Have you ever wondered how pirates were able to recruit people to their ships? Have you thought about whether they were kidnapped and forcibly conscripted, or if they volunteered and sought out the life? Or, have you considered that they might have actually been born into the lifestyle?
Read on to find out how pirates hired other pirates…
Like father like son
Some children actually were born into the life of piracy. Take the example of Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Ireland, whose father was a pirate with a fleet of his own. She was raised on ships and, after a youth in apprenticeship so to speak, she took over his fleet and his trade when he died. This was common in many professions at the time; if you were the son of a baker you were likely to be a baker when you grew up.
From slaves to piracy
A large proportion of pirate crews were made of ex-slaves; when pirates took slaving vessels they would often liberate and recruit men to their crews. For those facing a life in chains piracy must have seemed to be a much better life (for a start, there was pay and freedom). Few of these pirate became well-known as they were hampered by a lack of sailing experience, but they made up a large proportion of many pirate crews.
Captain o captain!
The world of piracy was littered with men who followed good captains and officers into a life of crime; officers and captains would have a contingent of men with whom they were close, and these men would often go with them when they turned. Ben Hornigold is a perhaps the best example of this; when the European wars ran dry Hornigold continued to do what he did best (pillaging Spanish and French ships).
Some men, and women, did turn to piracy in order to seek revenge on ship captains and quartermasters who had treated them badly in the past. Some did it for more “big picture” aims; the Lioness of Brittany, Jeanne de Clisson, turned to piracy after her husband was executed by the French royalty for treason. She was fairly successful, and made sure to behead any French noblemen that fell into her hands.
Furthermore, the average sailor could turn pirate for revenge, too! The common sailor could generally expect harsh, if not downright brutal and sadistic, treatment from their superior officers. This could mean poor food, little sleep, low wages, and severe beatings for transgressions. This anger was only compounded by the resentment that must have grown upon seeing the way the officers themselves lived. When this bubbled over violence and mutiny were often the next step.
One of the most common ways in which a man would become a pirate was through actually being captured by them! When pirates took a ship they also took the opportunity to recruit for their own ships. By offering the downtrodden sailors of a navy ship better food, more money, more booze (and less beatings) the pirates often found themselves inundated with captives seeking to literally and figuratively jump ship!
High levels of unemployment made people as desperate hundreds of years ago as they do now. At the beginning of the Golden Age there were hundreds, if not thousands, of sailors laid off from the Navies of the world. Many of these men turned to piracy in order to make ends meet and feed their families. The cost of piracy could be high, and so there were those sailors who would arrange a fake kidnapping so that they could claim coercion if they were ever caught. Pirate crews were generally happy to comply.