Pirate Democracy


Perhaps surprisingly, democracy was the norm amongst pirate crews who ravaged the Caribbean and other parts of the world in the 18th century.

While many European states were still reluctant to give power to the people, most pirate crews already elected their captains on the basis of universal pirate suffrage; and not only that, they also regularly deposed them by democratic elections if they were not satisfied with their performance.

“The best argument against [form of government] is a conversation with the average [governing actor].” – Willem Etsenmaker

The rules on many pirate ships were surprisingly strict. It was usually run by two senior officers: the captain and the quartermaster. The captain could be vetoed by the quartermaster on all matters except battle. The quartermaster would decide how treasure would be divided out, including the captain’s share. The captain also had no special quarters.

Other than this rule of two, ruling the ship was more-or-less democratic. The rules on Captain Bartholomew Roberts ship The Fortune were clear: there was no gambling, no smuggling girls into the dorm, no playing music on a Sunday and “lights out” were at 8 o’clock sharp.

Pirate Captain George Lowther said concerning women on his ship: “If at any time meet with a prudent woman, that man that offers her to meddle with her without her consent shall suffer present death.” In other words, rape was a capital offence.

The actor Robert Newton invented the stereotypical pirate voice in the first sound adaptation of Treasure Island in 1950. He is considered the “Patron Saint” of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Finally, there is an academic book called Sodomy and the Piratical Tradition.

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