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The 'Pirate Code'

Believe it or not, but it's fair to say that life on a Pirate ship was more democratically honest, fair and in favour of the working man more so than life on land during the 17th-18th Century. This was due to the ‘Pirate Code’, or sometimes known as 'Pirates Articles', or 'Articles of Agreement' which were a code of conduct for governing pirates.


A group of sailors, on turning pirate, would draw up their own code or articles, which provided rules for discipline, division of stolen goods, and compensation for injured pirates.


Pirate Articles varied from one Captain to another, and sometimes even from one voyage to another, but they were generally alike in including provisions for discipline, specifications for each crew mate's share of treasure, and compensation for the injured.


Each crew member was asked to sign or make his mark on the articles, then swear an oath of allegiance or honour. The oath was sometimes taken on a Bible, but John Phillips' men, lacking a Bible, swore on an axe. Legend suggests that other pirates swore on crossed pistols, swords, or on a human skull, or with a leg on each side of a cannon. This act formally inducted the signer into the pirate crew, generally entitling him to vote for officers and on other "affairs of moment", to bear arms, and to his share of the plunder. The articles having been signed, were then posted in a prominent place, often the door to the captain's cabin.


Lets take a following look at one of the most famous and successive Pirate’s of the Golden Age, Captain Bartholomew ‘Black Bart’ Roberts, Articles (‘Pirate Code’);


I - ‘Every man has a vote in affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.’


II - ‘Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes.’ (This was because, (over and above their proper share), they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to the value of a dollar in plate, jewels, or money, marooning was their punishment. If the robbery was only betwixt on another, they contented themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that was guilty, and set him on shore, not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere where he was sure to encounter hardships.)


III - ‘No person to game at cards or dice for money.’


IV - ‘The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour still remain inclined for drinking, they are to do it on the open deck.’


V - ‘To keep your piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service.’


VI - ‘No boy or women to be allowed amongst us. If any man to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carry her to sea, disguised, is to suffer death.’


VII - ‘To desert the ship or your quarters in battle, is punished by death or marooning.’


VIII - ‘No striking one another on board, but every man’s quarrels to be ended on shore, at sword and pistol.'


IX - ‘No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he is to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.’


X - ‘The Captain and Quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: The Master, Boatswain, and Gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.’


XI - ‘The musicians to have rest on the sabbath day, but the other six days and nights, none without special favour.’



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