Monday, June 30, 2014

Pirate Trivia

Striped Socks

Yes, pirates wore stripey socks! 300 years ago, there were a lot of laws about what kind of clothes working-class people could wear. The type of fabric, the color, even the amount that went into a single garment was controlled by “sumptuary laws.” The rich didn’t want anyone to “get above their station” by dressing too nicely!

One of the few things that was not controlled was socks. So when a pirate first came into some money, he often went out and bought the most expensive pair of socks he could find – knee-high, brightly colored, and often striped.

To the people of the time, it gave the same impression as the uber-expensive hoodies worn by today’s gangsters.

How big was a pirate ship?

Everyone imagines pirate ships as being huge, square-masted, and carrying hundreds of guns. Movies like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise just enhance this image. In fact, most pirate ships were small, nimble sloops and schooners with triangular sails.

While pirates robbed anyone they could catch, the proper proportions between a pirate ship and a merchant vessel was the same as between a wolf and a cow. And the pirates were just as likely to form a group in order to attack lager prey.

The merchants handed over their goods to the pirates for the same reason people give their money to a nervous teenager with a knife. Anything can happen, and suddenly it becomes apparent that there are things much more important than money.

Pirates and private property

One of the perks of being a pirate was a chance to own some basic household goods. Unlike regular sailors, pirates owned several changes of clothes, plates, and even silverware. The remains of sunken pirate ships have turned up pewter dishes with the names of their owners proudly – if crudely - engraved on them.

Often sailors on merchant ships were forced to eat out of common buckets, using their hands.

Silk ribbons

Pirates improved the smooth wooden grips on their pistols by wrapping them in silk ribbon. And in order to carry more than two at a time, they tied pairs of pistols together with longer ribbons, then draped them over their shoulders.

No one ever said it looked too feminine. Wonder why?


Although he cultivated a fearsome reputation, the pirate Blackbeard never harmed any of his captives… In fact, the only deaths or injuries proven to be caused by Blackbeard were during his final battle, when he was attacked by the British Navy.

Not so privileged

Not only were pirate captains elected by their crews, but they lacked most of the perks assumed by navy and merchant captains. In fact, a pirate captain could not usually even count on privacy in his own cabin. Most ships had rules stating that anyone had the right to barge into the captain’s cabin whenever they wanted.


The name of the famous pirate haunt is simply the Spanish word for “Turtle.” There are several islands by this name in the Caribbean. Some were named because their shape looked like the dome of a turtle’s shell, others because sea turtles laid eggs there.

Davy Jones

The name “Davy Jones” does not refer to a person, either real or fictional. It is simply a seaman’s slang for the devil. Going to “Davy Jones’ Locker” meant that when you died, you weren’t going to heaven.

Walking the plank

Pirates may have thrown some of their prisoners overboard, but they never imagined making them walk the plank. It’s an entirely fictional idea dreamed up by a penny-novelist trying to sell adventure books. But, after pirates had read some of the stories, they began to practice the ritual. They’d read it in a book; it must be true.

Saucy Sadie

A female river-pirate named Sadie the Goat (for her habit of head-butting her opponents in a fight) got into a scuffle with an equally tough lady, a six-foot-tall bouncer named Gallius Mag. Mag won the fight by biting Sadie’s ear off, and kept the ear as a souvenir.

Years later, the women met again and became friends. Mag gave Sadie the ear back, and Sadie wore it on a chain around her neck for the rest of her life.

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