Articles are terms and conditions agreed by the crew of the pirate ship. In some cases a Captain was elected and then articles signed and in other cases articles were signed and then a captain elected.
The word articles may have its roots in one of two places. It may come from the religious definition where articles refer to: the separate items of any summary of faith or from the political definition where it means: each of the distinct heads or points of an agreement or treaty.
Privateers also signed articles but the terms and conditions were drawn up between the ship's captain and the the person issuing the letter of marque or owner of the sailing ship. Afterwards the crew was chosen by the captain and those joining would agree to abide by the articles.
Below are examples of Articles for the Pirate ship Revenge commanded by Captain John Phillips and those for the Privateer Articles of the Mars.
Articles for the Pirate Ship, Revenge
If any man shall offer to run away, or keep any secret from the Company, he shall be marroon'd with one bottle of powder, one bottle of Water, one small Arm, and shot.
If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the value of a piece of Eight, he shall be Marroon'd or shot.
If at any Time we should meet at another Marrooner (that is, Pyrate) that man shall sign his Articles without Consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.
That a man that shall strike another, whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Moses's Law (that is 40 Stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.
That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without cap to his Pipe, or carry a candle lighted without lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.
That Man that shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.
If any man shall lose a joint in time of Engagement, shall have 400 Pieces of Eight: if a limb, 800.
If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer Death.
Articles for the Privateer, Mars
Imprimis, That the said Dennis McGillycuddy, for himself, and in Behalf of the Owners of the Privateer, shall put on board the said Brigantine a sufficient Number of Great Guns, Small Arms, Powder, Shot, and all other necessary warlike Stores and Ammunition; as also, suitable Provisions sufficient for the said Brigantine, during the whole Cruize; which Cruize is to be understood to be from the time of the said Brigantine's sailing from the Port of New York, until the Time of her returning thither again, for which there shall be no Deduction made out of the said Company's Shares: And in Consideration thereof, the Owner of the said Brigantine or his substitutes, shall have and receive One Half of all Prizes, Goods, Wares, Merchandizes, Monies, Effects, etc. that shall be taken during this Cruize; the other Half shall be divided, and paid to the said Brigantine's Company, by the Captain aforesaid, according to the Rules hereafter stated.
That the Captain shall have and receive, for himself, Six Full Shares, and shall be granted all Privileges and Freedoms which have been granted any Captains of Privateers: That the Lieutenants and Master, shall each of them have Three Full Shares, That the Captain's Clerk, Mates, Steward, Prize-Master, Gunner, Boatswain, Carpenter, and Cooper, shall each of them have and receive Two Full Shares. That the Gunner's Mate, Boatswain's Mate, Doctor's Mate, Carpenter's Mate, and Cooper's Mate, shall each of them have and receive One Share and a Half.
That the doctor of the said Privateer, or whoever is at the Expence of the Chest of Medicines, shall have and receive the Sum of Pounds, if well furnished. Also the doctor shall have and receive for himself Three Full Shares, as also all Medicines and Instruments belonging to any Doctor that shall be taken.
That if any Person spies a Sail, and she proves to be a Prize worth One Hundred Pieces of Eight a Share, he shall receive Forty Pieces of Eight at Six Shillings. And the first Man who enters on boarding a Prize in an engeagement, and strikes her Colours, shall receive Half a Share for his Bravery.
That all the rest of the said Brigantine's Company, such as shall be deemed able and sufficient Seamen, shall each of them have and receive One Full Share, out of the Effects, Plunder and Prizes, that shall or may be taken by the said Brigantine during the Cruize, Provided, They are not found guilty of the Faults or Crimes hereafter named.
That as to the Proceedings of the Vessel, and undertaking any Enterprize at Sea, or on Shore, and into what Port any Prize shall be Carried that shall be taken during the Cruize, shall be left entirely to the Captain's Election.
That all the small Plunder, shall be brought to publick Sale, and be delivered to the highest Bidder, for which their Shares shall be accountable, excepting the Captain's Perquisites, which are such as did belong to the Captains of Prizes, and such Clothing as the Captain shall think proper to allow the Prisoners.
That if any person belonging to the said Brigantine, be killed in an Engagement, or die on board, his Share or Shares, of all Prizes taken in his Life-Time, shall be paid to his Executors, if so appointed by Will; but if no Will be made, then his Part of what was got as aforesaid shall go to his Widow, or Heirs at Law, if claim'd in Twelve Months, from the Time of said Brigantine's Arrival into her commission'd Port; and on Failure thereof, said Share or Shares shall be and belong to the general Interest of the Whole.
That if any of the Company do disannul any of the Officers Commands for the Good of the Cruize, or the general Interest, he or they shall be fined and punished as the Captain and Officers shall direct. And if any of the Company do Assault, Strike, or Insult any Male Prisoner, or behave rudely or indecently to any Female Prisoner, he or they shall be punished as the Captain and Officers shall direct. And if any of the Company begin an Attack, either by firing a Gun, or using any Instrument of War, before Orders be given, by the proper Officers, he or they shall be punished; but if any of the said Company do refuse to make an Attack on the Enemy, either at Sea or Land, at the Command and in the Manner ordered by the Captain and proper Officers, or do behave with Cowardice in any Engagement, he or them shall forfeit his or their Share or Shares for such Refusal or Cowardice; and if any of the Company get drunk, or use blasphemous and prophane Words, they shall be punished as the Captain and Officers shall direct: And likewise if any of the Company do desert the said Schooner before her Return to New-York, he or they shall forfeit their whole Shares to the Owner and Company, first paying such Brigantine's Debts as are contracted by the Captain's Knowledge.
That whoever of the Company shall breed a Mutiny or Disturbance, or strike his Fellow, or shall Game with Cards or Dice for Money, or any Thing of Value, or shall sell any strong Liquors on board, during the Voyage, he or they shall be fined as the Captain and Officers shall direct. And if any of the Company be found pilfering or stealing any Money or Goods of what kind soever, belonging to the said Privateer or Company, he or they shall forfeit his or their Share or Shares of the Prize-Money or Effects then and afterwards taken by the said Brigantine, during the whole Cruize, to the Owner and Company.
That if any of the Company in an Engagement with the Enemy, or in the true Service of the Cruize, shall lose a Leg or an Arm, or be so disabled as to be deprived of the Use of either; every such Person shall be allowed out of the effects or Prize first taken, (before any Division be made) the Sum of Six Hundred Pieces of Eight, at Six Shillings; or the Value thereof in Goods, at the Price according to public Sale: But if there be not so much taken at that Time, the vessel and the Company shall keep out till they have enough for that Purpose; Provided no extraordinary Accident happens.
That the Division of any Money or Effects taken this Cruize, Dead Shares shall be deducted out of the Whole, which shall be divided by the amongst the most Deserving and them that does most for the benefit of the Cruize.
That any Prize or Prizes that shall be taken during the Cruize, shall be with all Speed sent into the Port of New-York, in order that the same may be libelled against in the Court of Admiralty for Condemnation, and to no other Place whatsoever, except said Prize shall be so disabled that she could not proceed to said Port: And any Person or Persons which shall be aiding or assisting, or shall give his or their Consent for sending any Prize or Prizes, into any other Port but the Harbour of New-York aforesaid, shall forfeit his or their Share to the Owner and Company; and that no Division shall be made till they return to the Port of New-York.
That in Case any neutral Property, or any Property whatever, be taken and sent into Port, and after Condemnation be had, an Appeal should be entered by the Claimants, then, and in such Case, it shall be Lawful with the full Consent of the Captain and Company of the said Privateer, for the Owner, or his Attorney, to compromise, compound, and settle, by giving up any Sum or Part of he Prize, as shall seem most advisable to him for the general Interest, that the Captain and Company may receive each and every one of them their just and lawful Right and Prize-Money, and not be kept out of their Money until the Appeal may be determined in England; and in Case no such Compromisation can be made, then a certain Sum, shall be lodged out of the Prizes before taken, to prosecute the said Appeal: And it shall likewise be lawful for the Owner or Agent of the said Privateer to discharge any Capture that may be made during his said Cruize, without the formality of a Prosecution, in order that all unnecessary Charges may as much as possible be avoided.
That it shall not be lawful for the said Officers and Company, or either of them, to demand or sue for the Prize-Money so to become due to them, or any Part thereof, until fourteen Days after the Sale of such Prize or Prizes, the settlement of the Accounts relating to the said Cruize, and the actual Receipt of the Money by the Agent appointed to manage the Affairs of the said Cruize.
That if it should happen, that the said Briganteen, by Means of any Fight, Attack, or Engagement, be lost, sunk or disabled, so as she may be thereby rendered unfit for any further Service as a private Vessel of War to cruize; that then, and in such Case, the Owner of said Brigantine, shall be entitled to take to himself, and for his own sole Use and Property, any Ship or Vessel taken during the Cruize, with her Guns, Tackle, Furniture, Ammunition, and Apparel, not exceeding the Value of the Brigantine at the Time of her Sailing; which Ship or Vessel so taken shall be to the Owner in Lieu of the said Brigantine.
That in Case of the Death of the Commander, the next in Place shall strictly observe and comply with the Rules, Orders, Restrictions and Agreements, between the owner of the said Brigantine and the said Commander.
God Save the King, and Success to the Mars, and all her brave Crew.
 When ships were captured, sailors were sometimes given the opportunity to join a pirate crew by signing the Articles. Sometimes this was voluntary and other times it was choice between a cruel death and turning pirate. Surgeons and other people possessing special qualities who were sometimes allowed to remain with the crew as "guests" and were not forced to sign articles and were treated well so long as the performed their special duties for the crew and caused no trouble. Another condition was often that they testify on behalf of the crew should they wind up before a court.
The only author and editor of all pages on the site. Most of what I write about is based on years of book reading on the topic. My first web page was published back in 1994.