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.
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
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!)
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!
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.
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
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.
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