Under One Flag

Under The Black Flag

Peter Leeson

“We normally think about pirates as sort of blood-lusting, that they want to slash somebody to pieces. [It’s probably more likely that] a pirate, just like a normal person, would probably rather not have killed someone, but pirates knew that if that person resisted them and they didn’t do something about it, their reputation and thus their brand name would be impaired. So you can imagine a pirate rather reluctantly engaging in this behavior as a way of preserving that reputation.”

Greek Proverb

“Where there is a sea there are pirates.”

U.t.b.f Team

“Pirates and piracy must be studied and expounded as a form of early social resistance. The pirate had declared war on his rapacious ruler, had declared war on the insatiable aristocracy of his country, had declared war on the greedy Church authority, and, finally, he had declared war on that same society that isolated him. The pirate wanted what every person seeks in life, freedom, and was willing to sacrifice his very existence for that cause.”

How Pirates Were Really Viewed

Dashing men of fortune forced by cruel government, business, and society to turn pirate—honest men and women forced to rebel against injustice, in other words. Today, given how Hollywood, television, and popular histories and novelists have depicted them, this is how many people see pirates. But this image is false, a fantasy created by a combination of the dreams of romantic adventure and of the need to rebel against injustice, great or petty, in almost all of us.

Life aboard a pirate ship

Pirates aboard ship, as we all know or think we do, idled aboard their swift, rakish vessels while keen-eyed lookouts aloft kept watch for prey. A sail is sighted, there is a chase, a battle, then boarding, plundering, a bit of brutality, all followed by a riotous bacchanal at sea. And then the process begins anew. But this is a simplistic, if somewhat accurate, view. To really understand life aboard a pirate ship, you must first understand how pirates saw themselves.

Golden Age

The Golden Age of Piracy was as brutal as it was bountiful. Cavalier men strutted about with a flintlock and cutlass at their side, ready to strike down any adversary in the blink of an eye. And despite the disease and debauchery, women had to maintain their seductive charm and femininity at all costs.

Pirates Democracy


Top Seven Pirates Secret Management


nlike traditional Western societies of the time, many Caribbean pirate crews of European descent operated as limited democracies. Pirate communities were some of the first to instate a system of checks and balances similar to the one used by the present-day United States and many other countries. The first record of such a government aboard a pirate sloop dates to the 17th century.Both the captain and the quartermaster were elected by the crew. They, in turn, appointed the ship’s other officers. The captain of a pirate ship was often a fierce fighter in whom the men could place their trust, rather than a more traditional authority figure sanctioned by an elite. However, when not in battle, the quartermaster usually had the real authority.

Many groups of pirates shared in whatever they seized. Pirates injured in battle thus might be afforded special compensation similar to medical or disability insurance.There are contemporary records that many pirates placed a portion of any captured money into a central fund that was used to compensate the injuries sustained by the crew. Lists show standardised payments of 600 pieces of eight ($156,000 in modern currency) for the loss of a leg down to 100 pieces ($26,800) for loss of an eye. Often all of these terms were agreed upon and written down by the pirates, but these articles could also be used as incriminating proof that they were outlaws.

Customize your management style

Pirate captains were elected by popular vote, and crew members enjoyed prescribed shares of captured booty. This democratic style of management worked well, Leeson says, because pirates did not rely on external investment: they got their ships by stealing them. Businesses that require outside funding, by contrast, are poorly suited to workplace democracy. “If you’ve got lots of external investors, then you need to give them a considerable amount of say over the operation,” Leeson explains. “A merchant captain basically protected the interests of the investors.” Unlike pirate captains, they ruled with an iron fist.

Manage risk

Pirates were not afraid to take risks. “They were very entrepreneurial people,” Leeson says. All the same, they did what they could to mitigate their exposure. Under the matelotage system practiced by French buccaneers, two crew members formed a partnership which stipulated that if one died, the other would get his share of the booty. “The economic function was an insurance system,” Leeson says, “a way to hedge the risk of piratical activity.”

Adapt to regulatory changes

When governments started cracking down on piracy, the increased risk of punishment made it hard to attract new crew members. In response, pirates began pretending that they had forcibly impressed crew members who actually had joined voluntarily. They even placed ads to that effect in seaport newspapers. “That way, if a new recruit was captured, he could testify that he had in fact been forced to become a pirate, which would let him off the hook,” says Leeson.

Be true to your brand

“The Jolly Rogeer is one of the most lasting and memorable business logos ever – it might even rival the golden arches,” says Leeson. The benefit for pirates: merchantmen who saw the skull-and-bones flag were more likely to surrender, since the brand implied a horrible fate for those who resisted. To keep the brand effective, pirates had to keeping reinforcing the implicit threat with inventively awful tortures like keel-hauling.

Reward diligence

One pitfall of profit-sharing systems like the pirates’, says Leeson, “is that you create incentives for free-riding by the employees.” To get around this problem, pirates were paid bonuses to encourage diligence in situations where they might be tempted to shirk. “If you were the first to spot a sail that turned out to be a prize,” Leeson says, “you got the best pair of pistols on board the ship.”

Incentivize Risk-Taking

To encourage boldness and initiative, employers need to shield workers from the consequences of their failures. A pirate who lost a leg or an eye in a fight would be paid a set fee from the crew’s common booty to compensate for his loss. Explains Leeson, “They were incentivized to fight hard, because they didn’t have to bear the cost of getting hurt privately.”

Have an exit strategy

Despite the manifest dangers of pirate life, says Leeson, “a few managed to retire as very wealthy people.” One, Henry Morgan, was captured and put on trial, but thanks to his stores of booty not only escaped punishment but also garnered a lucrative post as lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

Dead Man Tell No Tales

Real Pirates Quotes

Most pirates spoke in the way of their native country and only used a few unique words of pirate jargon.

  • "In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labor; in this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sour look or two at choking. No, a merry life and a short one, shall be my motto."

    Bartholomew Roberts
    Bartholomew RobertsBlack Bart
  • "I am sorry to see you here, but if you had fought like a man, you needn't be hanged like a dog."

    Anne Bonny
    Anne BonnyAnney
  • "Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you."

    "Let's jump on board, and cut them to pieces."

    Edward Teach
    Edward TeachBlackbeard
  • “Damn my blood, I am sorry they won’t let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do anyone a mischief, when it is not for my advantage.”

    Samuel Bellamy
    Samuel BellamyBlack Sam
  • "Come, don't be in a fright, but put on your clothes, and I'll let you into a secret. You must know that I am Captain of this ship now, and this is my cabin, therefore you must walk out. I am bound to Madagascar with a design of making my own fortune and that of all the brave fellows joined with me...if you have a mind to make one of us, we will receive you, and if you'll turn sober, and mind your business, perhaps in time I may make you one of my Lieutenants, if not, here's a boat alongside and you shall be set ashore."

    Henry Every
    Henry EveryLong Ben

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