11 Rules From an Actual Pirate Code

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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.”

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September 18, 2014 - 8:21am
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