Five Myths About Pirates

Five Myths About Pirates

  1. They all looked like Jack Sparrow.

    Only Johnny Depp looked like Jack Sparrow. Pirates wore typical maritime clothing of the day, with pirate captains and those with more money donning more expensive outfits.
  2. They were socially isolated and had little contact with Colonial society.

    Pirates had extensive networks on land that kept them in touch with the outside world. They had a mail system of sorts (ships ferrying letters back and forth) that enabled them to communicate with relatives, and even a commuter service to take “retiring” pirates from their famous haunts in Madagascar to more mundane lives in America.
  3. They made their captives “walk the plank.”

    While various fiction writers have concocted gruesome tales of this practice, Geanacopoulos has encountered nothing of the sort in the primary sources. In truth, while some pirates were indeed brutal, many pirate ships had codes of conduct that covered how they treated both each other and their captives.
  4. They served no useful purpose for society.

    Many scholars believe that pirates did serve a useful purpose. They contributed to the emerging economies of North America by supplying much-needed gold and silver coins from captured ships. They brought back exotic food and luxury items—which they could sell cheaply because pirates, after all, had little overhead. And they gave jobs to unemployed sailors, who were usually treated better aboard pirate vessels than on the brutal merchant ships of the day.
  5. They carried parrots on their shoulders.

    “Captain Flint” notwithstanding, Geanacopoulos says there’s no proof that anyone beyond Treasure Island’s Long John Silver had any such mascot—let alone one with a commission. 
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