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Pirate Democracy

Sociologists from Florida who are studying old-fashioned pirates who sailed the oceans in the 17th and 18th centuries (not the modern, movie kind) say that pirates were pioneers when it came to exploring new territory and meeting the native peoples they found there.

Researcher Jason Acosta says, "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. We owe them a little more respect." He ought to know, since one of his ancestors was a pirate who fought for the United States in the Battle of New Orleans. He compared pirate charters with the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and 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 US 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.

When public schools moved to the Western states, many young boys defected to Indian tribes, rather than attend classes. The same thing happened with pirates?many ordinary sailors defected to pirate ships because the pay and food were better. 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 financially compensated. Acosta says, "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."

Cowboy movies usually depict an all white world, but in reality, many cowboys were black, since they were newly-freed slaves doing the kind of work that people who have just entered the economic world always do. There were black pirates as well. Indians and blacks who enslaved by the Spanish in the Caribbean gave pirates inside information on where to dock their ships and find supplies, Acosta says. Slaves fleeing plantations were welcomed on pirate ships, where they shared an equal voice with white sailors.

Acosta says that the legends about buried pirate treasure are just that: a myth, because pirates SPENT their money, they didn't bury it. By selling stolen silks, satins, spices and other merchandise in ports and spending their cash in the colonies, pirates actually created an economic boom, helping struggling settlements and making cities such as Port Royale in Jamaica and Charleston, S.C., important economic centers. Acosta says, "They didn?t bury their treasure, they spent it, helping colonies survive that couldn't get the money and supplies they needed from Europe."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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