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The Pirate Crew
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Salty Dog
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:19 am    Post subject: The Pirate Crew Reply with quote

THE PIRATE CREW

What made a man into a pirate? What did pirates look like? For some it comes as bad news that pirates on average weren’t dirty, nasty evil men; they didn’t bury treasure, didn’t habitually make their victims walk the plank into the sea, wear distinctive tattoos or ear-rings as a matter of course, have a parrot perched on one shoulder, always carried a cutlass and a long-barreled flintlock pistol and have at least one wooden leg. Pirate captains - with very few exceptions - weren’t bloodthirsty despots, capering clowns or lumbering drunken idiots.

Taking an average between 1700 and 1730 of pirates hanged for their crimes, pirates were aged twenty-five years of age. Pirates were almost all ex-seamen, with a background of the merchant service or the Navy. Many turned into pirates from serving on privateers, but some young British or Colonial men in English or North American Atlantic ports joined a known pirate crew after hearing of the rich plunder to be had in ‘venturing your life’ and taking a few risks. Seamen - even after a short voyage - would bear the marks and scars of handling heavy tackle aboard a ship at sea. Hauling on tough hemp ropes and handling wet sails left large calluses on the hands, and wind and salt-spray gave their faces and necks a ‘ruddy’ weather-beaten look. The way a seaman walked reflected the weeks and months spent traversing a wooden deck which continuously pitched and rolled underfoot. In later periods, members of the Press-Gang could spot a fellow seaman from his appearance and his walk even though the retired seaman might be dressed as a butcher, a baker or a candle-stick maker and be strolling through the streets of Nottingham. A seaman’s life was physically very hard work, in a dangerous environment involving constant damp and discomfort, poor living conditions and bad or monotonous food and drink. Seamen died from being drowned, but most died from diseases such as dysentery, tuberculosis, typhus and smallpox ; just as did ‘landsmen’ ashore - most pirates generally had ‘a short life but a merry one’ ending in penury or at the gallows but the very luckiest were able to retire on average between two and four years later with enough money to ‘set up for life’. Unlike privateers or merchants seamen, pirates had the promise and opportunity of huge financial gains to make up for their hardships.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A pirate returning to port in 1725 with the equivalent of £500 in his pocket was individually richer than 95% of the rest of the population of Europe and North America. Between the years 1690 and 1730 it can be calculated that the number of pirates world-wide was estimated at between 2000 and 3000 at any one time and throughout this forty-year period they stole money and materials to the value of the staggering sum of £1000 million pounds sterling. Though most pirates lost or squandered their shares on drink and women, each pirate had - on average - an equivalent income of around a million pounds per annum.

Depending on the historical period in question, people’s appearances would loosely follow fashion or the availability of materials. In an age where your status in society was decreed by the clothes you wore, many - if they could afford it - went for an extravagant cut of a coat or dress (to use more than the requisite amount of material was a sign of wealth) and of course to make your clothes of silk rather than wool or linen showed that you were a very rich person. Pirates followed the general pattern for sea-going men ; tough, plain clothes to suit the working environment and the prevailing weather. In warm climates, a neck scarf over a loose shirt of linen or cotton - usually ‘white’ in colour but often having a coloured pattern of stripes or check - worn in or over loose-fitting trousers or more often a pair of loose breeches cut off below the knees between a foot and six inches above the ankle. Seaman’s trousers known as ‘petticoat breeches’ were generously cut in the legs and resembled ladies’ culottes of a later period ; these breeches were made of wool or linen to suit the climate. Breeches would have a button-fly or be a fall-front pattern as common fashion decreed. A seaman working in hot and sunny climates always wore something on his head ; a bandanna-like scarf, a bonnet, a woollen cap, a wide-brimmed hat or a cocked hat. His jacket made from wool, canvas or heavy linen - sometimes called a ‘fearnought’ - would be a plain cut-down or shortened version of the civilian coat, with the bottom hem being just below the waist instead of having a full and pleated skirt, and the sleeves ‘turned-back’ to button just below the elbow. Some seamen would wear a sleeved waistcoat instead of a jacket. Blue was a popular colour for clothes, as were red and yellow. Seamen would possess (or share within a group) a heavy wool, hemp cloth or canvas windproof overcoat for bad weather - these semi-waterproof over-garments were wide-fitting, generously roomy inside and often buttoned right up to and over the chin to protect the face. Many pirates possessed ‘fancy laced clothes’ through stealing them from prizes but these were probably only worn ashore ‘to impress the natives’. These ‘fancy’ clothes - of course - when taken as plunder would belong to the ships’ crew as a whole and not to a particular individual unless ‘purchased’. Aboard ship, most seamen went barefoot but going ashore slipped on a pair of buckle-shoes in an age where all forms of household filth and rubbish was discarded into a central ditch or sewer and rain was the only cleansing agent as ‘street-sweepers’ had not yet been generally employed.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Favoured personal weapons were the muzzle-loading flintlock pistol, a knife or dagger for the ship and any ‘close work’ in combat and a longer blade such as a cutlass or hanger for intimidation or actual use when attacking an enemy but full-length swords or sabres were unhandy in the press of a brawl aboard ship and difficult to manage in the general conditions aboard boat or ship. Firearms such as muskets, musketoons and the ‘blunderbuss’ were used by pirates to over-awe the crew of a prize or at close ranges make them keep their heads below the rail, but were probably discarded upon boarding and used only to control a captured crew. A pirate with a cool nerve and a steady eye would be placed by one of the ships’ swivel-guns during the action ; these ‘murdering pieces’ were capable of terrible destruction through a single well-aimed shot.

Pirates often wore their personal weapons ashore in ‘pirate environments’ such as Tortuga, Nassau, Port Royal, Ranter Bay or Santa Maria Island but would certainly not do so in any ‘civilized place’ such as London, Bristol, Charleston or New York without the risk of being challenged and arrested. In several pirate Articles, weapons are stated as required to be kept in the best working condition at all times - and the best personal weapon aboard a prize would be awarded to the pirate who first sighted the prize at sea as this was an obvious incentive for everyone concerned to keep ‘a good look-out for any sail’.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

THE PIRATE CAPTAIN

A Pirate Captain would be an individual well-known for his sailing experience and management, his personal drive or perhaps having a little education or even the gift of eloquence ; elected by the crew, he held his position only as long as the pirate crew let him do so under the close-scrutiny of productivity. He could draw on the experience of the Quartermaster, Sailing-Master, Boatswain and Gunner for advice as to what to do or where to sail but the final decision on how to proceed in battle would be his and his alone … and the consequences would be on his shoulders alone.

The Pirate Captain had to be able to manage a crew made up of pretty tough individuals, physically fit and willing to fight. He would have to prove an ability to hunt down prizes, have a good understanding of trading (so as not to be cheated ‘to excess’), have the contacts and ‘fences’ to trade with, be charming and persuasive when undertaking any subtle bribery with colonial officials but above all be an effective leader in battle. He would lead and inspire his crew, being at the head of a sea-going democracy of an average number between fifty and two hundred crew, keeping them content and unified whilst cruising for prizes and trained, totally efficient and ruthless during any fight. Tolerant of pain, energetically fit and bonded together in a single-minded pursuit of stolen wealth, a pirate crew required a leader who could both understand and make the best use of their talents - and in return they gave him obedience and a willingness to carry out his orders for as long as they brought in the plunder.

In action, the word of a Pirate Captain was absolute - a Pirate Captain could and would shoot any pirate aboard who did not obey his orders in pursuit of a prize ; but when cruising, he had no more rights aboard ship than anyone else - there was no such thing as privacy in a Captain’s cabin aboard a pirate ship, locks anywhere aboard the ship were forbidden and all decisions outside battle had to be referred to the crew. Unlike a privateer Captain, a Pirate Captain received only an extra share or a half-share of the pirate plunder than a pirate crewman in return for his efforts.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What pirates wanted most were easy and profitable victories at sea and many of them - with as little fighting and danger as possible - and a fast, safe voyage ending with pockets filled to the brim with gold or silver to be able to retire to their chosen paradise and enjoy ‘the fruits of their labours’. An ‘unsuccessful’ Pirate Captain would be ‘voted out’ by the crew ; if he was unproductive but otherwise a popular man or a skilled seaman he might step down and remain in the crew - but ‘suspicion’ could still see him done away with - if unpopular or seen as cowardly, he could be cast adrift in a boat, ‘marooned’ on a sand-spit or a lonely island or even just plain murdered … another member of the crew would then be elected by the crew to take his place.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

THE 'BOATSWAIN'

A very important crew member aboard a sailing ship would be the Boatswain, or ‘Bosun’ as more often written. In the Royal Navy, a Bosun would be a standing or ‘warrant’ officer ranking above midshipmen and master’s mates. He would by nature have to be a very experienced seaman, having served at least one year as a petty officer and gained the written satisfaction of his Captain before getting his ‘warrant’ from the Admiralty itself - and he would have to be able to read and write. Only two exceptions to this can be found within the Georgian period.

The Bosun was responsible aboard ship for all boats, sails, running and standing rigging, colours, anchors, cables, cordage and supervise the storage of all ships’ stores to ensure they were stowed away properly. A Bosun would be expected to inspect all the rigging of a ship and replace any worn or frayed item before the ship sailed, reporting any spare or requirement not aboard ; having done this, he would inspect all the above responsibilities daily and arrange for any work required to be carried out. The Bosun would be on duty on deck virtually all day every day from sunrise to sunset - but in return he did not have to ‘stand a watch’ and he could sleep at night unless called. He would be allotted a space below with double the room ‘to sling his hammock’ of those crew members below him in rank. A Royal Navy or Merchant Service Bosun often had a small cabin in which to both stow his gear and sleep in.

In the Royal Navy, a Bosun’s place when the ship ‘beat to Quarters’ would be on the foredeck, which he would then ‘command’ during any action. During more peaceful days, he would take great care to look after the ships general appearance ; making sure that the crew didn’t hang out their washing to dry on the rigging - or use the ships’ drinking water to wash these clothes in. If at anchor or moored in port, the bosun would ‘trim’ the ship outboard, keep the sails tied securely and the yards square, watching out for any sheet or line left uncoiled on deck or even worse, a rope hanging loose from above or overboard which might be seen by a bosun or Captain from another ship nearby. If the ship was ‘laid up in Ordinary’ - not in commission in port - the bosun would remain on board to supervise any re-rigging or re-fitting.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Crew members assisting the Bosun in these duties would include a sail-maker, a rope-maker and a carpenter. He would also have picked men from the crew in the form of bosun’s mates, with the senior of these being known as a Bosun’s Yeoman ; all these men could be his equal in seamanship but lower in rank without ‘warrant’ - these men would motivate the crew to their duties when sails were reset, when extra speed was required or during any emergency on board ship such as a fire. The Bosun’s mates also had extra sleeping-space but had the unpleasant task of ‘flogging’ any seaman disciplined on board ship with the whip known as the ‘cat o’nine tails’. A Bosun carried a small cane with which to thrash any laggard or slow-coach in the crew not pulling his weight and bosun’s mates had smaller canes or a ‘colt’ for the same purpose. These canes and colts fell out of use gradually after the year 1815. A Bosun also carried a whistle - which eventually became a sort of ‘badge of office’ - on a chain or string around his neck with which to sound any order given to him by a ships’ officer ; he and his mates would then see the order was carried out in good order and good time. A Bosun would be utterly familiar with everything on board a ship, all gear and tackle, guns and carriages, masts and spars and be able to ‘rope, splice and steer’ to a very high standard. A Bosun had charge of at least one of the ships’ boats when launched, with the exception of the Captain’s gig or similar which would fall under the care of the Coxswain. Because of their ability to read and write, it was not uncommon to find that a typical Bosun was also a competent navigator
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A PIRATE BOSUN...

As a pirate Bosun would not be required to make out any reports to the Admiralty for obvious reasons so he need not be able to read and write - but a bosun was just as necessary aboard a pirate ship. Having the same responsibilities would mean that any seaman elected to serve at this post would require the same experience and training as without this the ship and crew would be in great danger at sea. At least two recorded events leading up to the capture and questioning of a pirate bosun exist, but on average these men would have served in similar roles aboard merchant or navy vessels, perhaps changed or been enlisted by a privateer ship and when the ‘letter of Marque’ the privateer sailed under or the actual conflict they were employed in ceased to exist, simply became pirates instead. A pirate Bosun would have the advantage that the vessel he sailed on had a crew numbering far more than the average merchantman - and slightly more than a warship - so there were plenty of idle hands aboard to be employed in necessary maintenance at sea or in port.

At the two busiest times for a pirate ship - re-fitting, re-rigging, ‘careening’ the hull or attacking and capturing a prize - the bosun and his assistants would arrange and supervise the laying-up of the vessel, the removal of the guns and the hauling on ropes and tackles needed to get the ship over first on one quarter then on the other for a mixture of hot tar and tallow to be slapped onto the hull below the water-line. In warm waters such as the Caribbean, this would need to be done around four times a year to prevent the hull being seriously damaged by the teredo worm and to scrape off the weed and barnacles that gripped the hull and if not removed regularly would seriously slow the ship down under sail by as much as fifty per cent. If in capturing a prize, the pirate crew chose to abandon their primary vessel to take over the prize, the Bosun would have two primary concerns : firstly, to persuade, force or press any member of the prize crew who had required knowledge or skills to work the ship into pirate service - either wilfully on the part of that person or otherwise ; and secondly, to select and take from the pirate ship any spare or stores, guns or tackle required before it was abandoned or given to the former crew of the selected vessel. This change would require extra rigging from the yards to facilitate loading and unloading (though ‘unloading’ generally meant throwing anything unwanted over the side into the sea).
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A Bosun on a pirate ship would gain a bigger share of plunder than a crew member ; perhaps as much as a share and a half. But ; if the bosun or his work was seen to be sloppy or indifferent he would be instantly ‘deposed’ or demoted back to the ranks by the crew. In matters of discipline, ‘flogging’ did not exist aboard a pirate ship - only very rarely did ‘Moses Law’ as flogging was known by pirates was applied to a crew member as a punishment for a breach of Articles - and a Bosun would not be able to exercise the same motivation towards the crew aboard a pirate ship as he did on board a Royal Navy or Merchant Marine vessel - although a pirate bosun may still have carried his whistle any use of a cane or similar on a crewman would see him getting a quite different reaction. Discipline or punishment amongst the pirate crew in action was left to the Pirate Captain to exercise and to him alone - discipline and punishment on board a pirate vessel at any other time fell to the Quartermaster to supervise or apply.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

THE PIRATE QUARTERMASTER

The very earliest ‘buccaneers’ living around Campeche (Honduras) employed a system known as matelotage to govern the equal sharing of all things - originally sharing everything with a messmate, the system grew to cater for the equal sharing of all things by a pirate crew aboard ship. Pirate crews aboard ship developed this system of ‘government’ from around 1670 due to the situation aboard sailing ships prevalent at the time in that the Captain or Master was in sole command - but the discipline inflicted on crews by commanders was often said to be so severe it created great disaffection. Unlike a Commander appointed by the Royal Navy and a Master appointed by the owners of a merchant ship, the Captain aboard a pirate ship would be elected by the crew and could lose his position through the dissatisfaction of the crew. A Royal Navy captain was God when aboard his vessel - a Master of a merchant ship could inflict such terrific discipline on his crew that his bad behavior or shortcomings could go unreported. On both vessels it could be years before the vessel concerned reached a home port and official complaints be made ; by that time, the matter could have been resolved through the death of perpetrator, claimant or witnesses.

Matelotage developed into ‘The Jamaica Discipline’. From around 1680, each man in a pirate crew signed ‘Articles’ which laid out the general and specific rules and guidelines covering the intended voyage or cruise. This was not an uncommon practice ; in the merchant service a seaman would ask questions about the ship, commander, destination, cargo and the proffered pay and conditions before listing aboard as a crewman - and a Privateer captain and ship enlisting seamen would state the monetary amount or financial percentage of the captures that a seaman would be due at then end of the voyage, and in addition agree ‘No Purchase, No Pay’ ; if no prizes were taken by the privateer for any reason, then the crew would receive no pay (beyond that agreed) or any percentage of the prize when the vessel returned to port. Once at sea, the crew on both a merchant and a privateer vessel were subject to the captain’s will, desires and practices. On both vessels, any complaint by the crew could lead to an accusation of mutiny ; and yet the threat of a mutiny by the crew was the only check on any and all excesses inflicted by commanders on them at sea.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are several instances of pirate crews’ dismissing their captain for various reasons. Incompetence, cowardice, brutality, bad navigation, suspicion, committing too many errors - and including fear and two incidents where the captain was made the scapegoat for natural events ; the deposed captains concerned were dropped off at a port, ‘marooned’ or cast adrift in a boat. Where the Captain was the sole navigator aboard, the decision by the crew to depose him could be very dangerous for them and their ship.

The Pirate ‘Articles’

To avoid putting too much power in the hands of a single man - as in the Navy or Merchant service - pirate crews designed ‘Articles’. Restricting and regulating the power of a captain aboard a pirate ship did not require a mutiny - every pirate aboard knew and understood the ‘Articles’ under which the cruise would take place. Firstly, the Captain was elected by the crew at the start of the voyage ; secondly, all his decisions on the voyage such as destination, course or dropping anchor were subject to the approval of the crew ; thirdly, only in battle was he free in terms of an unlimited authority to make command decisions and back these decisions up if necessary with force to achieve the object : the seizure of as many prizes as possible. Discipline was still required - for cowardice in battle or breaches of the ‘Articles’, punishment would be necessary - but - pirates did not wish the pirate captain to be the one aboard to judge or inflict the punishment as that would be too similar to the merchant, privateer or navy service. A different plan was created to suit the pirate philosophy ; in order to distribute both power and responsibility, the pirate ship had ‘Lords’, experienced seamen who took responsibility such as the sailing-master (or ‘sea-artist’), the boatswain, surgeon, gunner, etc as aboard any other ship. These men aboard a pirate ship received more than a single share of the amount of plunder - it could be an extra share, but more likely an extra half or quarter-share. Though a Quartermaster might be present aboard other ships, by 1690 aboard a pirate ship his duties were very different.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The first Articles drawn up aboard a pirate vessel to cater for the behavior and rights of the crew simply copied those of the merchant and privateer vessels and added a few more details ; pirate Articles then grew and developed to include specifics about drink, women and weapons but notably always included the intention and agreement by the pirates that a share of the plunder would be given to any pirate injured in battle - the loss of an eye or a limb was measured in a lump sum of a stated amount (initially in ‘pieces of eight’, a very common Spanish coin worth about five shillings). Any sums necessary would be deducted from the plunder by the Quartermaster and distributed before any shares were drawn up for the rest of the crew. Breaches of the pirate Articles upon becoming known would fall to the Quartermaster to arrange judgment by a ‘Jury’ aboard the pirate ship - the punishment for a serious crime such as stealing, cowardice or desertion could result in the guilty person(s) being ‘marooned’ on an uninhabited island or in a similar lonely spot with just a bottle of water and a loaded pistol (the intention being that they eventually used the pistol on themselves to end their misery). For less serious crimes - such as being so regularly incapacitated with alcohol they were unable to do any duty or smoking below decks - a ‘flogging’ could occur (known by pirates as Moses Law, being forty strokes of a whip or cane) administered by the Quartermaster and he alone.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A pirate Quartermaster would - like every other Lord aboard a pirate ship - be elected by the crew on a ‘one man, one vote’ basis. His duties would be to represent the interests of the crew and stand betwixt captain and crew in any dispute, to maintain order and discipline, settle all quarrels and distribute food, drink and other essentials. The Quartermaster was responsible for all supplies aboard the ship, which no-one could take or use without his permission. The Quartermaster would take part in all battles and was expected to be the first aboard a prize to find and declare everything to be taken and secure any plunder, which he would divide into equal shares and distribute or supervise distribution. He would have to decide using his knowledge of the available storage space and the nearest market-place which if any of the prizes bulk or cargo to take, and supervise the shipping of any cargo off the prize. In the case of ‘discipline’, a Jury drawn from the crew would decide any case, but in slight cases of infringement of the Articles, only the Quartermaster would be responsible for any punishment. If two or more crewmen had a disagreement with each other, the Quartermaster would attempt to resolve the issue. If no solution could be found, then a duel between both parties would be arranged, supervised by the Captain and the Quartermaster. At ‘first blood’, the matter was considered resolved and to be forgotten ; though a duel might end in the death of one or more of the aggrieved men. A Quartermaster was expected to take command of any boat put off by the pirate ship and if any prize was retained, then the Quartermaster usually became the commander of that vessel (requiring the election of two new Quartermasters : one for the new vessel and a replacement aboard the old.)
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Pirate Quartermaster by 1690 was considered equal to the Pirate Captain in rank by the crew - though in battle or a ‘chase’ the pirate captain’s authority remained supreme. The pirate system aboard ship concerning their elected Quartermaster was relatively unknown until circa 1715, when rumours began to circulate. Rather than all being the psychopathic monsters and the murdering ogres portrayed in feature film, pirates could and did treat with and live in peace with both colonial Governors, traders and merchants, civilians ashore and native villagers - and more importantly, with each other. The unique post of Quartermaster made this possible and through the adoption of Quartermasters aboard their vessels, pirate democracies were founded and became well-established ashore at places such as Port Royal, New Providence, St Mary’s Island at Madagascar and several other bases used by pirates.

It was promoted as general knowledge by pirates that the penalty of instant death was inflicted by pirates to anyone aboard a prize that had not instantly surrendered - or even worse, offered resistance. The Quartermaster would regulate the carrying-out of these deaths in the case where a skilled man aboard the prize (such as a surgeon or a navigator) might be required by the pirate vessel. The Quartermaster would find and threaten anyone such as this with instant death if they did not ‘volunteer’ to go aboard the pirate vessel ; such ‘persuasions’ depended on the Quartermaster’s skill and experience. From a crew that had surrendered at once, if ‘vacancies’ existed the Quartermaster would suggest to the merchant seamen aboard the prize that they might join the pirate crew … but in many cases, crew were ‘forced’ to join.

Such a ‘democracy’ aboard a ship - one man, one vote – and pirates appearing greater numbers (and in some cases, exhibiting pretty efficient organization) was an immediate and dangerous threat to European and Colonial Governments. It’s appeal to any disaffected seamen was obvious : after 1700 the need to eliminate pirates in any way became a ‘prime directive’ for all legal Authorities in the shape of applying the available forces of law and order backed up by sterner legislation.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2018 4:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting information on pirate crew members and officers, thank you for posting it.
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