The Pirate Code

The modern idea of pirate life is fairly inaccurate on nearly every front. About the only thing we do seem to get right is the idea that some pirates were more ruthless than others, men like Blackbeard and Black Bart really were horrible to come up against. Let’s set the record straight about the pirate’s code of conduct though.

  1. Nearly all pirate ships were run as a democracy. They would actually vote on which ships to attack, when to enforce harsh punishments, and how many hostages to kill.
  2. Spoils were split evenly among all the crew, although rank did have privileges, it also had responsibilities. Blackbeard required new crew men of rank (first mates, gunners, botswainsmen, etc) to invest in the common stock fund first.
  3. There was no fighting on board the ship. All quarrels between crew mates were to be settled on the shore, where they could be replaced should one of them die during the duel.
  4. Black Bart and Blackbeard were contemporaries and both made gambling on the ship an offense punishable by death for practical reasons. Gambling leads to fighting. Also, Black Bart encouraged sailors that sailed with him to save their money and invest it; in case they outlived their usefulness on a ship.
  5. Dates were not allowed to be brought back to the ship by any member of the crew, including a captain.
  6. Don’t steal.
  7. Stand by your friends, loyalty went a long way among pirates.
  8. Same Sex Marriages were allowed and legally binding upon the ship. Let’s say you and your best friend both enlisted as crew upon a pirate ship, you could get married, not for sexual reasons but for burial and financial reasons. Once married, if you died, your mate got your portion of the spoils. However, they were also responsible for shipping your body home for burial and paying for it. Like gambling, it was a rule that nodded to practicality.
  9. On any ship captained by Black Bart curfew was 8 pm. That was what time shore leave ended and when the ship wasn’t docked, it was the time you were expected to hit the hay, unless you were standing look-out. Blackbeard was slightly more lenient putting his crew to bed at 8:30.
  10. Finally, Black Bart and Blackbeard both ran a disability pension program. If you lost a limb or eye or whatever when the ship was in battle, they would pay you a small salary from something they called the common stock which was treated exactly like a person when bounty was divided up. The common stock kept the ship in running order, supplies on board, and it paid out to pirates who became disabled. It would also pay out death benefits to a widow with children in the event her husband died aboard the ship.

To pass away the long hours, Black Bart kept musicians aboard his vessel. The only day they got off was Sundays and they might actually have worked less than modern cruise ship musicians and been paid more.

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