Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Pirate Articles - The Terms and Conditions of Pirate Ships

Believe it or not, pirates operated under a democracy. It was understood that to be a successful crew, conduct had to be governed by rules and regulations called the ship’s articles. Also known as articles of agreement or pirate codes, these terms and conditions were the law and order of pirate communities. Detailed obligations, destinations, the divvying up of shares, compensation for injuries, and even punishments for breaking the rules were written prior to weighing anchor.

Each crewman had input into what went into the articles and, as a whole, the agreement was approved and signed—or in the case of the illiterate, placed a mark on the document. The men swore an oath to uphold the articles upon a bible or symbolic weapon. By pledging this allegiance, the crewmen were entitled to the rights to vote, bear arms, and fair shares of the booty, whether that be treasure, food, or liquor. New recruits, a.k.a. those captured from other ships, were often forced into signing the articles, too—especially trained men with important jobs such as carpenters, surgeons, and navigators.
Black Bart
Some articles written during the Golden Age of piracy still survive. The following is probably the most famous. These are the articles of the Royal Fortune captained by Bartholomew Roberts, more notoriously known as Black Bart.

  1. Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  2. Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
  3. None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
  4. The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
  5. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  6. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
  7. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  8. None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
  9. No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
  10. The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
  11. The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favor only.
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Who knew pirates could be so impartial and self-governing?

About the Author

Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.




2 comments:

Alanna Lucas said...

I'm in love with your cover! Great post!

Jennifer Bray-Weber said...

Thanks so much, Alanna!