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Chronicle Books
TODAY books
updated 9/21/2011 2:30:45 PM ET 2011-09-21T18:30:45

Avast, ye! Stop dreaming about being a pirate and start learning how to live the lifestyle from this book by New York Times bestselling author Pat Croce. Here's an excerpt.

Pirates were by no means nice guys: they tortured captives and slay crews that resisted attack. But then again, civilization as we know it operated under different rules way back when.

During the Golden Age of Piracy (1680-1730), life for the common man was a daily struggle to simply survive against government or merchant ship tyranny, cruelty, and barely-existent wages. Under punishing and dangerous conditions, starving workers made one piece of eight (roughly 7 shillings) per month! Piracy offered escape from a difficult and painfully disparate life.

Piracy was a democratic undertaking; pirates voted on most major decisions, including who would be their captain, where to sail next and if to attack another vessel. They also got their fair share of loot, whereas merchant ship captains often took 15 times more than their crews.

Pirates had the first form of disability insurance: If they lost an arm or a leg in battle, they were handsomely compensated, and if they were killed, their families sometimes received payments, too.

Pirate ships also had rules called Articles or the Code of Conduct that had to be signed by every crew member. These rules included no smoking below decks after sunset, lights out by eight, no women or boys aboard and no gambling, which often led to fights. Barbarians? Not these guys.

In the beginning, colonies like England and France hired private sailors to raid and destroy the ships, forts, and townships of their enemies to undermine trade and seize cargo that would help feed their people and aid their nation's economies. With official backing from their government, these privateers and buccaneers were considered heroes in their own country. But with one stroke of a pen on a treaty parchment, sailors who continued to do what they did best for mother country were labeled "pirates."

Thankfully, American colonists traded with pirates, striking a blow against Britain in a power struggle that culminated in the American Revolution.


Take a look at pirate slang and associations still made and used today, and you’ll find that while some have remained accurate over the ages, others were born in Hollywood and became “fact”.

Fact: Pirates made victims walk the plank.
FALSE: Pirates were more likely to whip victims with cat-o’-nine tails (more on that later) or keelhaul them i.e. tie them to the ship, throw them overboard and drag them until they were battered by the sea and the ship.

Fact: Pirates were peg legged.
TRUE: Pirate ships were dangerous places to be. If pirates injured a limb like a leg during battle, it was usually removed to stave off infection and replaced with a peg.

Fact: Pirates kept parrots as pets.
TRALSE: Pirates might have kept parrots as talkative, entertaining pets, but don't think they didn't make quick stew of them when food was scarce after long periods at sea!

Fact: Pirates wore eye patches.
TRUE: Many people think eye patches were used to cover war wounds/missing eyes. But pirates used eye patches, switching them from one eye to the next when going below decks, to allow themselves to adjust easier visually to the darkness below.

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The best about being a pirate is talking like one. Here are a few terms you’ll want to know—and use:

Batten Down the Hatches – prepare for a storm by fastening down battens or strips of wood over hatches and doorways.

Shiver Me Timbers! – an expression of excitement or awe. It comes from when ships crashed down on heavy seas and their timbers were said to shiver.

Pressed Into Service – to seize and force someone to work aboard a ship.

Privateer – a private individual or warship authorized by royalty or the government to attack, plunder and destroy enemy ships.


You have to hand it to pirates for being resourceful and clever to survive and thrive, and strategic in their successful raids and daring escapes. They were even very particular about how they extracted information about hidden treasure from captives or how they punished fellow pirates for breaking the ship’s Code of Conduct.

Take, for example, the cat-o’-nine tails(exclusive info from "The Pirate Handbook"):

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1. Start with a yard of rope (the thicker the better) and unravel half the length (18 inches), producing three separate “tails”.
2. Uncurl each tail, leaving you with nine.
3. Add three equally spaced knots to the cat, one at the solid end of the rope, one at the junction where the nine tails begin forming the handle, and one between the two.
4. Braid the handle, wrap it in leather, or fit it to a piece of wood.
5. Flog responsibly.


Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) gained notoriety for circumnavigating the globe from 1577 to 1580, but he was also one of the first privateers and an incredibly successful one for the British Crown at that. Drake is notorious for his attack and complete destruction of St. Augustine, Fla., in 1586.

Thomas Tew (d. 1635) was one of the few American pirates and was raised in Rhode Island. He switched from privateer to pirate and raided the Mogul of India’s treasure ships in the Red Sea for huge amounts of treasure. He was killed on a return trip to the Red Sea by a cannonball to the gut.

Anne Bonny (1697-?) was a female pirate. Women weren’t allowed on pirate ships, but a disguised Bonny became a crew member on Calico Jack Rackham’s ship. She was captured in 1720 and given an execution stay because she was pregnant. No one knows what happened to her after that.

Edward “Blackbeard” Teach (1680-1718) was the most notorious and feared of all pirates thanks to his imposing figure and smoking beard. Lt. Robert Maynard with the British Navy hunted down and beheaded Blackbeard in 1718 off North Carolina’s coast.

From the Book "The Pirate Handbook: A Rogue's Guide to Pillage, Plunder, Chaos & Conquest" by Pat Croce. Copyright © 2011 by Pat Croce. Reprinted by arrangement with Chronicle Books.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive


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