"A pirate's life for me…"

Ship's Articles

The following articles were typical of those signed by the members of the crews of pirate ships. It is often thought that the pirate's life was a harsh and hard one. However, pirate ships were run more democratically than most other vessels. Pirates may have a swashbuckling reputation but they also had codes of honor. Before a man set sail with a company, he was informed of the ship's articles and asked to sign to signify that he agreed to the terms of membership in the company.



Every man shall obey civil command; the captain shall have one full share and a half in all prizes; the master, carpenter, boatswain and gunner shall have one share and a quarter.

If any man shall offer to run away or keep any secret from the company, he shall be maroon'd with one bottle of powder, one bottle of water, one small arm and shot.

If any man steal anything in the company to the value of a piece of eight, he shall be maroon'd or shot.

If at any time we shall meet another pirate ship, that man that shall sign its articles without the consent of our company shall suffer such punishment as the captain and company think fit.

That man that shall strike another whilst these articles are in force shall receive Moses' Law (forty stripes lacking one) on the bare back.

That man that shall snap his arms or smoke tobacco in the hold without a cap to his pipe or a candle lighted without a 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 the company shall think fit.

If any man shall lose a joint in time of an engagement, he shall have four hundred pieces of eight, if a limb eight hundred.

If at any time you shall meet a prudent woman, that man that offers to meddle with her consent shall suffer present death.

This information was gathered from an exhibit concerning the pirate ship Wydah at the NATIONAL GEORGRAPHIC SOCIETY in Washington, D.C. If you plan a trip to D.C., do visit the museum which is open to the public daily. Admission is free.

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