Pirates of the Caribbean: The Captain & Crew
Return to Pirates of the Caribbean --Return to A Pyrates Life
The Golden Age -- Pirate Government -- Captain and Crew -- Life at Sea -- Punishment -- Rules of Engagement -- Pirates,Parrots and Pets--
Ship's Articles -- Pieces of Eight, Doubloons -- A Pirate's Lexicon --The Jolly Roger-- Myths & Monsters -- Pyrate Medicine
Contrary to the book Treasure Island, Most Captains didn't command by an iron fist, they commanded because of skill, daring, and the ability to win prize and booty. In some cases pirate ship elected its Captain through a vote. If the Captain fell in disfavor The crew were just as quick as quick to maroon their captain, or throw him overboard, or perhaps if he were lucky they would just let him off at the nearest port.
But it is safe to assume that if a Captain had a bad cruise with little to show for it and the end of it, it would be difficult for him to raise a new crew in the future.
In many cases, the Captain didin't have the last say, except perhaps in the midst of battle. In fact, on some ships , the Captain had no more power than every other pirate on board except in times of battle. When not in battle or preparing to fight, quite often the Quartermaster might actually be in charge of the ship.
Important matters such as where the ship might sail, or rather or not to put into port, or if a certain ship should be engaged and so on, were quite often not up to the Captain. These pressing details were decided by vote, with the majority ruling. If the Captain were to go against the vote, then he too would be in violation of the Articles of Piracy, and would most likely step down from command and new leader would be chosen.
Of course on other ships, simply through his skill and charisma, a pirate captain would command and lead with his voice being the ultimate authority. While it is true that after mutinies crews would sometimes vote ona new captain before going pirate, it was usually the leader of the mutiny that got the vote. It is also true that, especially among some of the smaller pirate vessels, that the pirate crew was led by a natural leader and his close mates. In such a case, the priate crew may work more like a family or clan than the much touted democracy.
Pirate didn't trust authority and therefore saw no reason to let all the power of a ship rest on one man. Therefore they split the power between, the Captain, who led the ship in battle, and navigated the ship, and the Quartermaster, who usually led the way on any boarding party, and kept custody of all prize or booty. The Quartermaster also determined what prize was worth taking.
As expected all gold, silver, or coin was taken, but beyond that, it was the quartermaster who decided what else was worth taking. He made his decisions based on time on how much room the ship had. If the ship was already cramped, spices and exotic materials may be burned rather that stolen.
The quartermaster would also watch over the treasure until it was divided among the crew. It was also the quartermaster who did the dividing, with the crew's supervision. There was rarely a dispute about how the loot was divided, however.
The quartermaster was also the only man who could dole out punishment. Even then, any many instances the crew would take a vote first. The captain could order punishment but only the quartermaster could administer it, which made it the will of at least two before any punishment was given.
The quartermaster also settled individual quarrels and if need be, acted as a witness to any duels, to insure that duels were fair and just. Finally, on some ships, except when in battle the quartermaster might actually hold a position above the captain, especially in matters of punishment and rations.
Despite all the activitiy of the quartermaster, Pirate captains would still pick their other officers such as first and second mate, often creating a complex chain of command on a pirate ship.
Of course this was not always the case. In many cases, a pirate captain was the ultimate law and there was no quatermaster or the quartermaster and captain worked as if captain and firstmate. Much of the discussion of quatermasters is found in the General History of Pirates and it would be foolish to think all pirate crews had a division of power as it described in that book.
Boatswain (bos ´n)
On a more broad term, the sea artists was anyone who could maneuver ships over great distances with little or no difficulty, an expert seaman.
Often overlooked, the Striker was a native of the West Indies, typically from Darien or the Mosquito Coast. They were expert hunters who trapped sea turtles and manatees; fished for sharks and other large fish; and also hunted wild game when the the crew came ashore. Their knowledge of local plants aided in collecting edible fruits and vegitables as well as medicinal plants and herbs.Their expert ability at hunting and fishing earned them a spot among the crew, Their hatred of Spain assured their loyalty and ferocity in battle. They were not kept aboard for the seaman ship, their job was to catch fish and kill Spaniards.
Surgeons were highly valued among pirates and when pirates captured ships they would often press surgeons into service. A surgeon was typically the only person kept on board who was not required to sign articles. Depending on the nature of the crew some surgeons were paid even if they refused to sign on.
If a surgeon wasn't handy, then the crew would often elect someone with an inkling of knowledge to act as surgeon. On at least one account, the carpenter was elected the ship's surgeon, because the carpenter had the necessary tools needed to amputate limbs and knew how to cut quickly. At other times a cook might also be employed but cooks were normally considered less skillful at cutting than carpenters. (Cooks weren't butchers and had little training. Typically they were crew members assigned to work the galley who managed to make edible food.)