Fact or Fiction: Did Pirates Do That? 

January 10, 2024

Pirates have long fascinated people around the world; Americans in particular. Fictional characters in books and movies like Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Treasure Island have portrayed some unique character traits and puzzling behaviors attributed to this group of sailors. But is it fact or fiction that is being depicted? 

Are pirates all mean and treasure-obsessed? Is the age of piracy over? Is there a special pirate language? Let’s take a look at what the history books tell us about pirates and see if it matches up to what we have learned on the big screen and in modern literature. 

medieval nautical vintage world map

Did Pirates Bury Treasure? 

We often think about a treasure map with an “X” marking the spot of treasure once buried by pirates. The idea is that they bury their treasure in hopes of returning once the coast is clear to reclaim the fortune and live a life of luxury. 

This nugget of pirate information is based on fiction! 

The notion of pirates burying their treasure comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island, first published in 1883. It is generally understood that pirates kept their treasure or booty close at hand on their ships and divided it up equally among crew members. 

Keep in mind that most plundered treasure was not gems, gold, and jewelry. It was often sailing tools, raw materials and anything pirates could sell once they found land. 

It is important to note that one pirate, Captain Kidd, did bury a treasure when he was right outside of New York, fearful that the booty would be seized by the governor. 

Did Pirates Have A Special Language? 

“Avast ye hearties” or “Arrg mateys” are often phrases we link to pirate memorabilia. It is believed that most pirates did not speak in this manner. Americans have developed this impression from movies like the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean

In reality, pirates came from many different lands and spoke many languages including French, Spanish, English, Greek, Italian and more. Most pirate sailors learned to communicate with each other by learning a second or even a third language. However, there is no recognizable pirate language or dialect known. 

Did Pirates Wear Eye Patches, Peg Legs and Bandanas? 

Life on board a pirate ship was harsh and battling against other pirates could be dangerous, leading to injuries such as a lost limb or even an eye. While it is true that pirates could lose a limb and need an artificial arm, leg or patch for an eye, it is generally thought that the image of a pirate having a hook for an arm came from Captain Hook in Peter Pan and that the eye patch came from fictional stories. 

As for pirate fashion, the typical pirate wore what was in fashion in the 18th century and any stereotypical red bandana and pirate boots came from fictional stories and a look that was invented by the American artist Howard Pyle in the late 19th century.

Did Pirates Disappear After the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th Century? 

Pirates and their looting behaviors were once a common thing to experience in the mid-1600s to early 1700s. However, there are still pirates sailing the globe today hoping to steal other ships’ materials, sailors and goods onboard. With the advent of modern sailing ships and each country having a military force on the waters, it is a lot less common but is known to happen off the coast of Africa, in the Mediterranean or in the Middle East. 

Want to learn more facts about pirates and see their treasure? Visit Real PIrates in Salem, Massachusetts and you will have the world of pirates at your fingertips.