Monday, January 16, 2017

Pirates Actually DID Expect the Spanish Inquisition

When we think of the Spanish Inquisition, we imagine a group of fanatic Medieval Churchmen who torture people for fun and burn “witches” at the stake. It doesn’t seem to have any effect on pirates.

 But the Spanish Inquisition was a legal entity that started in 1478, set up by the same Spanish rulers who financed Columbus’ trip to the Caribbean. And the Inquisition lasted until 1854, well after the end of piracy’s Golden Age. For some pirates it was a matter of life and death.

What was the Spanish Inquisition, anyway?

An Inquisition was a legal entity that operated under “license” from the Catholic Church. There existed a broad “Christian Inquisition” and three more regional inquisitions, the Portuguese Inquisition, the Roman Inquisition, and the Spanish Inquisition. All were intended to protect the Catholic Church by finding and stopping entities that placed it in danger – from Christians who did not practice their faith in accordance with the rules of the Church to witches to homosexuals.

The Spanish version of the Inquisition was mostly aimed at making sure that Jews and Muslims who had converted to Catholicism maintained the practices of the Catholic religion. Southern Spain had been invaded and held by Muslim Moors for centuries, and because of this, the Catholic Spanish felt that their religion was under attack. When the Spanish began to drive out the Moorish forces, the Spanish government required that all Moors and Jews who remained in Spanish territory converted to Catholicism.

Many people converted in public, but maintained their ancestral religions at home. The Spanish Inquisition was specifically aimed at finding these people and punishing them for backsliding in their religion.

The Inquisition would come to a town, and announce a period of 30 – 45 days of “grace” in which anyone who confessed to wrong-doing would be forgiven and taken back into the Church. These people were punished, of course. Often they paid huge fines, or suffered physical punishment. Always, they were encouraged to inform on other sinners.

Once the grace period was over, action began against the sinners who were accused but had not confessed. Individuals were first incarcerated – sometimes for years. While in prison, the accused were not told what they were accused of, and often their property was confiscated to pay for their incarceration and trial.

Eventually the prisoner war interrogated. This often involved torture, but the torture was strictly regulated. Breaking the skin was forbidden. Inquisitors relied on a form of waterboarding where a rag was stuffed into the accused’s mouth, and water was poured on it to give the sensation of drowning. Also in use was the rack, where victims were tied to a device that pulled on their arms and legs. This could tear tissue and dislocate joints.

Most closely linked with the Inquisition was a torture method called strappado.  In this, the victim’s arms were tied behind the back, then attached to a rope and pulley. The victim was lifted by the bound arms, and sometimes dropped and lifted again.

If a person being interrogated by these methods gave a confession after the torture had stopped, it was considered a confession under free will, and not under coercion.

A few people were able to convince the inquisitor that they were innocent, but most confessed. Those who confessed would then make a public confession of their crime, and accept punishment, which might include fines, whipping, and possibly a sentence to row on a galley ship for several years. This was a harsh punishment, and a term of 5 years of this labor almost always equaled a death sentence.  

Of course, the ultimate punishment was burning at the stake.

But we are concerned with pirates. How did the Inquisition affect pirates?

For one thing, the conditions of the Inquisition drove many Jews out of Spain. Some came to the New World, but the Inquisition followed them. The first execution of unrepentant Jews in the New World took place when Hernando Alonso, a secret Jew, was burned at the stake on October 17, 1528.

Other Jews fled to the Netherlands, where they were offered sanctuary by the Protestant government there. This population of Jews, angry at Spain for prosecution of their relatives and confiscation of their family fortunes, often became pirates. Their piracy gave them a chance to fight back and regain wealth. Many of the pirates listed as “Dutch” were in fact Jewish.

Image result for dutch jewish pirate

Another issue of interest to pirates were galley slaves. As previously noted, service as a rower on a Spanish galley was a miserable and short life. Pirates were known to liberate slaves, and though galleys were not common in the Caribbean, pirates did encounter them sometimes, and added these people to their crews.

The Inquisition also targeted Native Americans who had been converted, but tried to maintain their own spiritual lives. Spanish punishment of these people destabilized relationships with the natives, and some groups of pirates used this to their advantage, forging friendly relationships with the natives, and using them to re-supply pirate ships.

Very occasionally, Protestants were caught up in the Inquisition. After all, the stated objective of the Inquisition was to protect the Catholic faith. The entire existence of the Protestant religion was seen as a threat, and an over-enthusiastic Spaniard might bring the Inquisition to bear on captured English sailors. If these individuals were not killed outright, they would be tempted to take the law into their own hands and become pirates.

The Inquisition held sway throughout the Golden Age of in all Spanish colonies throughout piracy’s Golden Age. It’s one more reason why the Spanish are almost always the Bad Guys in pirate stories.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Sunburned Pirates

Pirates in the time of the Golden Age were almost always described as “swarthy,” a term that meant dark-skinned or suntanned. It was also something of a cultural slur. Rich people had big houses and stayed indoors. Poor people worked outside and suffered in the sun.

In today’s world of SPF factors and air conditioning we can’t really grasp how damaging the sun can be, but 18th century pirates knew first hand.

Sunburn is actually a form of radiation poisoning, and like radiation, it can kill. This surprises most people today, because we associate sunshine with a healthy lifestyle.

Sunshine helps the human body to produce and store Vitamin D. It also helps the body produce serotonin, which improves mood and helps fight depression. Sunlight can also kill germs. But, like any good thing, too much can be harmful.

Sun exposure is greater nearer the equator. In these regions, sunlight strikes the earth more directly, and is not scattered by the atmosphere. And many pirates came from parts of Europe which were not only far from the equator, but known for their cloudy weather.

Because moderate amounts of sunlight are necessary for good health, people in these regions have lost much of their protective skin coloring. Their pale, unpigmented skin helps their bodies to absorb scares sunlight. Even their hair and eyes are lighter. Did you know that brown eyes are a natural sort of sunshade for the eyes?

When people from the northern parts of Europe came to the Caribbean, they suffered terribly from the sun. Deep sunburn damages the body’s DNA, which can cause cancer. Burned skin cells turn red and dry. They dry, and can peel off.

The body’s response to the burn is to rush blood to the area. This makes the area grow hot.  Melanin production steps up, since melanin can absorb radiation. In extreme instances – second degree sunburn, the skin blisters, just as it would from a heat burn.

A third degree burn really looks like a burn. The skin is bright, meaty red and falls off in chunks. Underlying tissue is exposed and damaged. The body loses moisture from the opening, and the victim risks shock, dehydration and death.

Why didn’t those early pirates use sunblock?

While skin care for sunburn goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who used rice bran – a substance that actually does absorb UV rays. Native Americans used deer fat to make a paste of tannin, a plant extract. This also dyed the skin a yellow-brown shade. Mediterranean countries also used olive oil, which had no effect on the sunburn, but soothed the skin. Aloe vera, popular today, was a North African plant that had not yet crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

And modern sunscreens? The first of them would not be created and marketed until the 1920’s. And really effective sunscreens did not arrive until the 1950’s – 250 years too late for the pirates.

Modern sunscreen uses one of two methods to protect the body. Some use plant extract to absorb UV rays, and others use chemical methods to scatter the UV rays. The SPF (sun protection factor) stands for the increased amount of time in the sun that the sun protection offers.

In the modern world, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the claim that a sunscreen or sunblock protects the skin, and to what degree. An SPF of 15 allows a person to spend 15 times as long in the sun.

Regular application of sunscreen can offer real protection, but it must be renewed regularly. For best results, it should be applied 30 minutes before going out into the sun, and renewed about an hour after. Sweating or swimming requires more frequent applications. Even though you may not see the difference after exposure to moderate sunlight, UV photography can show an improvement.

So what did the pirates do?

There wasn’t much they could do. Most already had a “base tan” from years outdoors. But as a former inhabitant of a tropical state, I can affirm that this is not as much protection as one might suppose.

In my tropical home, sunshine ate the finish off cars and woodwork, bleached fabrics and burned people who had worked outside for years. The only real protection was to stay out of it.

So, that’s what the pirates did. You have noticed the long sleeves on shirts of the time. Long sleeves might be hot, but they protected the skin under them. Pirate pants were longer than the short, tight breeches worn by richer folk. Longer pants protected the legs. Bandanas or head scarves absorbed sweat, but also protected the scalp from sunburn. (Yes, the skin under your hair can become sunburned.)

One of the advantages of life on a pirate ship was that the captain and officers came from the same level of society as the crew, and knew their troubles. Many ships rigged canvas awnings to protect crew members from the sun, and you can bet that pirate ships did this regularly.

Pirates who had been to the Indian Ocean came back with Western-style clothing made from the thin, lightweight cottons of India. And pirate captain Ben Hornigold once robbed a ship of only the crew’s hats, because his men had lost their own. (Okay – they’d thrown them overboard in the middle of a drunken party. But the pirate’s hats were gone.)

So get your sunlight. But protect your skin as well. It’s the piratical thing to do.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Honest Pirates, Deceitful Landsmen

One of the things that people who play at being pirates tend to forget is that pirates considered themselves to be the Good Guys. Not only did most of them take up piracy in a fight for justice, but the words of historic pirates frequently repeat the mantra that pirates themselves were the only honest men in the world. Merchant captains, business owners, and even dockside women were aligned against them.

Let’s take a look at some of the facts that bolster this belief.

First, pirates came almost exclusively from the ranks of sailors, and sailors lived a simple life. Food was monotonous but nourishing. Duties on board ship were clear and repetitive. Decks needed to be cleaned, sails trimmed and tended, the wheel manned, brass polished and wood painted.
Independent thought was not only largely unnecessary, but actively discouraged.  Captains did not want crew input on improved navigation or ship’s operations. These were the sphere of gentlemen, a rank to which no common sailor could ever rise.

On shore was holiday. No work, exotic foods and sights, alcohol and gambling. On board ship, money was earned bout could not be spent. On land, spending money was the prime occupation. With no training in budgeting and no way to transport any valuable item that was larger than a sea-chest, sailors devoted their money to fun.

Most pirates experienced a similar life, with the addition of a little excitement attacking ships at sea.

But uneducated as sailors, and most pirates, were, it did not escape their attention that the odds were stacked against them.

On board ship, the captain did his best to reduce costs. Sometimes this meant cheating the crew out of earned wages, and sometimes this meant under-staffing a ship. With no government oversight regarding wages, a sailor had no recourse if his captain simply refused to pay him. With no regulation on how many men it took to run a ship, understaffing meant overwork, sometimes to the extent of causing death.

Even on ships with honest and well-meaning captains crews could be cheated by suppliers. On land one’s customers were likely local and able to sue in court. But selling to ships – there were only the most basic precursors to shipping companies, and almost all ships bought their own supplies – enabled merchants to sell sub-standard goods at standard prices.

So, food that was represented as well-preserved might be rotten. Items – such as cheese or eggs - represented as fresh might be far from that. Out at sea, there was no choice but to eat whatever was provided. And when the journey ended in some far off land, there was no chance to go back and bring the dishonest merchant to justice.

Still, the sailors knew that they’d been cheated. In fact, their perception of ship’s supply yards where that they were staffed by people willing to sentence honest sailors to a diet of deadly food simply to line their own pockets with gold. And far too often they were right.

On shore, sailors totally untrained in how to handle money were easy prey for those looking to make a quick fortune. Taverns, sleeping-rooms, even clothing sellers had “special” prices for sailors. It wouldn’t necessarily occur to a man on shore for a few days that he could get better prices by traveling a few blocks inland.

The docks made themselves welcome in other ways. They had the things that sailors needed, and didn’t mind that their customers were rough men with no known history. Dockside taverns also expected their customers to become very, very drunk. After all, that was the goal of a sailor on shore.

This very state of drunkenness left sailors, even pirates, open to further on-shore scams. They were open to being cheated at cards or dice. They might be openly robbed. But the most impressive scam was the investment counselor.

This man approached a sailor who appeared to be flush and was drinking. The investment counselor sat with this individual, bought a few rounds of drinks, and remarked on how well the sailor had done for himself.

So very much money – perhaps years of wages – should not just be spent on fun. It should be invested to provide lasting income in the future. The counselor appeared well-informed and well-intentioned. Soon he had the sailor or pirate agreeing that a wise investment was the way to go. In the morning, the pirate would wake up alone, having given his money to a man who had not even provided a name or address in return. So much for investing.

But the most perfidious landsmen were women. Some hard-hearted girls met boys coming off ships, pretended to be smitten, and persuaded the young man to take them dancing. With dancing came liquor, and then a room needed to be rented to sleep it off. Often the young woman offered to consummate their budding relationship.

In the morning, of course, the young man woke up without any of his cash. In fact, some of these women even stole his clothes and shoes. Being “taken” in such a way was almost an initiation for young sailors –  as common as being whipped for the first time. It was celebrated in song and story, usually with a humorous twist.

Also the source of mocking songs were cases where women with contagious sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, which was often fatal, sold themselves to men, promising that they were “clean.” While these women, sick and without resources, had few choices and fewer opportunities, the men they infected felt that they had fallen victim to a scam. “She said she was a virgin” repeated many a man as he cried into his beer.

But the most often repeated cry against woman was the untrue lover. Men were often virtual prisoners on board the ships where they served. Merchant captains took ships on longer voyages than promised, and the Royal Navy literally kidnapped sailors. These men kept themselves going with memories of promises made by sweethearts back home. How sad they were when they returned years later to find that their old sweethearts had moved on.

These wandering men, cut off from family, often liked to pretend that they were romancing the dockside prostitutes they met on land. The women enjoyed the money, the company, and the respect that the men gave them, and may have even felt affection for some clients. But in preserving the illusion of a relationship with a man they would only know for a few days at most, these women were known to make promises.

The women probably saw this as a professional ploy to make more money, but the men seem to have fallen for it time and again. Song after song tells of the woman who was untrue. In fact, one of the oldest of sailor’s songs, dating back to the era of Buccaneering Pirates, and in constant uses since the 1500’s. The Fair Maid of Amsterdam places a woman in the worst possible place upon the return of her eager sailor…. She’s sitting on the knee of a soldier, having betrayed no only her sailor beau, but his profession as well.

Injustices, large, small, and imaginary gave potential pirates a firm belief in the dishonesty of those around them. Pirates had no such tricks. They robbed you out in the open, and made no bones about it.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Pirate's Surgeon

In the world of the 18th century, ship’s doctors were hard to come by. Most merchant ships did not carry sort of medical personnel at all.  Merchant crews were small, often only 7 or 8 men, and shop owners and captains did not want to reduced profits by having a crew member who did not add to the speed or hauling capacity of the ship.

Navy ships did carry medical officers, but usually did not employ doctors. The official job description of a naval medical officer was “barber-surgeon.” The trade of barber-surgeon involved an apprenticeship. An apprentice started out doing tasks like sweeping up and disposing of lopped-off limbs, and progressed through assisting with procedures, and ending with performing operations under supervision.

This training was, of course, heavily slanted toward the injuries and diseases of sailors. But “medicines” at the time was more of a philosophical exercise, something practiced by highly educated men (always men) who had attended college and learned to speak Latin and Greek. These doctors could charge high fees, and spent their spare time studying and arguing philosophy.

Barber surgeons removed limbs that had been damaged in accidents and occasionally cut off obvious cancers. When not performing these services, they bled people (more about this later) and cut people’s hair.  The navy needed people with these skills, and since navy ships had huge numbers of sailors (over a hundred was not uncommon) it was practical to have staff to keep them healthy.

Pirates recruited their members usually from the lower levels of ship personnel. This often included men skilled at every aspect of life at sea, from knot-tying to navigation. But it was harder to enlist the higher echelons. Officers were better paid and less likely to suffer the kinds of injustice and financial hardship that drove men to be pirates.

The ship’s articles – with its signature of every crew member – became a death sentence if the ship was captured. Actually signing onto a crew was something rarely done by men who were neither desperate nor utterly fed up with the inequalities of life.

Yet pirate crews wanted skilled medical personnel very badly. Pirate ships were fighting ships, and their crews were more confident with a surgeon to take care of them. A trained barber-surgeon knew how to administer popular medications for common ailments. He could also draw blood from the crew. This was considered regular preventative medicine.

We’ve all heard horror story about people being treated with leaches, or blood being sucked out by means of heated glass jars. The most common method, however, was to open a patient’s vein and drain out a little less than a pint of blood. There was a bit of technique involved in opening the wound so that th4e bleeding could be stopped quickly.  The blood was caught in a bowl – usually the same bowl used for holding hot water and soap when shaving.  It measured the correct amount of blood, which was then thrown over the side. (It might also be fed to any cats or dogs aboard the ship.)

Bleeding was considered to be simply a good medical practice. If it wasn’t done, a person might experience a buildup of “too much blood.” Medical theory said that this might cause the symptoms of high blood pressure, stroke, or bring about sickness. Most English people wanted to be bled every six weeks to two months. A barber-surgeon aboard a pirate ship made them feel safe.

Of course, the benefits of this treatment were mostly psychological. But a sudden loss of about a pint of blood can lower catastrophically high temperatures, a fact useful in a time and place where ice, or even cool water, might not be available.  And regular bloodletting can help with high blood pressure, by simply lowering the amount of blood.

So recruiting a surgeon was very desirable, but also very difficult for a pirate captain. What to do? Some surgeons were kidnapped by pirate crews and pressed into service. Others, unhappy with their current working conditions, persuaded attacking pirates to pretend to kidnap them, joining the pirates while leaving themselves an “out” in case of capture.

A few more, such as Alexandre Exquemelin, joined pirate crews as a matter of principal. We first learn of Exquemelin when he joined the Dutch East India Company in 1657 where he apprenticed as a barber surgeon. He was shipwrecked, then joined the French West India Company. The Company dissolved shortly thereafter. He was stranded on the island of Barbados and forced into indentured servitude. At first he was harshly treated, but he was later redeemed by a barber surgeon who continued training him in the trade.

Exquemelin won his freedom long before he had finished his required seven years of apprenticeship, and sold his services to pirates. Being literate, we also wrote a tell-all book about his adventures, long on sea stories, but short on piratical medicine (possibly because of his sketchy training.) The book, The Buccaneers of America is available on Amazon today.

For those interested in more detail about the history of pirate doctors, however, I strongly recommend The Pirate Surgeon's Journal at

Monday, December 19, 2016

Pirate Christmas Songs

Christmas and piracy don’t seem to go together very well. From a purely historical perspective, Christmas was not a wildly celebrated holiday back in the Golden Age of Piracy. Today, however, Christmas, its planning, partying and purchasing go on for nearly six weeks in the US. So, in modern times, Christmas and pirates just HAD to find a way to go together.

We’ve already had a look at Pirate Santa. So this year, we’ll take a look – or a listen – with some of the popular pirate Christmas songs on YouTube. Yes, it’s a thing.

The first one is from one of my favorites. Tom Smith is a professional filk singer. That’s right – filk, not folk. Filk singing is defined as taking tunes from well-known songs and adding fresh lyrics, usually with a nerdy theme. Originally – back in the 1960’s when these dongs first achieved a name – nerdy meant science fiction, but it grew to include fantasy, and then later to attach itself to tunes and subjects from various popular TV shows. (The theme music from Gilligan’s Island has been used for multiple filk songs)

Tom manages to make his living playing at various conventions and events throughout the US, and he loves pirates. (One of his biggest hits informs us that Hermione Granger is, in fact, a Pirate Queen. She was born on September 19th, International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Tom is also writer of the official song of Talk Like a Pirate Day, called appropriately It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day

For Christmas, he gives us a medley of many classic Christmas tunes, with appropriately piratey alterations. Click on the link to enjoy. And feel free to check out Tom’s site and buy some of his work. I’ll guarantee you’ll enjoy.

Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers are a full-fledged band with an eclectic bluesy sound. Unlike many other pirate bands, they are not dependent on traditional songs or sea shanties.  These songs are new, fresh pirate material, rooted in the history of real pirates, and also in Caribbean rhythms. While Tom Smith sings about Jack Sparrow, Tom Mason is more likely to channel Blackbeard. These pirates aren’t sanitized. They’ve slit a few throats. But Santa Clause can bring out their best, as this song describes.

Don’t mess with Santa, even if you’re a pirate. And if you want to check out Tom and his crew, click here to pick up some pirate (but not pirated) downloads.

The Bilge Pumps don’t have nearly Tom Mason’s polish. But they do have a steel drum player who’s pretty good, and they aren’t ashamed to sing “Far Lar Lar Lar Lar, Lar Lar La Lar” while caroling. No, the music isn’t that tight, but with pirates, it’s personality that counts. The Bilge Pumps hale from Texas, and make most of their appearances a Ren Fairs and outdoor venues.  They’re not historical pirates, and they don’t confine themselves to fantasy realms, either. But it’s clear that they really, really wish they could be actual pirates.

This group has a variety of Christmas music, from More Rum, Gloria! to Pirating a Winter Wonderland, and A Pirate’s Christmas Wish but I’m going to give you their version of Deck the Halls. It’s not quite in tune, but it’s funny.

Our next video is form Captain Dan and the Scurvy Crew, a rap group that made it all the way to season seven of America’s Got Talent. Though they were eliminated in the Audition round, a clip form their album “Authentic Pirate Hip Hop” has garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits.
These guys know their stuff, and they are unique in having noticed the similarities between pirates and rappers. (Huge reputation, huge piles of gold, huge number of female friends….)

This official video not only tells a pirate story, but utilizes the force of Lego for a vivid story-telling experience. Sadly, the pirates in this story aren’t redeemable, even by Santa. In other songs, they really ride the Hip-Hop dream, with songs like “It’s All About That Booty,” “Broadside” and “From the Seas to the Streets” these guys have a real street braggadocio.

That’s pretty much the end of this pirate post. The Holiday is coming fast. I wish you all a Merry Holiday Season, and a Profitable New Year. (And don't get caught by the Royal Navy!)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Pirates and Beards

" our Heroe, Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet that has appeared there a long Time.

This Beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant Length; as to Breadth, it came up to his Eyes..." (Captain Charles Johnson, A General History of the Pyrates, 3rd Ed., p. 87-8)


Many of the folks who reenact pirates, or who participate in Pirate Rock music like to cultivate a luxurious beard. Beards are a great way to show off a sense of rebellion. But here’s the thing – real pirates, during the Golden Age, didn’t wear beards!

What about Blackbeard, you ask? Well, he was the exception that proves the rule. Blackbeard’s black beard didn’t just cause him to stand out because of its size, color and quality. Just the fact that he had a beard made him stand out… And the beard was a disguise. 


How do we know how pirates wore their hair?

We don’t have any photographs of pirates, and very few illustrations of them from the time period. But we have plenty of illustrations, paintings and engravings of sailors – and pirates were sailors.  Any deviation from the traditional “look” of sailors was noted when these men turned pirate and attacked merchant ships. So the lack of comments on facial hair indicates that pirates followed the fashion for the average man of the time.

It was the fashion for all men at the time to be clean-shaven – amazing considering how crude shaving implements were. Steel razors had only recently been invented, and were still the province of the very rich.  Poorer men shaved themselves with iron blades, or plucked the individual hairs with crude tweezers. Sometimes, they shaved with broken glass. It was guaranteed to provide a sharp edge.

The new steel razors – precursors of the “cut throat” razor – were sharp all along the blade, and did not fold, which is one of the things that make a modern straight edge razor easier to control and therefor safer. Even if pirates were able to steal the very best razors, they might have been afraid to use them. The very sharp blade and crude design meant that these blades not only nicked the face, but might cut the fingers as well.

Enter the ship’s barber. Men had been going to the barber since ancient Roman times. And the event was probably as social event as well as a grooming ritual. Barbers not only had specialized tools, the best blades, and experience, they had gossip and style advice for men who wanted to look their best.

This wasn’t an every-day thing. Most men of the time shaved only twice a week – Sundays, and some time mid-week. Additional barbering was done for special events. In the Navy, this meant national holidays, ceremonies of promotion, and visitations between ships. Pirates probably kept the ritual of the Sunday shave, and saved their “special event” shaves for times when the ship was coming into port. There’s considerable evidence that pirates liked to look their best for the ladies.  

The ship’s barber might also “bleed” his clients. At the time, many kinds of sickness, including venereal disease, were believed to be caused at least in part by a build-up of too much blood. Having a vein opened to let out about a pint of blood was just good, regular preventative medicine. (In fact, this kind of bleeding can help high blood pressure, a disease that sailors, who were often deprived of water, and also ate heavily salted food, while consuming tobacco and heroic amounts of alcohol, were likely to suffer from.)

In fact, the image of the barber pole – that rotating red-and-blue striped pole outside old fashioned barber shops – is said to represent an arm being cut open so that the blood ran down.

The ship’s barber was also often the ship’s surgeon. More about that later.

The ritual of soap, warm water and a sharp blade is familiar to any man who shaves today. Hot water came from the ship’s galley, soap was whatever cleaning compound could be had. A good barber would have served an apprenticeship of several years, during which he would have learned how to care for the blades and tools of the trade. A few notes from traveling barbers does tend to confirm that ship’s barbers did indeed shave men while on a moving ship.

But if a man didn’t want to have a sharp blade so close to his delicate skin, another option presented itself. Some men removed facial hair by using a pumice stone. Rubbing the porous stone over the face wore away some of the hair, and pulled other hairs out by the roots. Commenters of the time had two observations about how this felt. One was “It doesn’t hurt at all.” The other was “After your face toughens up, in a month or two, it doesn’t hurt at all.”

Sharp steel? Chunks of glass? Rubbing rocks on your face? Seems like the very act of being well-groomed proved a pirate’s courage.