Most of us think of pirates as loveable rogues who sailed the seven seas looking for booty whilst singing songs and telling scallywags to walk the plank. In reality they were murdering rapists who stole soap and candles.
Myth 1: Pirates Followed a Code of Honour.
People love Hollywood pirates because they’re seen more as rascals than out and out villains. Sure Jack Sparrow breaks a few laws but he’s got a good set of morals. It’s led to a common belief that pirates only fought hard when they had to, and wouldn’t hurt people unless they got in the way of their treasure.
The reality is that pirates were utterly ruthless. Sure the crew stuck to a code of honour when it came to sharing their plunder, but their victims and prisoners received no such treatment.
There are tonnes of dark stories about 17th and 18th century pirates, many of which involve rape, murder and grotesque violence. There’s even a tale of one particularly cruel pirate cutting out the heart of one prisoner and feeding it to another. That doesn’t sound very honourable to me!
Myth 2: Pirates said “Arrr” “Yarrr” and “Garrr” A Lot!
Ask one of your friends to talk like a pirate and I guarantee they’ll start making these noises. They might even throw in an “ahoy matey” or a “shiver me timbers” if you’re really lucky.
But there’s no such thing as a pirate voice. They came from a whole range of different countries so they didn’t even all speak the same language, let alone use the same slang.
It’s Robert Newton’s fault that we all sound like angry English farmers when we try to impersonate pirates. In Disney’s 1950s adaptation of Treasure Island he played the role of Long John Silver and really went all out on the West Country accent. Cheers Rob!
Myth 3: Pirates Buried Their Treasure.
This is certainly one of the most enduring images of early modern piracy. In fact pretty much every pirate tale seems to involve finding a treasure map and setting sail to dig it up.
When you think about it burying treasure just sounds ridiculous. It only ever happened a handful if times. Pirates didn’t expect to live for very long so it was much more common for them to find the nearest port and blow it all on food, booze and girls. The portrayal of Tortuga in Pirates of the Caribbean is actually pretty accurate.
Myth 4: Pirate Treasure Means Gold.
Gold and silver are central to the plot of every pirate story ever told. It gives the impression that they weren’t interested in anything else.
Don’t get me wrong, pirates did love gold. If it was on offer they’d definitely take it. It’s just that it was much more common for their loot to consist of candles, soap, tobacco and some salted fish. Not very rock ‘n’ roll, but just as useful to an outlawed sailor.
When he’s not searching for treasure Oliver Donald works for Find Me A Gift, the funny gifts retailer from the United Kingdom.
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