Arrrrrrrrre Ye Ready For International Talk Like A Pirate Day?

Ahoy me hearties! 19 September be INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY! Let’s weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen, and we’ll take ye landlubbers on a journey through some tall tales o’ fearsome (and British) pirates.

1. Did ye know there be different types o’ pirates?

“Pirate” be the general name fo’ any bloodthirsty, nasty piece o’ work seadog to be sailing on any o’ the seven seas. Barbarians, the lot o’ ‘em.

But did ye know that piracy is still an issue in modern times? In early 2012 th’ Royal Navy and Royal Marines were part o’ a NATO-led operation that captured 13 Somali pirates, well-known for disruptin’ international shippin’ in th’ Indian Ocean. The UK and others have stationed frigates and committed forces to this region in order to protect international security and trade interests for itself and its allies.

But th’ story o’ pirates begins many years ago. Beware, the tide here be mighty choppy and fraught with danger.

2. Privateers

Did ye know that there were government sponsored pirates? Not to be confused with the band the Lumineers, which are named after dental products, privateers were pirates that actually operated on the legal side of the law. They were issued “letters of marque” from their governments, which let them raid, pillage and plunder with the blessing of king and country. It’s safe to assume this arrangement did not give them tax exempt status. Many be knowin’ from their history books that matey Sir Francis Drake was the first scurvy dog to circumnavigate the globe, but did ye be knowin’ he was also a privateer?

3. Sir Francis Drake

thecomeupshow / Via commons.wikimedia.org

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) was a sailor, politician, globe-circumnavigator, and aye, a privateer with his own Letter of Marque from Queen Elizabeth I. So reviled was he by the Spanish—whom he routinely stripped o’ ships, gold, spices and booty—King Phillip II allegedly put a 20,000 ducat (£4 million) bounty on his head. Drake made two successful voyages to the West Indies for tradin’. Nearly 100 years later, a band o’ pirates called the buccaneers became active across the West Indies.

(Pictured: a different Drake….. in pirate form, YO-LO-LO!)

4. Buccaneers

These pirates and privateers operated mostly in the West Indies (many were British), specializin’ in attacks on Spanish ships in the Caribbean.

The word “buccaneer” comes from the French word “boucan,” which is the name of a dish from Hispaniola featuring smoked meat made out of the wild hogs and cattle. Initially, the buccaneers sold the meat to ships passing by Hispaniola. But, they soon figured out that plundering the ships was a much more lucrative business tactic. Many of the men who fought wit’ the famous pirate Captain Morgan were buccaneers!

5. Captain Morgan

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Do you love Captain Morgan; otherwise know as Sir Admiral Henry Morgan (1635- 1688)? Like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer who plundered through Spanish settlements in the Caribbean durin’ the 1660’s and 1670’s. After successfully raidin’ through Panama, he was knighted by King Charles II. After being knighted, Morgan retired in Jamaica and later became Lieutenant Governor of the island. His legacy lives on today in the robust sugar industry of Jamaica.

6. Blackbeard


How could we talk pirate without mentionin’ the infamous Captain Blackbeard (1680-1718). On his vessel, Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard and his crew of 400 captured over 20 ships during his years at sea. Captain Blackbeard was known to fill his long black beard (hence the name) with smoking fuses in order to scare his enemies and crew. Talk about a dramatic pirate. Did ye be knowin’ that Queen Anne’s Revenge was a French merchant vessel that Blackbeard recaptured after the French plundered it from the British? And he surely brought revenge to the seven seas wit’ his prized vessel.

7. Merchant Ships

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Life at sea was no luxury cruise in the 1700s. Poor living conditions, cramped quarters, sea rations and dangerous weather were not particularly fun—especially given the low wages most merchant ship sailors were paid. It wasn’t uncommon for sailors who were overtaken by pirates to join the crew of said pirate ship for the freedom and possible riches. Becoming a pirate was known as ‘going on the account.’ And if ye be going on the accounts, ye shouldn’t be expecting doubloons from setting the sails.

8. Goin’ on th’ Account

When ye see that jolly roger hoisted on a ship fast-approaching yer starboard side, givin’ no quarter, ye know what fate awaits ye. They run a shot across yer bow, and then the battle begins. If these fearsome picaroons can overtake the ship, what can ye do? They might make ye dance the hempen jig, or send ye straight down to Davy Jones’ locker without so much as a fare-thee-well. Ye wanna stay alive ye craven coxswain? Ye best go on the account. Especially if ye spy with ye eye the jolly roger ‘o Cap’n Blackbeard!

9. All about the doubloons

Though not all pirates came to an undignified end at the end of a hangman’s noose or during a crack a’ Jenny’s tea cup (spending the night in a brothel), most pirates did die without a penny to their names. They got into piracy for the adventure and the lure of treasures untold, but only a handful of very successful pirates actually made their fortunes at sea. The top earners were, naturally, mostly British. With or without letters of marque.

1. Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy: $120 million (estimated net worth in 2008 US$)
2. Sir Francis Drake: $115 million
3. Thomas Tew: $103 million
4. John Bowen: $40 million
5. Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts $32 million

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Real: lowest common denomination, used widely in international trade

Pieces of Eight (peso de a ocho): a Spanish silver coin worth eight reales

Escudo: a Spanish or Portuguese coin worth two Pieces of Eight, or 16 reales

Doubloon: a Spanish gold coin worth eight Escudos, or 16 Pieces of Eight, or 128 silver Reales

Bonus Fact: The wildly popular and GIF-abused Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. No pirates were harmed during the filming of these movies but no word on Keith Richards.

11. Rise of the Royal Navy

The British Naval force has been on of the strongest military forces in existence over the last half millenium. While privateers often worked in tandem with the Royal Navy, piracy began to pose a greater threat to the homeland’s overseas financial interests, and was all but eradicated from the West Indies by the mid-19th century.

In 1857 the majority of maritime-controlling states signed the Declaration of Paris, which ended the Crimean War and included a section outlawing letters of marque, bringing an end to legal piracy.

The world of piracy faded from one of violent theft and venereal disease, to one romanticized in literature and theater. For instance, Byron’s epic poem ‘The Corsair’ sold 10,000 copies the first day it was published. And pirates eventually found their way on stage and screen. The Royal Navy continues to fight piracy on the high seven seas by protectin’ ships ‘n deterrin’ any interference.

12. Modern Day Piracy

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While International Talk like a Pirate Day can be loads of fun, piracy is still a very real issue. Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia and elsewhere around the world are very dangerous and responsible for many deaths.

Piracy is a threat to both international trade and maritime safety. In 2011, piracy cost the world economy £4.3 billion ($7 billion) and lead to the deaths of 24 people. Somali pirates are infamous for demanding ransom money in exchange for the crew, the vessel and cargo which they have captured.

The UK, along with the US, France, Italy, Denmark and other countries, is committed to securing the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia in order to protect international sea lanes that are vital to global trade. Beyond these security operations, the UK is playing a lead role in providing humanitarian and development assistance to Somalia.

The European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) launched Operation Atalanta to counter piracy in 2008. The EU NAVFOR has had a great success rate while providing protection to the World Food Programme ships entering Somalia to deliver food to the people of Somalia, as well as, African Union Mission in Somalia vessels.

So, don’t be a scurvy pirate, but this day ye definitely speak like one! Legends say there be plenty o’ rum and the occasional treasure map!

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