We tend to think of pirates as bloodthirsty thieves, brutal rapists, and vicious murderers, concerned only with indulging their every whim and amassing as much wealth as possible, forever living at the expense of others. And this is absolutely true. However, in some ways, pirates were bizarrely ahead of the societal curve. In fact, some of their viewpoints would be heartily endorsed by the campus newspaper of a liberal arts college.
#5. Pirates Had Health Insurance
You probably feel safe in assuming that pirates didn't have much in the way of medical benefits, because the 16th and 17th centuries didn't have much in the way of actual medicine -- the most effective treatment for gangrene was a woodcutter's ax, a bucket of hot tar, and a bamboo reed to bite down on. Beyond that, when a typical workday consists of shooting terrified sailors in the face while rival pirates hurl themselves at you with blood-tarnished daggers clenched between their teeth, you'd imagine you'd be expected to cover the cost of any lost limbs or eye gougings on your own doubloon.
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"Nice try, Timmy. Go play before I spank your ass with a swordfish."
But you would be wrong. In reality, the crew of renowned pirate/liquor mascot Captain Henry Morgan had one of the first comprehensive, all-inclusive health insurance systems in recorded history. Before the assault on Panama, Morgan drew up a charter for his crew that guaranteed certain benefits for any man who was injured in battle. Any one of his 2,000-strong pirate crew was entitled to 600 pieces of eight for the loss of a hand or a foot, 1,800 pieces for the loss of both legs, 200 pieces for one eye, and 2,000 pieces for total blindness -- that's about $153,000 in modern currency. We assume peg legs and eye patches were covered by a joint flex account.
"How much does it pay out if you're turned to wood by a drunken harpy?"
Also, any member of the crew could opt to receive his de-limbing payout in slaves rather than money (we said they were progressive, we didn't say they were paragons of virtue). So, you can probably go into your boss' office right now and announce that your health insurance policy is worse than that of a 17th century marauding sea criminal and be totally correct in your assessment. You would likely also start noticing your photo hanging up everywhere next to a list of emergency page codes for the entire building.
#4. Pirates Had a Form of Gay Marriage
To be sure, there was a certain amount of situational homosexuality that occurred among the all-male crews of buccaneer ships back in the golden age of piracy, much like there is in modern-day prisons and professional wrestling organizations. But it's not as though those super grizzled, hyper-masculine throat-slitting machines engaged in same-sex coupling, right? It's a fiercely divisive subject even today, so 400 years ago it must have been absolute insanity to even suggest two men getting married, much less two pirates.
On the contrary, some historians claim that the original "Pirates of the Caribbean" (pirate crews who docked, traded, and intermittently lived in port towns in the West Indies during the 17th century) had entire communities where homosexual couples were considered perfectly acceptable. Picture that scene in Tortuga from the Disney movie, only loaded with gay men.
It's a stretch, we know.
You see, pirates had a form of civil partnership called matelotage, a marriage-like institution wherein two male pirates shared all of their ... OK, we need to think of another word for "booty" here -- let's go with "loot." Additionally, each would name the other as his sole inheritor. While this makes a good I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry kind of economic sense, in as much as it was essentially the only kind of financial security a pirate could hope for, some commentators argue that these relationships were also romantic in nature, possibly because matelots could routinely be observed having sex with each other.
In 1645, the French government of Tortuga decided to import thousands of prostitutes to try to neutralize the rampant homosexuality, because this was the type of response that governments had to things. Not that it's likely to have made a great deal of difference, though -- pirates in a matelotage shared everything, including wives. Adding mixed threesomes to the gay love-in was probably not the outcome France was going for, but, France being France, we can never truly be certain.
Forty-five minutes later, his husband's room smelled like spent genitals.
#3. Pirates Practiced Religious Tolerance
Pirates have been portrayed throughout history as a superstitious lot of miscreants, so it stands to reason that they would greet any practitioner of an exotic or unfamiliar religion with the same courtesy they would extend to a cannibal bone shaman trying to flay their souls from their bodies with the ceremonial Stoneblade Dagger of a Thousand Screams.
After all, the golden age of piracy began in the 16th century, a time when European Christians were still crusading to Jerusalem to try to kill every Muslim who had the audacity to live there. It wasn't exactly a period of religious tolerance. We can only imagine how pirates would have reacted to, say, a bunch of Muslims.
"You're all stupidheads!"
Actually, as long as there was gold involved, they really didn't give a shit.
For example, Captain Siemen Danziger brought his pirate squadron to Algiers, an Islamic city in North Africa and one of the main strongholds of the Ottoman Empire, to set up a safe home base for him to pillage the shit out of the Mediterranean. Danziger was a Dutch Christian, but he didn't hesitate to offer the Turkish rulers his services as a shipbuilder. And they appointed him their chief naval architect, because it turned out they liked money also.
"Consider me converted. Yours is the one true god ... whoever that is."
So, alongside an English pirate captain named John Ward, Danziger showed the Algerians both how to build European style ships and how to defeat them in combat, allowing Algiers to extend its piratical reach all over Europe.
Keep in mind, this was during an era of European history where the pervasive belief was that all non-Christians should be punished with considerable jail time at the very least, and that any Muslim should be killed on sight with anything in the immediate vicinity that could be crudely fashioned into a weapon. But pirates didn't cotton to any of that nonsense, particularly when there was booty to be plundered. The Algerians felt the same way, and the two routinely worked together with quantifiable results being the only criteria either side gave a shit about.
"I am a stereotype. But I am a fair stereotype."
Again, maybe not a great reason for tolerance, but tolerance nonetheless.