Brutal. It’s one of the first words people utter when they read a true account of pirates, and they’re right. As a group, pirates were among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men a person could encounter on the high seas.
You’ll notice that qualification: “Among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men….” It must be understood a wide range of brutality existed not only on pirate ships, but on merchant and Royal Navy vessels as well. Running into a pirate ship was not exactly like running into the Red Cross, but then neither was running into a ship from the Royal Navy.
The Royal Navy was notorious for its institutionalized cruelty and violence. Some captains were despotic, sadistic leaders encouraged by the top brass to keep discipline at all costs. Like hardened sailors on pirate ships, these captains found a home in the British Navy. Life on one of their ships was no less than a chamber of horrors.
On a scale of violence from one to ten, most pirates were somewhere around a five. Several pirates, however, like some captains in the Royal Navy, were off the charts. Their cruelty and sadistic tortures knew no bounds. If we are to be accurate about this, we should call them for what they were. Psychopaths. Piracy just happened to be the profession they chose like captains of the Royal Navy who relished the pain and misery they inflicted on their crew with little provocation.
If I had to select the top five cruelest pirates in history, I’d have to include Rock Barziliano, Francois L’Olonnais, Edward Low, Benito de Soto, and Don Pedro Gilbert. I won’t go into specifics here, but I will tell you their horrific attacks are chronicled in Uncommon Mariners and a number of other riveting books by expert authors such as David Cordingly, Benerson Little, Peter Earle, and Colin Woodard.
The mutilations and murders by these men were so brutal that I have no doubt that it would make Blackbeard and Kidd flinch. In fact, I’ll go even further than that. I believe in my pirate soul that most of the pirates of the Golden Age would be embarrassed to have their names associated with the likes of them.
“That’s not what we were about, mate. Damn ye, scalawag, for even suggesting such a thing!” Blackbeard would no doubt thunder. Continue reading →