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Long John Silver

(The Sea Cook, Barbecue)

Long John Silver

Probably the most famous pirate who never was.

Long John Silver is one of the main characters in the Book Treasure Island. The book tells of an adventure to an island in the West Indies known by the name Skeleton Island, where the fabled treasure where a great pirate captain is buried.

No pirate has inspired more myth and legend than Long John Silver. Even people who have never read Treasure Island, know the name Long John Silver. Surprisingly, I get at least 2 or 3 people every month or so asking me if Silver was a real person. The answer is a bit confusing. Long John Silver was inspired by Stevenson's real-life friend, William Henley.

According to Lloyd Osbourne, Stevenson's stepson Henley was "..a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one's feet". The real life Henley was not missing a leg but he was crippled. He also wasn't a pirate.

John Silver's wife

This about as real as Silver gets. The book Treasure Island, creates a wonderful biographical sketch of Silver. We know that he had a common law wife who was a "negress" or woman of African descent. We do not know much more about his wife except she helped him run the Spy-Glass Inn, Silver's tavern in Bristol. Silver mentions that she was to sell the tavern after the Hispaniola and head to a new location somewhere in the Caribbean where he would meet up with her again after the treasure hunt.

Who is John Silver?

Silver was normally called John or Barbecue by the other pirates/mutineers. The good guys in the story (Captain Smollett, Doctor Livsey, Jim Hawkins, etc) called him Silver.

Silver signed on as the cook of the Hispaniola and then went about recruiting most of his former shipmates for the rest of the crew. The good Squire John Trelawney, trust Silver so much that he accepts any man Silver puts forward, this despite the fact that Jim Hawkins had warned Trelawney and Livsey to be on the look out for a one legged man. Stevenson choice of a crippled sailor for a sea cook was on the money as this was done quite often on merchant ships.

The story picks up some time after 1722 and more likely sometime in the late 1730s or early 1740s. We find out from the story that Long John was the quartermaster of Captain Flint. Flint was a pirate that was feared by all except Long John Silver. We find out from the story that Flint dies in Savannah, Georgia but are not given an exact year. (Savannah was founded in 1733). There is a suggestion that Flint was killed by Silver but it is never clearly expressed.

How did he lose his leg?

The story isn't clear on exactly when Silver lost his leg but it was in battle and he lost it to an explosive cannon shot which not only took off his leg but blinded another pirate known in the story as "Blind Pew". It was some time between the taking of the treasure that was buried by Captain Flint and the Death of Captain Flint that Silver lost his leg.

We also know that Long John likes Jim Hawkins and does on several occasions saves the boy's life. In every instance however we also know that it seems he saves the boy in order to save his own. He would like the boy to join him and the pirates and admires Hawkins because of his resource fullness and almost reckless bravery.

Other things of interest is that the only thing Silver does fear is hanging. He admits clearly that he has seen people hang and he is afraid to meet such a fate. In the many sequels to Treasure Island Silver tends to be a more gentle rogue who always seems to do good in the end. We know in the end of Treasure Island, he manages to slip away with part of the treasure.

In the end what you can say is he was a ruthless man who would kill anyone who stood between him and what he desired. He led a mutiny but in the end save Hawkins and led the fellow mutineers into a bloody ambush in an attempt to save his own skin. He was a likeable man, he was well educated to some degree (he couldn't navigate a ship on his own), he knew the dangers of strong drink, yet he was a most deadly pirate.

Did I mention that he had a pirate named Captain Flint? Sound familiar? In Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, The crew of the Black Pearl name the monkey Captain Jack, after the former captain, Jack Sparrow.

Famous quotes of Long John Silver

  • "Yer smart as paint" — A person of uncommon intelligence
  • "Shiver my timbers" — Something Frightful
  • "Them's that die'll be the lucky ones" — You'd be better off dead if you put up a fight against me
Profile picture for user Tobias Gibson

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.

Updated: 04 September 2022