Pirates Crusading Through History

The pirate life may not be for everyone, but during the "Golden Age" of piracy, thousands of men (and a few women) flocked to the seas. From 1700-1725 when piracy was at its height, people from all economic, political and social classes traded in their former lives to become part of a captain's crew. Most of what we know about pirates today originates from a single document, "General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates," which was written in 1724 under the pseudonym Captain Johnson. The book described the life of a pirate—everything from fashion, to food to rules and punishments—and remains the most reliable source of historical accuracy known today. Astonishingly enough, the Hollywood depiction of pirates and their hard-and-fast lifestyles was mostly true. Even the majority of myths are rooted in some truth. For example, some pirates did walk the plank, but only after 1730 when the peak era of piracy had ended. Similarly, most pirates were reluctant to bury treasure because bounties often included food, clothing, gold and other items considered perishable—or spendable.

But the life of a swashbuckling pirate wasn't all glamourous. Pirates were subject to severe punishment, injury, fighting, dismemberment and death on a daily basis—making the average lifespan of a pirate only 1-3 years at sea. As recently as 1800, after the Declaration of Independent's signing, 20 percent of the U.S. budget was allocated to paying ransom demanded by pirates. Today, pirates continue to exist but in different ways. Most notably, the influx in pirate activity in Somalia and surrounding waters since 2005 has garnered international attention from law enforcement and advocacy groups. Check out this playlist to get all the pirate scuttlebutt (and learn where that word came from).

Key Facts In This Video

  1. "Arr!" is not a historically based pirate exclamation, but rather a Hollywood invention. 00:50

  2. Rum was mixed with drinking water aboard ships to mask the water's often-disgusting flavor. 01:48

  3. Keel hauling was a punishment that involved tying someone up with rope, weighting them down, and dunking them into the ocean so that they went under the ship. 03:28

Written by Curiosity Staff September 18, 2014

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