rome and Egypt, Europe and even modern-day Africa. In fact, piracy is still such a major problem that there is a social network site called Oceanus. It’s like Facebook for mariners. Check out the news section. Fascinating stuff.
Pirate facts that will make you an interesting party guest
Buccaneers originally made their living smoking and selling beef jerky. Then they discovered that sacking and plundering ships was way more lucrative than snapping into a Slimjim.
My all-time favorite pirate (What? You don’t have a favorite pirate?) François l’Olonnais, the Flail of the Spaniards, was quite persuasive when cornered.
Then L’Olonnais, being possessed of a devil’s fury, ripped open one of the prisoners with his cutlass, tore the living heart out of his body, gnawed at it, and they hurled it in the face of one of the others, saying, ‘Show me another way, or I will do the same to you.’
The dude ate a heart. That’s pretty persuasive.
Another pirate favorite, Grania “Grace” O’Malley, the Queen of the West, was a particularly harsh mum. Legend has it that her young son fell overboard and as he began to pull himself back into the boat, O’Malley chopped off his hand, saying, as he drowned:
If you had been a true O’Malley, you’d not have fallen overboard in the first place.
“Walking the plank” is pure Hollywood fiction. What pirates actually did to people was way too violent to get past censors. When a pirate wanted to get rid of someone, they simply threw them overboard. Oh, and ATE HEARTS.
Let’s talk hooks and peg legs. First of all, if you managed to survive the initial blood loss, you would be subjected to the ship’s doctor. Or carpenter. Or cook. Whatever. If you manage to survive that (and kudos to your amazing powers of healing) you have to deal with the inevitable gangrene. Which, without the assistance of modern-day medicine, you are very unlikely to survive. Good times.
The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers and Rogue, George Choundas
Next time you see me, feel free to call a jolly dog. Call me scupperlout, though, and I’ll crack you like a flea. So show a glim and read this dictionary of pirate threats, retorts, commands and more. Or sink me in blood, I’ll send a ball through your brisket! Don’t forget! September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day!
Scholarly book by the former curator of England’s National Maritime Museum that reveals the truth behind many legends, like that whole walking the plank thing and buried treasure. He also writes extensively about the actual reality of a pirating life: the constant threat of death by hanging, drowning, shipwrecks and the resulting short life span. The “romance” of piracy is entirely Hollywood-created.
The Everything Pirates Book, Bark Karg and Arjean Spaite
It’s like “Pirates for Dummies.” A little bit of everything.
The first ever comprehensive A to Z encyclopedia of pirates! Includes not only historical figures, but pirates in fiction, movies and other forms. Also has information about language, weapons, ship and other fascinating lore.
Sea Queens, Women Pirates Around the World, Jane Yolen
While technically a children’s book, Sea Queens provides surprisingly in-depth entries on historical female pirates, including the well-known (O’Malley, Bonny) and the not-so-famous, like China’s Madame Ching. At the height of her power in 1809, Madame Ching commanded two thousand boats and seventy thousand men, the most of any pirate in the world. Not too bad for the “weaker sex.” Lol.
Fair winds and following seas.