CLOSE
Original image
Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts/Getty Images

11 Rules from an Actual Pirate Code

Original image
Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts/Getty Images

Even scallywags had their standards. Ranking among history’s most successful pirates is Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts (1682-1722), a Welsh plunderer who worked with one of his many crews to draft the following bylaws in 1722. Some might seem remarkably progressive to modern readers, while others definitely won’t. If you’d been onboard Roberts’ vessel (the Royal Fortune), would you agree to them anyway?

1. Rock the Vote

“Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity makes it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.”

2. Be Smart: Don’t Steal from Pirates

“Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels, or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another, he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.”

3. Gambling’s for Landlubbers

“None shall game for money, either with dice or cards.”

4. Mind the Curfew

“The lights and candles shall be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.”

5. Keep Battle-Ready

“Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols, at all times clean and ready for action.”

6. Never Bring Your Date Home

“No boy or woman [shall] be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing one of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise, he shall suffer death.”

7. Stand by Your Hearties

“He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in the time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.”

8. Settle Disputes Onshore (with Pistols & Cutlasses, of Course)

“None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended onshore by sword or pistol in this manner: at the word of command from the Quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the Quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim, they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draws first blood shall be declared the victor.”

9. Lose a Limb, Get Worker’s Comp

“Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have eight hundred pieces of eight from the common stock, and for lesser hurts proportionately.”

NOTE: Pieces of eight weren’t just for pirates. These Spanish coins once enjoyed widespread international use & were even accepted as legal tender in the U.S. until 1857.

10. Remember: Rank Has its Privileges

“The Captain and the Quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the Master Gunner and Boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.”

11. Give the Band a Break

“The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only, by right, on all other days, by favor only.”

Original image
iStock
7 Historic Beaches Worth a Visit on the U.S. Virgin Islands
Original image
iStock

On St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and Water Island, every coast is a museum—and every tanning session can double as a history lesson. From Cinnamon Bay to Honeymoon Beach, read on for the backstories of some of the Caribbean’s most beautiful stretches of sand.

1. CINNAMON BAY BEACH (ST. JOHN)

In the days before European settlers arrived, the U.S. Virgin Islands were occupied by two (often warring) groups known as the Caribs and the Taínos. A wealth of information about the latter has been discovered beneath the sands of Cinnamon Bay Beach on St. John. Here, archaeologists have unearthed what they believe was a Taíno temple, built at some point between 1020 and 1490 CE. Since 1998, the scenic coastline has also yielded hordes of Taíno artifacts with religious connotations, such as tiny sculptures of various deities. Other recovered objects include pots, beads, and golden discs.

2. COLUMBUS LANDING BEACH (ST. CROIX)

Thanks to the rhyme every kid learns in elementary school, the fact that Christopher Columbus supposedly “discovered” the New World in 1492 is common knowledge. But there aren’t many poems out there about the man’s three return trips. In September 1493, with 17 Spanish ships at his command, Columbus embarked upon a second expedition into the western hemisphere. This time, he came across a Caribbean island that the natives called “Ayay.” Columbus rechristened it “Santa Cruz,” though you might know this landmass better by its current name: St. Croix.

The famous explorer himself never went ashore. Instead, he sent a group of scouts to investigate the terrain. These sailors landed on a beach on the western side of Salt River Bay. In doing so, they became the only participants in one of Columbus’s voyages to ever set foot on what is now U.S. soil. Unfortunately, things quickly went downhill for the adventurous seamen. The party encountered several Taínos who’d been taken prisoner by some nearby Caribs. Columbus’s men decided to bring the natives back to the waiting ships, but en route, the Spaniards were attacked by a contingent of Caribs. Some historians maintain that this was the first documented confrontation between Europeans and Native Americans.

3. HONEYMOON BEACH (WATER ISLAND)

The United States bought St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas from Denmark in 1917. Then, in 1944, America took nearby Water Island off the Danish government’s hands for the modest price of $10,000. It was subsequently leased out by the Department of the Interior to a private developer in 1950. A terraforming visionary, the developer more or less built the landmass’ most popular attraction: Honeymoon Beach. Originally, this was a rocky patch of coastline that stretched just 50 feet in length. But under his direction, the beach was massively expanded—a process that involved removing some 200 truckloads’ worth of debris.

In 1996, Water Island was handed over to the territorial government. Today, the radically transformed land is a magnet for scuba divers, sandcastle-builders, and, yes, newlyweds.

4. THE CANEEL BAY BEACHES (ST. JOHN)

A grandson of industrialist John D. Rockefeller first laid eye on this tropical paradise in 1952. Utterly spellbound, he proceeded to purchase most of St. John and set up a resort on Caneel Bay. He couldn’t have picked a better location for this vacation spot, as the facility is surrounded by no less than seven beaches which continue to delight its guests today.

In 1956, the wealthy philanthropist gave some 5000 acres worth of land on St. John to the United States’ National Park Service (NPS). By accepting this gift, the government agreed to honor two key provisos. As per his wishes, the plot was converted into a brand new National Park—which now covers a grand total of 12,909 acres and spans multiple islands. The Caneel Bay resort, which hosts movie stars and dignitaries, is open for ten months each year.

5. LINDBERGH BAY BEACH (ST. THOMAS)

What does Charles Lindbergh have to do with the Virgin Islands, you ask? In 1927, he made history by becoming the first pilot to ever complete a solo, non-stop, transatlantic flight. Less than a year later, Lindbergh celebrated the feat by flying across Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean in an epic victory tour. On January 31, 1928, he touched down in St. Thomas, at the invitation of the then-governor. The aviator’s landing site was a golf course located on a part of the island known as Mosquito Bay. After his departure, this whole area was renamed Lindbergh Bay. Accordingly, its long, palm tree-dotted beach came to be known as the Lindbergh Bay Beach. 

6. MAGENS BAY (ST. THOMAS)

One of the most oft-visited beaches on the Virgin Islands, Magens Bay is another hotspot for Taíno artifacts. Flutes, pottery fragments, and even sculptures have all been found in the area. Presidential history buffs might also be interested to learn that John and Jackie Kennedy once went for a swim there on December 16, 1958.

7. GIBNEY BEACH (ST. JOHN)

Located on the Denis Bay peninsula, this white-sanded seashore was once the favorite vacation spot of a man who helped split the atom. In 1957, a veteran of the Manhattan Project bought two acres of nearby land and built a modest beach house for his family. Before the physicist’s untimely death in 1967, he could often be seen sailing offshore with his wife and their daughter. Sadly, his home away from home was eventually destroyed by a hurricane. At present, a government-run community center—complete with a front porch and kitchen—sits in its place.

What better way to explore the U.S. Virgin Islands’ rich history than in the Islands themselves? Learn more about the upcoming Centennial at VisitUSVI.com.

Original image
iStock
What’s the Difference Between a Pirate and a Buccaneer?
Original image
iStock

Talk Like a Pirate Day has returned to port and you can bet your boots that a few celebrants will be using the terms “pirate” and “buccaneer” interchangeably. Most people do. Nevertheless, these two words aren’t actually synonymous.  

Four hundred years ago, if you were a seafaring thief, the label that you received said a great deal—mainly about whoever it was doing the labeling. Anyone who called you a "pirate" probably hated your guts. But those who cited you as a “buccaneer” might have had a very different attitude. Within certain contexts, the latter group may have even embraced you as a national hero.

Time for a swashbuckling semantics lesson. In article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy is defined as "any illegal acts of violence or detention ... committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship." UNCLOS also states that, to be considered piracy, a crime must occur within international waters. If the event in question takes place within a particular country’s territorial waters, the aggressors will be deemed armed robbers rather than pirates.

Historical definitions tended to be a lot broader. During the 17th and 18th centuries, England regarded piracy as any criminal act committed on the high seas or below the low tide mark around shores, rivers, and estuaries. Hundreds of years earlier, in the year 100 CE, Plutarch—a noteworthy Greek scholar— talked about pirates as anybody who attacked a ship or maritime city without legal authority.

Just what did he mean by “legal authority?” Plutarch was probably alluding to warships. Nowadays, these are generally owned by national governments, but this wasn’t always the case. From medieval times through the early 20th century, it was common practice for a nation at war to recruit private vessels to assault its enemy’s ships, steal their goods, and plunder their ports. Mariners who engaged in such state-approved mischief were called “privateers.”

Usually, a privateer vessel was allowed to operate under a license that was granted by the country it served. Dubbed the Letter of Marque, this document laid out a code of conduct and payment policy for the crew. (Privateers almost always got to keep a percentage of whatever they took.)

Essentially, privateers were independent contractors, acting as hostile, government-commissioned, seafaring mercenaries. Therefore, they technically weren’t pirates because real pirates didn’t behave in accordance with any national laws or regulations. But the dividing line here was pretty blurry. Many privateers eventually became pirates and vice versa. Also, a captured privateer would sometimes be tried as a pirate by the country he or she was victimizing.

This brings us back to buccaneers: Throughout the 16th through 18th centuries, Spain more or less controlled the Caribbean. However, in the 1600s, she started to get some not-so-friendly competition. By the middle of that century, settlers from various other European countries—including England, France, and the Netherlands—had colonized parts of the Leeward Islands and Hispaniola. Among these newcomers, transplanted Frenchmen were especially common. The Gallic colonists would frequently smoke their meat over a wooden platform that they called a boucan. Thanks to this cooking technique, the frontiersmen were given the nickname “buccaneers.”

Before long, many turned to piracy. Because of Spain’s huge colonial presence in the Caribbean, buccaneers more or less exclusively targeted Spanish ports and ships. This turned plenty of heads across the Atlantic. In an attempt to cripple Spain’s empire, the English, French, and Dutch began issuing Letters of Marque to buccaneer vessels.

Eventually, the word buccaneer came to possess its current—and very specific—definition, which is: “any of the piratical adventurers who raided Spanish colonies and ships along the American coast in the second half of the 17th century.” (Told you it was specific.)

The most famous buccaneer of them all was undoubtedly Sir Henry Morgan. Little is known about his early life, although most historians believe that he was born in Wales at some point in 1635. Nearly 20 years later, he set sail for Barbados as a member of an expedition that saw England seize Jamaica from the Spanish.

Morgan quickly emerged as a leading buccaneer, and as England’s most ruthlessly effective privateer. In 1668, he seized the heavily guarded city of Porto Bello, Panama, holding it for ransom until the Spanish coughed up an amazing 250,000 pesos. Three years later, Morgan raided and sacked Panama City, which promptly burned to the ground. Such exploits did not endear him to the Spanish, but in England, Morgan was a widely beloved figure. Knighted by King Charles II, he was made Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1674. Following his death on August 25, 1688, Morgan received a grandiose state funeral, complete with a 22-gun salute.

And, yes, that rum was named after him. Clearly, buccaneering had its perks. 

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios