Buzzkill Alert: These Are the 5 Biggest Contemporary Fabrications Regarding Pirates

Bloodthirsty, ravagers of the sea – they killed, maimed, and pillaged. With grog in their bellies they made prisoners walk the plank, buried their treasure, and reigned with chaos. But how much of this was really true? How much of Treasure Island or Pirates of the Caribbean was authentic? Surprisingly, less than you think. Throw up the Jolly Roger, pour the rum and read on, mateys! We’re about to crush your reality!

5 Walking the Plank

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If you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, there’s a chance you’ve wanted to make a few of your drunken, annoying fellow shipmates perform this act. Regardless, we’ve all seen the walking the plank bit dozens of times but it just never happened…much. There has only been one account in history and then never again. This is a myth that was glorified by Star Wars: Return of the Jedi during the sand barge scene. That, and about 300 years of literary works and art.

4 Talking Like a Pirate

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No my friends, there were no “mateys” or “arrs” or whatever other jargon you know and love. Pirates talked strangely, yes, but not as we think. In fact most of their speech probably sounded like gibberish spoken by a character in a Patrick O’Brian novel. You can attribute most of today’s B.S. pirate talk to the actor Robert Newton who portrayed Long John Silver in the 1950s Disney film adaptation of Treasure Island. In fact, for you holiday parody buffs, you’ll already know he is the patron saint of International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

3 Pirates Were Unorganized, Unruly Crews Ruled by an Iron-fisted Captain

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Yes, we all imagine a deck of a pirate ship laden with drunk, ruthless pirates-–gambling, splashing the decks with grog, jamming on hornpipes, backstabbing each other over petty squabbles and being ruled by some guy with a funny hat who yells at them all day and has a squid for a beard. Well, if this is what you’re thinking, you’d be wrong (especially on the squid-beard part). Pirate ships were actually quite orderly, and sometimes even more organized than merchant and military ships. See, pirates knew they were all criminals and apt to do bad things, so they prevented and respected the rules so chaos wouldn’t break out. Some ships banned booze and smoke, while others gave severe punishment to violators. Captains were also voted for and elected. They even elected a couple of other leaders to keep the Captain in line and if anybody overstepped that line, they would be voted out.

2 Buried Treasure

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Hey, this actually happened–once. William Kidd buried his treasure in Long Island, but this is more akin to the crazy guy who lives down the street and buries his cash in Mason jars around his property even though he lives right next to a Bank of America. Presumably, that guy also has an underground bunker and is ready for the Black Helicopters to come take him away, too. Thank Treasure Island, The Gold-Bug, and countless other stories through time and history to perpetuate this myth beyond the truth. Francis Drake (a pirate to the Spaniards, a hero to the British) also buried treasure at one point, but this was simply because he could not carry it all. His loot was guarded and quickly retrieved, but this event also helped perpetuate the buried treasure myth.

1 Pirates Were Bloodthirsty Savages

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No, I’m not going to say pirates were all jolly blokes like the Pirates of Penzance, nor were they romantic Fabio-Beefcakes like you see on the cover of your aunt’s romance novels. However, they also weren’t the guys who were ready to pick up blades and pistols unless absolute necessary. They were businessmen, so money always came first. Battles were costly–ammo, men, the cost of repairing a ship. Pirates were hunted by the military and were really the “small guys” in the ocean, so losing would not only mean a loss of profit, but probably of capture. Avoiding conflict, by all means, was what they preferred. But I don’t want to completely disappoint you: they still put on their mean faces when overtaking merchant ships. They promised to kill, torture, and do all sorts of horrible stuff so their captors would surrender rather than try to fight back. No, pirates weren’t cowards, they were realists.

So next time you pop in that copy of Pirates of the Caribbean, or bust out the rum on Talk Like a Pirate Day, remember this: history is often muddled with myth. Great stories are always embellished, but it’s important that we don’t lose track of the truth along the way.

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