Ahoy Matey

It’s international ‘Talk Like A Pirate Day’ on September 19 me hearties, so we’re stepping back into the golden age of piracy with 2017 Blue Peter Book Award winner David Long to discover a swashbuckling era of excitement and adventure when heroes and villains sailed the high seas… Aarrrhh!

In the Time of Pirates

The explorer Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492, claiming these lands for the Spanish king. From then on, the Spanish sent large ships, called galleons, to bring back gold, silver and gems across the Atlantic, making rich pickings for thieves. And so the Golden Age of Piracy began. The place to find these pirates was Port Royal in Jamaica: the centre of Caribbean trade, famed for its raiders, smugglers and mischief-makers.

Privateers were also found in Port Royal.
These were sailors who were allowed by their governments to attack enemy ships. They were supposed to share their booty with the government, but many privateers became greedy, keeping their ill-gotten gains for themselves.

A Pirate Ship

The most practical ship for pirates was called a sloop. These were much smaller than warships, with one main mast, and were designed to be fast and nimble. Sloops could be fitted with cannons, making them perfect for attacking enemy ships. They had shallow hulls, meaning they could sail close to the shore, hiding out in shallow bays and inlets where larger naval ships could not follow.


While gold and silver have always been prized, spices such as nutmeg, mace and even pepper were more valuable at one time. A tiny bag of spices from Indonesia could make a man rich for life. Because of this, merchants were in constant danger of attack as they sailed back to European shores.

Over the centuries hundreds of pirate ships were sunk. They may have been lost in ferocious storms, like the Whydah Gally, run aground or been damaged while fighting other ships. Many carried a fortune in treasure, which now lies on the seabed waiting to be discovered.

 The Pirate Code

Life on board a pirate ship was hard. Stealing from each other, fighting, and cheating at cards were banned, and obedience to the captain was crucial. In return, each pirate received his fair share of any treasure the crew captured.


Famous Pirates

Henry Avery (1659-c.1699)

Henry Avery was nicknamed the ‘King of Pirates’ because he captured more treasure than any of his rivals. After serving in the British Royal Navy and fighting as a privateer, he stole a ship and turned to piracy.

Blackbeard (1680-1718)

One of the most feared and famous pirates ever to sail the seas was Edward Thatch, aka Blackbeard. This skilful sailor, born in Bristol, terrorised the Caribbean
and the east coast of America. He relied on his ferocious appearance and fearsome reputation to overcome his enemies. Ships often surrendered to him without a shot being fired!

Black Caesar (1690-1718)

The pirate way of life was popular not only with privateers and buccaneers, but with slave traders and escaped slaves, too. The most dashing of these was an African pirate called Black Caesar who joined Blackbeard’s crew on the Queen Anne’s Revenge. For a while he was captain of his own ship and sailed around the islands of the Florida Keys looking for ships to plunder. Known for his huge size and immense strength, Caesar was an African tribal warrior before he was taken as a slave.

Anne Bonny (1700-C.1782) & Mary Read (1690-1721)

18th-century sailors were often superstitious, and some believed that it was bad luck to have a lady aboard a ship. This didn’t stop a number of brave women disguising themselves as men and taking to the waters. The most famous was an Irish pirate named Anne Bonny, who sailed around the Caribbean on a sloop, The William. During her travels, she met another woman pirate, Mary Read, and the two joined forces.

Talk Like a Pirate

Here’s a quick lesson in the language of skulduggery…

  • My becomes ‘me’
  • You becomes ‘ye’
  • Yours becomes ‘yer’
  • Going becomes goin’; doing becomes doin’, etc.
  • Right becomes ‘ri’ (said ‘rye’)
  • Forgotten becomes ‘forgot’
  • And becomes ‘n’

Why not give it a try?

I’ve forgotten my lunch money = FORGOT THEM DOUBLOONS FOR ME VITTLES!

Pirate Slang

BLACK SPOT = A curse

LANDLUBBER = A person who doesn’t know how to sail


Set sail on a search-and-find adventure that lets you see history up close with your 3 x magnifying glass to scour pages for hidden treasure. Pirates Magnified by David Long and illustrated by Harry Bloom is published by Wide Eyed Publications, an imprint of Quarto Publishing. Hardback RRP £14.99. For ages 5+

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