Hollywood has done nothing to dispel the popularly held image of the hard-partying, slightly grimy pirate roaming the open seas with a sword in one hand and a bottle in the other… and there’s certainly an element of truth to it. After all pirates live hard lives, and may well have felt they needed a stiff drink after some particularly hard days, but some evidence suggests that all may not have been as it seems.
Read on to find out just how much alcohol these men (and women!) put away on average during the Golden Age of Piracy;
Accessibility to Alcohol
As voyages lengthened stowing fresh water became a bigger and bigger issue; many people don’t realise this, but water eventually stagnates and can make you sick! Most types of alcohol, however, could withstand long journeys on board a ship; adding it to water became the ideal solution to the issue of stagnation. You see, not only would alcohol mask the stale taste of the water, but it would make sure it was safe to drink, and because the alcohol was so watered down getting drunk was much less likely! This is how it came to be that pirates ended up consuming many variations of watered down alcohols like rum, brandy, and wine in order to stay hydrated. Above and beyond this, most ships would provide a daily ration of undiluted alcohol to keep morale up; pirate crews were much more relaxed than navy ships and so the average pirate would have some form of alcohol in their bloodstream at any given point.
Why Rum Became their Go-to Drink
Rum is associated with pirates and piracy above all else, and this is due to the fact that the Caribbean, where rum was produced, was a hotbed of pirate activity at the time. Rum was the kind of drink that they were most likely to be able to get their hands on in massive amounts because so many ships transported it in large quantities. Upon capturing a ship most pirates would not kill all the crew or even commandeer the ship; their modus operandi, so to speak, was to hold the crews for ransom and make off with all the valuables on board. This mean sugar, spices, goods, and of course alcohol. Much of the former they would sell on at ports, but the rum, as you can imagine, was generally used by the crew.
A Wild Lifestyle
Piracy could be a boring lifestyle, now and then, so while some pirates didn’t drink, or drank little, most would take any chance to party and liven up the voyage. Whether it was beer or brandy your average pirate would jump at the chance to partake in a nightcap; this was a gruelling and harsh lifestyle, and so the crew needed every pick me up they could get. Even if this was nothing more than a glass of rum to celebrate a hard day put behind them, such things were key to morale.