Pirate Democracy, was: Re: [FoRK] Is Balkanization really a problem?

Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> on Tue May 29 13:57:43 PDT 2007

Stephen D. Williams wrote:
> Kevin Elliott wrote:
>> ...
>> "Yo Ho Ho... A pirates life for me!!"
>> Out of curiosity- what is the politics of Pirates of the Caribbean?
> Pirates of that era are considered to have created the first free and 
> fully democratic society, complete with a constitution of sorts.
> Of course, they weren't laws really, more guidelines. ;-)
> Captains were chosen by vote and could be voted out. Each pirate 
> earned a share of the take, etc. I think I learned that years ago in 
> Savannah, GA. There is an inn there dating from pirate days. There was 
> a secret passage to the beach where they would spirit away drunken men 
> to force them into piracy, after getting them full of spirits of 
> course. The inn has an awesome southern brunch.
> sdw

Pirates pursued democracy, helped American colonies survive

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Jason Acosta who studied pirates for his history thesis at the 
University of Florida shows his pirate paraphernalia including a replica 
of a 17th century pirate flintlock gun and sword on May 10 2006. Pirates 
deserve more credit than the Hollywood st ...
Jason Acosta, who studied pirates for his history thesis at the 
University of Florida, shows his pirate paraphernalia, including a 
replica of a 17th century pirate flintlock gun and sword, on May 10, 
2006. Pirates deserve more credit than the Hollywood stereotype of 
bloodthirsty one-eyed peg-legged men who bury treasure and force people 
to walk the plank, Acosta said. They helped European nations explore the 
Americas and practiced the same egalitarian principles as our Founding 
Fathers, he said. Acosta is a descendant of a pirate who fought in the 
Battle of New Orleans. (University of Florida/Kristen Bartlett)

Blackbeard and Ben Franklin deserve equal billing for founding democracy 
in the United States and New World, a new University of Florida study finds.
Pirates practiced the same egalitarian principles as the Founding 
Fathers and displayed pioneering spirit in exploring new territory and 
meeting the native peoples, said Jason Acosta, who did the research for 
his thesis in history at the University of Florida.

“Hollywood really has given pirates a bum rap with its image of 
bloodthirsty, one-eyed, peg-legged men who bury treasure and force 
people to walk the plank,” he said. “We owe them a little more respect.”

Acosta, a descendant of a pirate who fought for the United States in the 
Battle of New Orleans, studied travel narratives, court hearings, 
sermons delivered at pirate hangings and firsthand accounts of 
passengers held captive by pirates. Comparing pirate charters with the 
Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, he said he was 
amazed by the similarities.

Like the American revolutionaries, pirates developed three branches of 
government with checks and balances. The ship captain was elected, just 
as the U.S. president; the pirate assembly was comparable to Congress; 
and the quartermaster resembled a judge in settling shipmate disputes 
and preventing the captain from overstepping his authority, he said.

Colonists and pirates also were alike in emphasizing written laws, 
democratic representation and due process, Acosta said. All crew members 
were allowed to vote, ship charters had to be signed by every man on 
board, and anyone who lost an eye or a leg was compensated financially, 
he said.

These ideals grew out of both groups’ frustration at being mistreated by 
their leaders; the British forced the colonists to quarter troops and 
pay taxes, and captains on merchant ships beat their shipmen, starved 
them and paid less than promised, Acosta said.

“It’s no wonder that many sailors seized the opportunity to jump ship 
and search for a better way of life, namely piracy, which offered better 
food, shorter work shifts and the power of the crew in decision-making,” 
he said.

A golden age of pirating emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries as these 
Brethren of the Sea sailed the world’s waterways, plundering hundreds of 
millions of dollars worth of gold, silver and other merchandise, shaping 
the modern world in the process, Acosta said.

Pirates mapped new territory, expanded trade routes, discovered good 
ports and opened doors with the native peoples, Acosta said. “They 
really helped European nations explore the Americas before Europeans 
could afford to explore them on their own,” he said.

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By selling stolen silks, satins, spices and other merchandise in ports 
and spending their booty in the colonies, pirates created an economic 
boom, helping struggling settlements and making Port Royale in Jamaica 
and Charleston, S.C., huge mercantile centers, Acosta said. “They didn’t 
bury their treasure, they spent it, helping colonies survive that 
couldn’t get the money and supplies they needed from Europe,” he said.

Without the infusion of money into the New World from piracy, it is 
possible that Britain and France may not have been able to catch up with 
Spain, Acosta said.

“Had it not been for pirates, Britain might have had trouble holding 
onto the American colonies,” he said. “Pirates decimated the Spanish so 
badly that Spain finally had to give up some of its American empire just 
to get pirating to stop.”

Native Americans and black slaves oppressed by the Spanish in the 
Caribbean gave pirates inside information on where to dock ships and 
find supplies, Acosta said. Slaves fleeing plantations were welcomed on 
pirate ships, where they shared an equal voice with white sailors, he said.

Acosta said he believes pirates would be given a place in the history 
books if they had been able to write their stories and leave diaries 
like the more literate American colonists.

A Gainesville middle school teacher, Acosta occasionally brings up 
pirates in his classroom, where he has a captive audience, thanks to the 
popularity of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which has a sequel 
opening July 7. “I had one group of students in my class who just went 
around the playground all the time saying, ‘Aaar, we’re the pirates,’” 
he said.

Richard Burg, an Arizona State University professor and expert on 
pirates, said Acosta is performing a great service by emphasizing 
pirates’ democratic and egalitarian ways. “The men who sailed under the 
skull and crossbones were ordinary folk, like America’s revolutionaries, 
standing firm against oppressive governments and economic systems,” he 
said. “Mr. Acosta is one of the few scholars who understand this.”

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