Every member of a pirate crew was important. Skills and seafaring knowledge may vary but, generally speaking, it took many men to sail a ship. Add to that, to expertly be ready for action. Discipline, responsibility, and working together ensured success, or at the very least staying afloat.
Here is a brief look at what made up a crew.
The captain, having proven himself worthy of the title, was elected by the crew. He was a good leader, cunning, and courageous. He took command of the ship during battle, determined when to give chase and when to seek safer waters. The crew looked to him to find treasure, be that a prized ship, goods, or riches, and to keep them alive.
The quartermaster, who was also elected, was just as important as the captain, possibly more so. He was the voice of the crew, representing their best interests. He was usually the most trusted member of the crew and may have been seen as the captain’s equal. He handled the plunder. This meant that he determined what goods would fetch a fine price in port and allocating fair shares to the crew. Though he distributed the booty, he also doled out justice and punishments. Rationing food and drink fell to him, as well.
Navigator, aka Sailing Master
This seaman knew the sea and stars. He had to be literate, good in mathematics, and be able plot courses, especially in dangerous waters, reefs, and shoals.
Surgeon, aka Barber
Scarce and highly sought after, the surgeon tended to the injured and sick. He was a busy man treating illnesses such as dysentery, fever, and venereal diseases. He also had a nice variety of tools and knives used for surgical procedures. *shivers*
He was in charge of the shipboard guns and ammunition. It took years of experience to become a master gunner. Gun crews had to work together quickly and with precision. The master gunner trained and oversaw the gun crews to ensure not only their effectiveness but their safety, too.
Boatswain (Pronounced Bosun, often spelled bo’sun)
The boatswain was like a department manager. He supervised all deck activities, crewman working the decks, the ship’s rigging, sails, anchors, and carrying out any other duties asked of him by one of the ship’s officers.
Cook, aka Barbeque
A pirate’s gotta eat and the cook was the guy that prepared the meals.
If it was wood, the carpenter was responsible for its maintenance. Namely the ship’s hull, yardarms, and masts. He quite literally kept the ship afloat by plugging holes, filling seams, and repairing damage caused by battle, worms, weather, rocks, and rough seas. Sometimes, the carpenter was also the ship’s surgeon.
Lesser known crew:
First mate - the second-in-command to the captain, which he chooses. Incidentally, the first mate does not outweigh the quartermaster. Many crews didn’t have first mates or, because they were second-in-command, might be interchangeable with the quartermaster, depending on the abilities of the pirate filling the role. Other mates, such as a bo’sun mate or gunner mate, would act as apprentices.
Helmsman - the fellow at the wheel
Cooper - the barrel maker was in charge of maintenance and repairs of all casks, which held food, water, and, of course, the rum.
Coxswain - in charge of the ship’s launch boats
Prize crew - pirates assigned to take over the command of a captured ship
Topman - this sailor wouldn’t be squeamish of heights. He worked high up in the masts on rigging.
Watch - one or more men on deck duty that watched for land sightings, ships, or anything afoul, be it bad weather, shifts in tides or wind, or unwanted visitors. Watch can also mean the shift of shipboard duties
Anchor watch, stand-by watch - one or more men who were on deck duty while the ship in anchored and/or while the rest of the crew is on shore. They watched for
Rope maker - you guessed it, he makes and repairs ropes. And there is a boatload of rope on a ship, pun intended.
Armourer - in charge of all small arms—muskets, blunderbusses, pistols, etc. Crewmen didn’t carry these weapons on them. They were stored until needed.
Supercargo, aka Cape-merchant - handles the business transactions of cargo
Cabin boy - a young boy who served as valet to the captain
Fo’c’sle jack - any crewman who is not an officer
A.B.S. - simply put, able-bodied seaman
Musicians - as non-essential as they were, those with musical talent, even just a tiny bit, were favored. They played jigs and sea shanties for merriment and roused fighting spirit during battles.
Everyone on board played a role in the crew. They all worked hard. It’s no wonder they partied hard, too. Pass the rum!
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.