10 Misconceptions About Pirates

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Hi I'm Elliott and this is mental_floss video. Today I'm gonna talk about some misconceptions about pirates and destroy all of your dreams.


This is a common misconception because there were thousands of problematic pirates between around 1650 and 1720 CE, but pirates have been around for a lot longer than that. In fact, there's evidence that pirates were a huge problem in the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea during the 14th century BCE. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians all had to be wary of pirates coming into their ports and disrupting their trade. You know, how pirates do.


Actually, experts believe that 17th century pirates talked just like any other English sailor would, so they probably did not have their own accents and slang words. It was the 1950 Disney movie Treasure Island that invented and popularized pirate speak with "arrrr"s and expressions like "shiver me timbers."


If you think about it, why would they do this? Still, the idea that pirates bury their treasure persevered thanks to works of fiction. Most pirates would not dare to do this. One pirate who did was William Kidd who lived during the 17th century. Authorities found some of his treasure buried on Long Island, New York, which was then used as evidence to convict Kidd. People still look for more of Kidd's buried treasure to this day, but the majority of pirates held onto their riches. 'Cause, like, why wouldn't you?


Actually many pirate crews were pretty progressive for their time. For instance, some experts claim that pirates had some of the original homosexual marriages, known as matelotages. According to the book Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition, this was "linking a buccaneer and another male—most often a youth—in a relationship with clearly homosexual characteristics." Sometimes this would extend to sharing each other's property and being your partner's sole heir. Other common prejudices at the time were ignored too, like many pirate crews included freed and runaway slaves. It's estimated that 60 percent of Blackbeard's crew was black. Women were rarely welcomed by pirates, though.


Actually, the majority of pirates were probably in their 20s, and this is because many people turned to piracy after trying their luck as merchants or sailors, which were jobs for young men. It also probably helped that men in their 20s were less likely to have attachments at home, so they were more willing to become pirates. This checks out—one study estimates that only 4 percent of pirates between 1716 and 1726 were married.


Well-known pirates like Blackbeard got their reputations because they had these large, intimidating ships, so it really depended on the pirate, but many ships were fairly small and there were advantages to that. Smaller ships were faster and it was easier for them to approach shallow waters to do all their pirating business.


Alright, so the evidence for pirates wearing eye patches is sketchy at best, but if they did it probably wasn't because they were missing an eye. When you go from a bright area to a completely dark one, it might take your eyes almost half an hour to completely adjust, so pirates might have chosen to keep one of their eyes adjusted to the dark at all times. That way, when they went from the bright decks of the ship to the dark below areas, they'd be able to use the eye that was normally covered by the patch to see. I would call this a stupid idea, but I'm not a pirate.


Actually, so many pirates were successful because they laid down the law and kept their ships in order. Pirate codes were not uncommon: some banned the crew from gambling and smoking and some had limitations on drinking, so it was no fun, guys. No fun to be a pirate.


First of all, it wasn't the decision of one person, the captain for instance. Many crews were actually democratic and would vote on the fate of a traitor. And having prisoners walk the plank was rare, but that doesn't mean they were nice guys necessarily. If they had a prisoner they needed information out of, torturing the person wasn't out of the question.


Oh no, they do. Modern pirates have been known to hijack ships and hold them for ransom. According to The Economist, an average ship provides a crew of pirates with $2.7 million, meaning they might get $75,000 each. And piracy is a huge problem because they travel around and commit crimes in many countries, meaning it often needs to be dealt with on an international level.

Thank you for watching Misconceptions on mental_floss video. If you guys have a topic for an upcoming Misconceptions video that you'd like to see, leave it in the comments and we'll check it out and maybe we'll do it, it'll be a lot of fun. Bye!

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[h/t Thrillist]


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