History and background information about how pirates behaved during the golden age.
Crew members and merchant ship officers began to draft various “handshake agreements” since the Age of Sail. These deals covered various employment issues, including terms of conduct, job descriptions and payments.
As pirates became a more organized profession, with scores of ships and hundreds of people seeking riches and glory as pirates in the Mediterranean, Northern/Baltic Seas and Chinese Seas, pirate crews began devising their own rules of conduct.
While pirate codes and rules have been romanticized over the years and centuries, they still represent the essential document that allowed many pirate fleets to remain organized and operational in their original form.
The early Buccaneers (organized pirate vessels that attacked Spanish shipping.
To become a full member, each person must sign a document detailing the rules of that particular ship, their share of the plunder, compensation for injuries, and the punishments for disobedient crewmembers.
Crew members were required to swear allegiance and honor during signing. This was usually done by placing their hand on a bible or part of a weapon or ship. Common examples include swords or axes or crossed swords. All new pirate members signed the pirate code. This paper was often displayed on a ship so everyone could quickly remember their oaths.
Pirate crews found willing recruits in ports (, and after naval boarders). Sometimes, even unwilling members were forced to piracy. This mostly happened to skilled artisans such as navigators or artisans that pirate crews weren’t willing to release. The signing of Article Pirate Code was the most controversial act in recruits.
Authorities were determined to prosecute pirates whose names they found on the pirate code articles. Some pirates asked to be “forced into signing” to claim their innocence. Others refused and chose to leave the (identifying mark, which is the sign of the cross,). Pirate-boat smugglers had a much greater chance of being caught by authorities and survived law trials.
Many pirate codes were used on the seas during Golden Age of Piracy. Only four of these codes are known to be surviving today. This low number of surviving articles can been attributed to the custom of tossing or burning pirate code pages to the sea when pirates feel threatened by authorities (. Usually, this was near the surrender of a ship to).
These are examples of pirate codes taken from Charles Johnson’s “A General History of the Pyrates Book”.
1. Every man is entitled to a vote in the affairs of the moment. All men have equal title to fresh provisions or strong liquors and may use them at their pleasure, unless there is a shortage (which is not uncommon among them), when it becomes necessary to vote a retrenchment.
2. Each man to be called by list, in turn, on board prizes because, (above and beyond their proper share, they were on these occasions permitted a shift of clothing. However, if they defrauded a company to the amount of a dollar, plate, jewels or money they were punished with marooning. If the robbery occurred only between them, they slit the ears and noses and sent him to shore.
3. It is not legal for anyone to gamble on dice or cards.
4. The lights and candles should be switched on at 8 o’clock in night. If anyone is still inclined to drink after that hour, they were to go out onto the open deck.
5. To keep their piece and pistols clean and ready for service.
6. No woman or boy to be allowed among them. If any man were to be caught seducing any of these women and carrying her to sea, disguised as such, he would be executed. (This was to prevent any ill consequences from such a dangerous instrument of division, quarrel, and division. But then, here’s the roguery: they contend who will be sentinel. It usually goes to one of the greatest bullies who, to ensure the lady’s virtues, will let no one lie with her except himself.)
7. To abandon the ship, or their quarters, in battle, was punishable with death or marooning.
8. No fighting on board; all quarrels must be resolved on shore, with sword or pistol. (The quartermaster of the ship accompany the disputants on shore with any assistance he considers necessary. They turn the disputant back-to-back, at as many paces as possible, and at the word to command, they fire immediately. If both miss, they bring their cutlasses to each other and then the victor is declared who draws the first blood.
9. There was no way for any man to talk about their way of life being broken up until they had each shared one thousand pounds. If any man lost a limb or became a cripple while in their service, he would be able to get eight hundred dollars from the public stock.
10. The Captain and Quartermaster will each be awarded two shares of the prize: one share for the master, boatswain and gunner and one share for other officers.
11. The Sabbath Day allows musicians to take a rest, but the other six nights and days are not without special favour.
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