5 Little-Known Pirate Stories (and a Quiz)
BY LAUREL MILLS AND KELLY FERGUSON
1. Yo-Ho-Ho and an Epidural
Grace O'Malley (born Gráinne O'Malley) was the Irish Sea Queen of the 16th century. Earning her sea legs as a kid on voyages with her father, O'Malley went on to lead a crew of 200 sailors as part of her Celtic Sea "protection service." Her specialty? Intercepting merchant ships to negotiate their safe passage to Galway and ruthlessly pillaging any "uninterested customers." Infamous for being lewd, gambling too much, and cussing like—well—a sailor, O'Malley truly proved her mettle when she gave birth mid-voyage. Soon after the delivery, Turkish pirates attacked the ship, and when the flailing crew came running to O'Malley, she reportedly snapped, "May you be seven times worse off this day 12 months from now, you who cannot do without me for one day!" When the postpartum hell-raiser finally emerged on deck waving her gun, the attackers quickly remembered they had other engagements.
2. Pirate Panache
Legendary and ruthless sea-raider "Black Bart" may win the award for the most prolific pirate, with more than 400 ships reportedly falling to his sword in the early 18th century. But Bart was much more civilized than history would have you believe. The Welsh-born Bartholomew Roberts (sound less tough now, doesn't he?) always wore a damask waistcoat, snappy breeches, and a dashing red feather in his cap. The refined Bart also drank only tea and water, commanded lights-out by 8 p.m., and had musicians play hymns for him on Sundays.
3. X Marks the 401(k)
When pirate icon Edward "Blackbeard" Teach met his Waterloo at Ocracoke Island (his pillaging hub off the coast of North Carolina) in 1718, his enemies confiscated 25 hogshead of sugar, 145 bags of cocoa, a barrel of indigo, and a bale of cotton. Not exactly the sacks full of rubies and sapphires the British Royal Navy was hoping for. When asked where the real treasure was, it's said he replied, "Only I and the devil know." Since that time, beachcombers have donned Hawaiian-print shirts and scoured the Carolina coast with metal detectors—most likely in vain. Blackbeard's treasure is almost certainly more legend than fact. Pirates usually acquired their pieces of eight (Spanish silver coins), gold doubloons, and pricey jewels from black market trade of the coffee, tea, slaves, textiles, and medicines they stole from ships. But for all the talk of buried treasure, pirates weren't known for their retirement planning. They usually blew the money on women, booze, and gambling.
4. Playing the Parrot Card
Our modern-day image of a pirate usually comes fully outfitted with peg-leg, eye-patch, and parrot. Why? The stereotype comes directly from the fictional character of Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Silver's feathered sidekick, Captain Flint, was a nice touch, but it's doubtful pirates had pets. With long voyages and scanty rations, a parrot would have a made a better snack than companion.
5. Stealing Second
The Pittsburgh Pirates haven't always been named after the thieves of the high seas. Originally, the Major League club was known as the nature-loving Pittsburgh Alleghenies (after the mountain range in the eastern region of Pennsylvania). But in 1880, after stealing away second-baseman Louis Bierbauer from the Philadelphia Athletics, a local newspaper called the team "a bunch of pirates." This suited them just fine, and they've been flying the Jolly Roger ever since.
Now try your hand at this pirate-themed quiz...
Ed note: This page was excerpted from Vol. 4, Issue 6's Scatterbrained section of mental_floss magazine. If you dig it, check out how to subscribe here!