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How to Write Realistic Pirates

If you have ever tried writing pirates, then you know that it is harder than it sounds. I would bet that you were filled with questions like: What was there lifelike before piracy? Did they bury their treasure? And what happened once they got caught?

Today I am writing to you to answer at least some of these questions.

What was their life like?

Before Piracy

Most white pirates were only normal people who wanted a quick chance at getting rich. They might have been farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, or even sailors. Sometimes extreme conditions on the sea made honest, good fairing captions desert or even mutilate their ship. They then turned to piracy as a new way of life.

However, during the golden age of piracy there were about ten thousand documented black pirates, and most likely many more that aren’t or weren’t documented. Black Pirates were usually runaways hopping to find freedom through lawlessness. Sometimes when Pirates would raid the shore black slaves would choose to go with them. Because on a pirate ship everyone got a vote and rights.

Aboard the Ship

Life on the sea was by no means as glamorous as people make it out to be. Ships were commonly plagued with sickness, diseases, and rats. In fact, the mortality rate from sickness and wounds was by far higher than the mortality rate from fighting. They were always aware of the disgusting food, poor living conditions, and danger that they were in.

Despite all of this, most pirate crews managed to make rules and regulations to guide and govern their ships. They also assigned roles for certain people to complete. The captain’s job was to lead their crew into battle and in day-to-day life, but the Quartermaster’s job was to dish out everything from food rations to punishment. The Quartermaster also had the very important job of dishing out the loot from the raids. There were also the Boatswains who had many jobs but some of the most important were attending to the sales and rigging, and making sure that the deck was clean and clear of trash. They worked hand in hand the Carpenters who also kept the ship afloat by mending holes and patching torn sails.

Speaking of patching, there was also the surgeon who fixed up the pirates after the fight. During the fights the Gunners who aimed and shot the guns and cannons, and Powder monkeys there, job was to load and clean the guns. Sometimes the guns would go off when they were cleaning them and then they would die.

Then there was the cook who had to work with the food that they had, to make the men happy. A very hard job when all you have is salty meat, wormy biscuits also known as ‘hard tack’, and fish.

Pirates would often get drunk interestedly they carried around ten thousand gallons of beer, rum, and cider on the ship compared to the three thousand gallons of water. Rum was a lot less common compared to beer or cider, as it was more potent.

Life at Port

Though it might be surprising to some pirates actually did port their ships every once and a while. Whether that was to spent their loot, hide from their pursuers, refill their food supply or take shelter from furies storms.

Their life on land was way more party than their life on the ship. One of the most common things to do once in port was to gamble. This action was normally band when at sea due to the fact that it led to many fights. During this game pirates would bid off the treasure that they had just liberated. Many fortunes were won and lost, leading many pirates to ruin.

On land pirates ate and drank to their hearts’ content, making up for all the bad food on the ship. They preferred stronger alcohol, and very flavorful food so they could taste if past their consumption of alcohol.


Acquiring treasure

Pirates lived for treasure, they lived and breathed the dream of one day becoming someone with buckets of gold. They took it from were ever they could whether that be on land or on the sea. Soon attacks on lone ships became so common that they started traveling in convoys to try and protect themselves. As many as thirty ships could have been in a singular convoy at once.

All of these ships could carry up to 25,000 tons of gold or silver making them a highly valuable prize to pirates. Sometimes pirates would follow these convoys for weeks hopping for one of the ships to fall behind so they could ambush it.

Hiding Treasure

Most Pirates spent their gold or silver almost right away but there were some who did hide it. They hid their treasure in caves and chests. But the big question out there is Did Pirates Burry their Treasure? The answer. Not normally, no.

There are very few reports and documents saying that they buried their treasure. And there are downsides to having buried treasure. Imagine having to go dig it up each time you wanted to buy something? It would be inconvenient and impractical.

Finding Treasure

To this day people are still trying to find pirate treasure. Something hid that can’t be found has fascinated them for generations. Lists of Edward Teach, Captain Kidd and Henry Morgan’s treasure still fuel explorers to go to the depths of caves and the bottom of pits to find it.

Capture and Punishment

Getting Caught

Pirates were known for being vicious, cruel and lucky. So lucky in fact, that they quickly also became known for escaping capture attempts.

Despite popular belief if a pirate was captured, they weren’t put to death right away. Most of them had trials. Most of the time their trials were unfair and cruel. In addition, if people heard a trial was going on they would throng to the court room to watch and hear testimonies of the pirate’s deeds.


The punishments that pirates went through onboard and on land were very different, but they were both very painful.

When captured and brought on land the most common thing that pirates would get sentenced to was hanging or ‘the dance of the hempen jig’ as some people called it. In the cases of more famous pirates (normally the captains) their bodies were enclosed in specially made iron cages. Then they were left to swing in the air till nothing, but their bones were left. That way it could be a warning for the other pirates to stay away.

However, on the pirate ship their punishments were brutal, but not normally resulting in death. At times this would almost make it worse. A common punishment was Moses’ Law or flogging. They thought that in the Old Testament Moses’ Law was the number of floggings a person could survive without dying, the number being forty. However, they only delt out thirty-nine because they considered it unchristian to deal more than that. A different one that you might be familiar with is Marooning, this is when the whole pirate ship dropped you off at an unpopulated island with no food, water, or clothing. They, however, did give you one shot so that you could take your own life if you where driven to do so. And finally, was Sweating. The captive or wrong dower was forced to run around and around the mast until he collapsed from shear exhaustion.

In conclusion

I hope that you now have a better understanding of pirates and their ways. I hope that reading this helped you compile your pirate’s backstory, flesh out your chase seen and ignite your imagination

Rock on

~K. Florence

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