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Pirates & galleons

Life aboard a pirate ship

Animals, captain and crew on deckAnimals, captain and crew on deck Pirates were better treated, and had more freedoms and rights than “normal” sailors. Many of them became pirates in the first place to escape the brutal treatment they received on merchant ships or warships. On a pirate ship, both the captain and the quartermaster (the person in charge of food and living conditions on board) were elected by the crew. The captain was a man to whom the crew could give its trust rather than a hated figure of authority. He was often the bravest fighter among the ship’s company. If the captain became unpopular, or treated the crew badly, the pirates would happily remove him, and elect someone else as their leader instead.

The pirate code

Before they could join a pirate band, new recruits had to promise to follow a strict code of conduct. This included fighting bravely in battle and keeping weapons in good working order. There were penalties for disobeying these rules. Stealing from shipmates and deserting the ship were some of the most serious crimes. Disgraced pirates could be marooned (abandoned on a desert island), or even put to death.Every crew member signed a copy of the rules.Every crew member signed a copy of the rules.Before a battle, the whole crew discussed their plan of attack, with any disagreements settled by a vote. The ship’s captain could be overthrown by a show of hands among the crew. The pirates even received money if they suffered any injuries while they were fighting for the band. Treasure was divided up according to an agreed system. The captain and his officers received slightly larger shares than the rest of the crew. Some pirates became rich and retired to a life of luxury, but many spent any money they earned on drink and gambling within days of arriving in port.

Captains were sometimes voted out by their crews and left ashore for not being aggressive enough—while others were abandoned for being too bloodthirsty.

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