You swing a fist and raise a mug, singing those words as you fantasize about the Golden Age of Pirates. It was a glorious time…according to Hollywood. But historians paint a different picture filled will hard days at sea, scurvy, violence, and probable death.
So, why do we glorify those cutthroats?
For me, the idea of adventure, on-the-edge danger, the sea, and something different than my city-life comportment sounds a bit romantic. Indeed, a criticism of my written works on pirates mentions the romantic approach I take toward a pirate’s life. Call it writer’s creative license.
I love the idea of the thrills and spills of sailing on 18th century Caribbean waters.
In truth, a pirate’s life was rough. On average, the men onboard these tall ships rarely lived into their 40's. Their adventurous life brought them face-to-face with disease, combat, starvation, and other maladies that are basically extinct in current times (including a dance at the hempen jig).
If one considers the manner in which most sailors met with their career at sea, one would run high-tale to the mountains to find refuge. Navy acquisitions took place at the brothels, pubs, and other ships, leaving their newest recruits to awaken at sail on a ship, unable to escape their unfortunate fate working the lines or guns. Tunnels dug underground still exist leading from well-known pubs to the water where patrons who had passed out from excess spirits would be kidnapped and dragged to the ship while still unconscious. This “volunteers” soon learned to survive working the boat or suffer at the hand of a cruel bosun (or worse). The only reprieve from such a difficult life turned up when the ship on which they served became prey to the black flag. As pirates approached (assuming the blessed “Quarters given” had been decreed), the sailors knew it wouldn’t be long before a choice might be offered: “Join or perish!”
Many sailors opted for a life of piracy. After all, a pirate’s life offered shares for all on board, governance in voting, and beatings only “if the Code be broken.” In addition, these sailors-turned-pirates faced a better chance to return to their homes and families aboard a pirate ship…provided they weren’t captured and hung first.
Still, the idea of pirating proved preferential over involuntary naval servitude. I suppose that’s where the saying came from: “A pirate’s life for me!”
"No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto." (Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts).