30 December 2015

Ye Olde Golden Age...

...of Piracy!

The Brethren of the Coast or Buccaneer's are very misunderstood.

Watching fiction, one gets the wrong impression of pirate crews and how they were organized.

We see a captain who is all powerful and in command.  In many ways, late 17th and early 18th century pirate society was quite libertarian. The apparent violation of the non-aggression principle by being pirates is really more from looking at them from a modern perspective.  These men had legitimate grievances and their piracy in large can be take as just retaliation against the companies and nations who wrong'd them.

In actuality, the captain was only in command in battle.  He was elected to the post.  Once the fight was over, the most important man in the crew became the quartermaster, also elected, who kept the books.

The books were important, paramount, to everyone because those told the payout at the end of the hunt.  A payout of profits.

Payouts were made according to shares.  According to the crew's articles of agreement, a contract, some crew got more shares than others.

For example (John Phillips 1723 articles):


  1. Every man shall obey civil command; the captain shall have one full share and a half in all prizes; the [quarter] master, carpenter, boatswain, and [master] gunner shall have one share and a quarter.
  2. If any man shall offer to run away, or keep any secret from the company, he shall be marooned with one bottle of powder, one bottle of water, one small arm and shot.
  3. If any man shall steal any thing in the company, or game, to the value of a piece of eight, he shall be marroon'd or shot.
  4. If at any time we should meet another Marrooner that man that shall sign his articles without the consent of our company, shall suffer such punishment as the captain and company shall think fit.
  5. That man that shall strike another whilst these articles are in force, shall receive Mose's Law on the bare back.
  6. That man that shall snap his arms, or smoke tobacco in the hold, without a cap to his pipe, or carry a candle lighted without a lanthorn, shall suffer the same punishment as in the former article.
  7. That man that shall not keep his arms clean, fit for an engagement, or neglect his business, shall be cut off from his share, and suffer such other punishment as the captain and the company shall think fit.
  8. If any man shall loose a joint in time of an engagement he shall have 400 pieces of eight; if a limb 800.
  9. If at any time you meet with a prudent woman, that man that offers to meddle with her, without her consent, shall suffer present death.
It's important to remember that in addition to getting a larger share of the profits, they were also taking a larger share of the risk.  In effect they are paying more in the costs than the normal crew.

Most of the time the amounts taken and spent during a voyage were kept in the quartermaster's ledger then tallied at the end.  Payouts for injuries were made, supplies purchased, goods sold and only THEN was it divided out according to shares.

1 comment:

  1. When a pirate captain was an alpha male - - Blackbeard, Roberts, Ed Low - - the articles about the captain submitting meekly to his crew seemed to fall by the wayside, although even Blackbeard recorded in his log that he had to look sharp to find prey because the "rogues plotting" against him. Lesser pirates such as Edward England and Stede Bonnet were indeed deposed for being unsucessful or too merciful.

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