Ahoy! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Talk Like a Pirate Day bannerSept. 19 is the annual Talk Like a Pirate Day, so prepare to be boarded, or at least to hear Arrr! and Avast Me Hearties! and other pirate sayings.

Eighteenth century pirates now seem like colorful, fun-loving blokes, but historically speaking, the facts are much more serious. So I’m posting an article I wrote on the subject. And if you’re interested in my pirate romance, check out Marooned.

Marooned coverTreacherous Beauty: Piracy in the Bahamas, by Lyndi Lamont

No one can dispute the tropical beauty of the Bahama Islands, but the early history of the islands is filled with danger and treachery.

In 1492 the islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus who claimed them for Spain. Later Spaniards enslaved the native Lucayan people and transported them to work the gold and silver mines in Cuba and Hispaniola.

By the time the British arrived in the late 1670’s, the islands were no longer inhabited. A group of colonists settled on the island of Eleuthera, and a few moved on to New Providence, but most of the islands were left unsettled and provided a haven for pirates and privateers. The islands were close to the major trade routes and New Providence Island had a natural harbor that afforded a safe anchorage in which to hide. With its shallow waters and over 700 islands, the Bahamas provided a perfect environment for pirates to maneuver. Many hid their plunder in the islands’ limestone caverns.

Grand Bahama was considered perilous because of the reefs surrounding it. Pirates would chase merchant ships into the shallows where they foundered on the reefs and were easily plundered. In fact, “wrecking” remained a local occupation for some time. The inhabitants placed a lantern to lure ships close to shore so they could scavenge its cargo.

The resort city of Nassau, on New Providence Island, became notorious as a pirate haven. By 1710 the harbor was filled with ships, some of them rotting hulks that were destroyed after being emptied of their cargo. Contemporary accounts describe it as a ramshackle shanty town with no permanent buildings, just a dilapidated fort, a few wood huts, and a disreputable tent city where pirates could gamble away their plunder, get drunk, or get laid.

The islands were home to famous pirates such as Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham, and the infamous female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who were members of his crew.

Blackbeard’s legend lives on as the most ferocious of pirates. A tall man, he had wild eyes, long, matted black hair and a matching beard which he braided. Before battle, he twisted pieces of fuse into his hair and lit them. With his face surrounded by smoke he was a fearsome sight. Teach was chosen as magistrate of what the pirates called their Privateers’ Republic, but in 1718 the British government sent Royal Governor Woodes Rogers, a former privateer, to the islands to end piracy in the Bahamas. Blackbeard was at sea at the time, so he made the Carolinas his main base until his death in November 1718 at the hands of the British navy. The leader of the British expedition, First Lieutenant Robert Maynard, later said that Blackbeard didn’t fall until he’d received at least five gunshots and twenty sword wounds. Blackbeard’s head was severed, though whether it happened during battle or afterward is not clear, and hung from the bowsprit of Maynard’s sloop to prove that the feared pirate was truly dead.

Calico Jack and Anne Bonny met in New Providence where he persuaded her to don men’s clothing and join him on his ship. (Women were banned from most pirate ships, hence the disguise.) Mary Read, who also dressed as a man, was on board, too. The two women became friends and were known to be fierce fighters. When Woodes Rogers’ men attacked Rackham’s ship in 1720, most of the crew were drunk, except for the two women who fought bravely. The entire crew was captured, tried in Jamaica and sentenced to death. Jack was hanged but the two women “pleaded their bellies”. Because of their pregnancies, the women were not sentenced to death. Mary died in jail of fever before giving birth. Anne’s fate is unknown, but there are rumors that she was eventually released and returned to her home in the Carolinas.

Woodes Rogers was successful in his attempt to end piracy in the Bahamas. In fact, immediately upon his arrival, he was met by a large group of pirates eager to swear loyalty to the crown in exchange for a pardon. Rogers eventually pardoned about 600 pirates. The hard cases like Calico Jack and Blackbeard were chased down and brought to justice.

By 1720 the Golden Age of Piracy was coming to an end. But like the beauty of the islands, tales of the daring pirates live on in legend.

© 2005 by Linda McLaughlin


Ahoy, Matey: Pirate Rules #Research

September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, so be ready to hear lots of pirate talk, like Arrr! and Ahoy, matey and Avast me hearties, whatever that means.


What accounts for our fascination with pirates?

I’m talking about the 16th & 17th century variety. Is it the clothing? Knee boots and tight breeches and the white shirts with billowing sleeves. Or is it the swagger of a man with a sword in his belt and an earring dangling from one lobe? Or the freedom of the open seas and not having to bow to any laws?

Or is it just the irresistible lure of the Bad Boy? I’m currently obsessed with the deliciously naughty Killian Jones, aka Captain Hook, as portrayed by Colin O’Donaghue on ABC’s Once Upon A Time. How Emma can resist him is beyond me.

There are many myths and misconceptions about pirates, and one is that there were no rules. While it’s true that pirates were outlaws who flaunted the laws of many different nations, pirates had their own sets of rules and a practiced a crude form of democracy. The pirate captain was elected by the crew and could be replaced at any time, except during battle. Ships sometimes drew up articles, a code of conduct by which the crew agreed to abide. The articles addressed things like how spoils were divided, compensation for injured men, and punishment for fractions of the rules.

Punishment was swift and harsh. Striking another crewman or lighting a pipe or candle in the hold might earn a pirate Moses’s Law, 40 stripes lacking one, or thirty-nine lashes of the whip. The worst punishments were reserved for desertion, theft and keeping secrets from the rest of the crew. These brought a sentence of death or marooning, which was a delayed death. A marooned man was left on a sandy island with a bit of food and water, and a loaded pistol so he could commit suicide. The islands were often little more than a sandbar at low tide. The marooning of Alexander Selkirk inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.

Captured prizes were divided among the members of the crew equally, except for the captain and other designated crewmen, usually including the quartermaster, the sailing master, the boatswain and gunner.

Jolly Roger

My very own Jolly Roger!

Here are the articles used by the pirate captain John Phillips and his crew from 1724:

#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 marroon’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 Marroon’d or Shot.

#4. If at any Time we should meet another Marrooner (that is, Pyrate,) that Man shall sign his Articles without the consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.

#5. That Man that shall strike another while these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses’s Law (that is 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.

#6. That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.

#7. 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.

#8. If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight; if a limb, 800.

#9. If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.
Marooned cover
Many of these pirate rules played a part in the plot of my steamy pirate romance, Marooned, and were loads of fun to research. You can read more about pirate rules at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_code.

So, what do you think accounts for the fascination with pirates of the old-fashioned, swashbuckling variety? And who is your favorite movie or TV pirate?

Leave a comment or subscribe to the blog to be entered in my monthly drawing for a trade paperback copy of my erotic science fiction collection Alliance: Stellar Romance.

Lyndi Lamont