Warning: Pirates!

11:53 pm Sep 9 - by Matt Anderson

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It’s hard to define pirates. Over the years, they have been romanticized and reconstructed in the minds of authors and screenwriters. So I won’t try to define pirates, but I will say that everybody seems to like them and I bet that, if you met a real pirate, your opinion would change.

Pirate Myths:

Buried treasure: Maybe it happened, but treasure maps are largely the part of myths and Hollywood fantasies. It was much easier for pirates to sell their goods right away.

Walking the plank: Although it makes a dramatic scene, the plank is a myth. Walking the plank came from the 1837 book The Pirate’s Own Book by Charles Elms. Pirates had other ways to dispose of their enemies and practiced torture techniques worthy of Jack Bauer.

Pirate Facts:

Pirates would send their future victims a piece of paper with a black dot. It meant, “You will be murdered soon.”

Parrots were pirates’ favorite tropical souvenirs. Less maintenance than monkeys and valuable in European cities, parrots became a pirate ship staple.

Pirate Weapons:

Modern day pirates pack AK-47’s and RPG’s, but that wasn’t always the case. Here are some examples of pirate weapons of the past.

Brass Knife: Brass, unlike iron and steel, wouldn’t rust in the salty ocean air (or the blood of enemies).

Tar bombs: Simple but effective. Pirates wrapped a lump of tar around the end of a rope. When the enemy neared, they lit the tar on fire and whipped the contraption at the ship. Usually, it would stick to the deck and start a nasty blaze (and it didn’t waste booze like the Molotov cocktail).

Flintlock pistols: Thirty second reload time, inaccurate, and unreliable—these pistols look pre-historic compared to today’s handguns. Pirates would tuck up to six pistols in their belt when boarding an enemy ship.

Duck’s foot: A pistol with four barrels instead of one. All four could be fired at once, creating a shot-gun effect. The four barrels resembled a duck’s foot, hence the name.

Cannons: If the enemy tried to flee, the pirates would use cannon fire to reel them back in. Capable of shooting a fifty-pound cannonball one mile, the balls tore into the ship, taking down masts which left a ship unable to escape.

Stinkpots: Jugs packed with sulfur and decaying fish which were tossed on enemy decks to disorient the crew.

Pirate punishment:

Moses’ law: In the old testament of the bible, forty lashes is said to kill a man. So why not give uncooperative pirates one less? Thirty nine lashes became the standard pirate punishment and flogging more was considered unchristian. Moses’ law isn’t universal—thirty-nine lashes killed aplenty.

Marooning: When a pirate really screwed up, he would be left on a deserted island with a pistol, gunpowder and a bottle of rum (think hump of sand in the ocean, not Hawaii). With no food or water, the barrel of a pistol became very attractive.

Tagged with: pirates, weapons, history, humor

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