Brutal Pirates Had Their Good Points

In the movies and at theme parks, pirates are portrayed as drunken, peg-legged bandits who make captives walk the plank. Now, historians are taking a second look at the seafaring thieves and learning that many weren’t as brutal as people think. While they certainly weren’t nice guys, living in a time of tyranny forced them to elect their own captains, divide up their booty fairly, and offer an early version of Workman’s Comp. Pirates had a form of disability insurance centuries before it became standard. They were paid handsomely if they lost an arm or a leg in battle, and if they were killed, their families sometimes received payments. Apparently, there was an extraordinary democracy among pirates. New information gathered from the discovery of sunken pirate ships and research into court documents and government correspondence has revealed that pirates voted on most major decisions, such as whether to attack a vessel, or where to sail next. Even with this newly revealed information, buccaneers are not to be romanticized. They were brutal to be sure. A favorite torture method was tightening a leather cord around a captive’s forehead until his eyeballs popped out of his skull. Crews that resisted pirate invasions often had their throats slit and were thrown overboard to the sharks. They were nasty, brutal and vicious people because they lived in an age which was extraordinarily nasty, brutal and vicious.