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You think pirates are sexy, but they have scurvy

Art by Ket Gill

Eye patches; peg legs; hooks for hands…what characteristics better illicit the mental image of a tall, muscular, salty-bearded sailor, known historically for pillaging, theft, rape, and murder (but loved and idolized, of course, by everyone’s children)? Pirates!!!

Long hair, scurvy, you name it. A beloved blend of unattractive and off-putting character traits that somehow, when complementing one another, create a likable and attractive sub-archetype that is wildly common in mainstream fiction. However, it’s not often that we read about them in our history books or hear about them on the news. Originating from historical criminals, they’ve unfortunately become more of a fictional phenomenon than something we think of as truth.

Image courtesy of Hector Periquin

There are many fictional characters that come to mind when we hear the word pirate. But how many real pirates do you think of? Maybe you could name a couple, but do you really know what their lives were like?

Maybe you were raised on Pirates of the Caribbean; if so, it’s possible that this shaped the way you view pirates in a general sense.

I took it upon myself to watch the first of this film franchise. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I would like it…but I guess the pirate fanatic mixed with the 12-year-old boy in me just couldn’t resist. There is a 97% chance I will be watching the rest of them in one sitting.

All screenshots of Pirates of the Caribbean courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Of course, these films are purely fiction–written for the entertainment of 6-to-8-year-old boys. Are there any aspects of these movies that are even remotely true? Actually, yes. Eyepatches, women (*gasp*), Blackbeard, and some ship names were present in the real world during this time period.

I’m focusing predominantly on the first film (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) in this list of random trues and falses (with help from this article by Nicci Martel which includes a more extensive list in case you’d like to learn more).

1. True: child pirates

At the beginning of the movie, a boy is found by the crew of one of our main characters, with a piece of gold around his neck. With a skull on it, it’s pretty easy to guess what type of person it would belong to–so, the boy is a pirate. And, although the storyline is wildly unrealistic, it is extremely plausible for there to have been child pirates during this time period. Children could be born into a life of piracy (like young Will Turner in this film), or–as is the case with real-life boy pirate John King–volunteer themselves into said life. This biography goes in-depth on the life of John King, who was sailing with his mother when their ship was taken over by pirates. The boy (10 years of age at the time) decided to join the pirates via demands and threats–on the boy’s part.