When you think of pirates, you probably envision a crew of larger-than-life characters roaming the high seas. In many ways, these men do live up to their legacy, but in other ways, they are far from it. As pirates have been characterized in several fashions over the years, it is hard to know what is fact and what is fiction.
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A good number of pirate misconceptions have derived from fictional pirate characters such as Captain Hook and Long John Silver, so here are a few facts to set the record straight. One of the most common aspects of pirate lore is the idea of “walking the plank”. In many stories, prisoners fear being tied up and having to walk down the ship’s gangplank to their doom. It is true that ships did have planks and in fact, Major Stede Bonnet, a plantation owner turned pirate in 177, is known as the inventor of such piece. However, no evidence exists showing pirates forcing captives to perform this feat.
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Another common pirate fallacy lies in the image of pirates having hooks and peg legs. The truth here is that due to the dangerous and risky nature of pirates, many limbs were lost or damaged in battle. Upon this occurrence, amputation surgery would transpire in hopes of repairing the limb. Unfortunately, this was often a failed attempt, as medical procedures back in the day were not advanced and little existed in the way of pain killers. Pirates did have the option of acquiring a hook and wooden leg, but these artificial limbs were quite costly causing many pirates to simply adjust to their impaired state.
Additionally, a familiar image of a pirate is represented by the depiction of a pirate with an eye patch and a parrot on his shoulder. In these portrayals, the eye patch seems more of a decorative accessory than anything else. In reality, pirates did use eye patches to cover damaged eyes. They also used these accessories to protect night vision. Coming from bright sunlight into the night would take a pirate’s eyes time to adjust to the darkness, thus putting him at risk in battle. It is speculated that pirates would switch the eye patch between eyes during the day to make sure both eyes were adapted to the night.
As far as parrots go, these animals were expensive and pirates did not keep them as pets. If a pirate did own a parrot, it was for the purpose of selling it, as they were prized animals. When a pirate was seen with a parrot resting on his shoulder, it was to promote the parrot as a product and nothing more.
Last, but not least, is the dress of a pirate. In literature and films, pirates are frequently seen wearing fancy and colorful clothing with elegant decoration. While this picture is not inaccurate, it was not the norm for pirate garb. Let us remember that pirates were mere men like all the other seamen. In the midst of their pillaging and plundering, they still had a ship to run and duties to perform and therefore, they needed to dress for this occupation. In turn, the primary garb of a pirate was basically the same as that of a sailor. They blended in the crowd more often than standing out.
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Because of the intriguing lives that pirates lived, there are many other misconceptions that exist, but hopefully the highlighted ones here will help to shape a more realistic idea of who pirates were and what they looked like.
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