Pirate Earnings, Loot and Treasure

The statement that pirates generally took up their line of employment in the hopes of becoming rich probably seems like an obvious one. The main force behind piracy has pretty much always been the desire for wealth and treasure, and they were certainly able to gain amazing goods and riches through successful campaigns. Indeed it was not only gold, silver and jewels that they were interested in; merchant vessels could yield a wealth of sellable goods such as linen, rope, spices, sugar and even rare goods like quinine and medical supplies!

Earnings, Loot and Treasure

A pirates salary and earnings, so to speak, was based on what the crew could get for the loot they plundered. As such it was key that they chose the correct target ships; the plundered booty had to be worth the risk a battle posed. It was equally important, to be sure that they found good ships, that they operated in the correct areas. Areas where treasure ships could be found on routine runs, such as the Spanish Main, were key hunting grounds for pirates because of the yearly trips made by the Spanish treasure fleet between Portobello and Peru that were packed with potential loot.

Who was in charge of payroll?

A Pirate Captain was, in essence, responsible for ensuring that his crew got paid; this was his duty and responsibility. He had to choose the right target ship, of course, but also calculate the risks very carefully. Letting a paycheque pass by due to overcautious calculations could just as easily be the end of a Captain’s tenure as being overzealous and meeting a foe too great.

Splitting the Loot

Assuming, however, that they were successful in gaining plunder there was the issue of splitting it between the crew in a fair manner. The method of dividing gained assets and treasure was actually set out by the pirate code, and the code stated that all loot should be divided equally among the whole crew. Some loot was easily divided: textiles, food, spices, sugars and coins were all easily divided. Coins, such as pieces of eight, would simply be cut into pieces (as knife markings on some in museums show) in order to facilitate the process. Nonetheless there were certain goods that couldn’t be divided easily, like jewels, gems and plundered weaponry.

Treasure chests and X marks the spot

When a pirate had their earnings in hand it was most likely that they would simply spend it. Pirates were known for being great squanderers; they were just as likely to spend all their money on whores, drink and fun, not to save it for their future or a rainy day. While it is true that there are one or two notable examples of pirates burying their treasures, such as Captain Kidd, this is by and large a myth. Pirates earnings, in truth, were spent quickly and they led a hand-to-mouth existence by and large.