3 Things You Didn’t Know About Pirates Essay

Pirates are fun. Swashbuckling, rum swilling, treasure burying pirates never failed to have a good time. Here’s three things you probably didn’t know about pirates.

1. ) You really don’t want to let the cat out the bag. 

We use the phrase today when someone spills a secret by accident. To pirates it meant something much, much worse. The cat was not a feline, rather the cat-o-nine-tails, a whip with nine knotted ends for the more efficient stripping flesh of your insubordinate backside. Particularly sadistic captains would put fish hooks or musket balls at the end of each tail. With just a few strokes your back would look like ground up hamburger, and sometimes they’d douse you with salty seawater just to top it off. 

Many captains kept the cat-o-nine-tails in a bag that hung right in the middle of the deck. When you got drunk on duty, lipped off, or looked too long at the ole’ peg leg, that’s when the captain would let the cat out of the bag. Once they were done exfoliating your skin down to the bone, the cat, still dripping your blood and viscera, went back into the bag, a bloody enforcer of discipline for all to see. 

2.) Grog wasn’t just pirate liquor. It was medicine.

Grog gets a bad reputation as nasty pirate swill, yet it served a noble purpose. Once people started sailing out on the ocean for extended periods of times, they noticed some strange things happening. First they’d experience fatigue. Then their muscles would ache. Then the real fireworks started. Gums bled, eyes bulged, teeth fell out, scars reopened and then eventually death. 

This of course happened because they were only eating salted meat and old bread. Fresh fruits and vegetables perish quickly, pirates didn’t eat them while at sea. While this was a strong recruiting point for boys aged 10-14, the resulting vitamin C deficency, known as scurvy, was fatal.

Scurvy was the scourge of the seas for millennia, until 1747 when James Lind discovered that this could be solved by eating citrus. So like any reasonable group of men, pirates (and others) began mixing lime with their rum ration, and affectionately calling the drink grog. 

3.) The English Were The Most Piratey (and that’s why beer mugs have glass bottoms).

The English have an unfair, anti-pirate reputation. The history of England basically reads like a whose who of piratedom. Sir Francis Drake is the most prolific pirate and history, while Henry Morgan sacked Spanish holdings around Panama repeatedly AND got a rum named after him.

These pirates operated in fertile conditions. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Spanish were shipping millions of tons of gold and silver from the America’s across the Atlantic. At the time, England was far from the the mighty naval empire that would one day project power around the globe. Instead the best it could do was give men like Francis Drake letters of marque, which essentially functioned as a license to pirate. 

And they did it well. Drake once captured a ship carrying enough silver to run England’s entire government for a year. Morgan captured plundered Panama practically by himself, and once netted 250,000 pieces of eight on a raid near Lake Maracaibo. That’s almost 20 million dollars today.

Better yet, the English were famous for pirating their own people. No one really wanted to serve in the English navy, with the whippings and scurvy and all, so the Crown resorted to press gangs. At one point, English law said that if you accepted a shilling from a recruiter, you were in the navy whether you liked it or not. 

The rub was, it didn’t matter if you knew why you accepted the shilling, so wise recruiters took to buying men mugs of beer, and dropping a shilling in the bottom. As a counter measure, the glass bottomed tankard was invented so you could find any surprises waiting for you. 

High School
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