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Pirate Food

Golden Age of Piracy - Chapter Decoration


Pirates of the Atlantic ate much of the same foods as their mainstream mariner cohorts. Often they would get more of it, but ideally, they would get far greater quality food.[9]:80 Mariners in the merchant and naval service were often given meager amounts of low quality sustenance.[1]:25 During a typical week five non-pirate sailors might share four or five pounds (pre-salted weight) of beef, and five pounds of bread.[13]:232 Scarcity of food might be the main reason some sailors turned to pirating, like pirate John Phillips who "ranted and raved" about the merchant John Wingfield, claiming that he starved his men. The primary difference between legal mariners and their unlawful counterparts is that they hoped to find an abundant supply of food with the capturing of vessels. A defining difference in the food system on a pirate vessel is that they did not have to compete with officers like sailors in the navy or merchant services.[1]:9,12,43,58 Food and alcohol were treated similarly to each other, split equally. The necessaries of life were distributed equally, unlike booty, which was usually given in higher proportions to officers, as directed in their articles.[1]:65–66 Bread, butter, cheese, and meat were items that were considered luxuries by many low level mariners, but items that a pirate would look forward to as often as possible.[21] There is evidence pirates specifically hoped to find edibles in their loot over specie. One pirate, Joseph Mansfield, claimed that the "love of drink" were greater motives than gold.[1]:59 This policy of strict equality does not seem to be applicable to earlier privateers, as Kris Lane points out in Pillaging The Empire: Piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750. Dutch Sea Rover of the seventeenth century, Joris Van Speilbergen and the expeditions leaders dined on "Beef, pork, fowl, citrus, fruits, preserves, olives, capers, wines, and beer," while the common crew of that voyage "scrounged herbs" with mussels and berries."[9]:80 Captain George Lowthar used deception, pretending to be a friendly merchantman, came aboard a fellow merchant ship to extend customary greetings. There, Lowthar's crew secretly inspected the cargo and found items of interest. Once making their intentions known to the boarded crew, they ended up taking thirty casks of brandy and five hogshead of wine, among other goods.[1]:162 Lowthar's crew had only decided to seize the ship once they decided it was worth taking. Sailors might hope to supplement their meager diets with fish if they were lucky enough to catch them.[13]:232 The islands frequented were plentiful with potential foods, such as turtle, seafowl, shellfish, and fish.[1]:29 Sea turtle was considered some of the best meat possible. While at sea, when supplies were low, fresh fish such like snapper, shark, catfish, grouper, albacore were caught and often barbecued, though one would have to be certain not to let the deck on fire.[9]:193–194 When food was scarce, a rationing system may be put in place similar to legal sailors. In some cases, the only items there were requested of the looted victim from pirates was food and drink.[1]:341 When gold or silver was found, food was a popular item to barter for when bartering was easier than fighting.[9]:38 Water was essential, but difficult to keep usable for very long.[9]:195 Alcohol, like beer and especially wines would keep much longer. Like food, pirate crews were given equal title to captured strong liquors.[1]:71 Alcohol, notoriously, was spent quicker than on other, more traditional marine vessels.[21]:157 Ironically, slaver turned pirate Bartholomew Roberts was a "sober man" and would not allow his own crew to drink on board the ship.[9]:190 Woodes Rogers, privateer turned pirate hunter noted a drink called "flip". Flip consisted of rum, beer, and sugar, served warm, often in a tin can. Another popular drink was punch. Different versions were made depending on what ingredients were available. One rum version was called "bumboe."[9]:195 Captain George Shelvocke enjoyed "hipsey," a concoction of brandy, wine, and water. Andrew Brown's sermon during the late 18th century focused on the perils of "the seafaring life." Focusing on the overindulgence of alcohol, he preached that drinking had become habit for pirates.[19]:7 He continued that overindulgence had "long been regarded as one of the distinguishing characteristics of seafaring life."[35]:39B. R. Burg writes extensively about the debauchery and riotous behavior of pirates when they got a hold of quantities of alcohol. There are numerous cases where pirates were too drunk to capture ships, defend their own ships, negotiate for prisoner exchanges, control crews & preventing mutinies and sometimes even to just navigate, in one case ending up with 118 men of a 200-person crew perishing because of a shipwreck. Blackbeard, after a "prolonged drinking bout" and while "uproariously laughing" shot his mate, Israel Hand's knee, "laming him for life."[21]:156–157

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