Blow The Man Down: Was same-sex marriage practiced by pirates?

When the word pirate is used in conversation, you often think of Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Perhaps you think of Somalia and real-life modern pirates like the ones Captain Philips encountered during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. But you would never wonder if the pirates were gay or not.

We know that pirates are often seen as violent criminals who plunder ships for money with their pirate ships. The US Navy has a long and storied history of anti-piracy missions from 1903 with Captain William Bainbridge commanding the USS Philadelphia along the port of Tripoli until 2009 when the US destroyer Bainbridge with a SEAL team rescued the captain Philips of the Somali Pirates.

With all their recorded violent tendencies, you would never have thought about the sexuality of these men. So, “Were the pirates gay?” Join us as we explain a rather unique topic of pirate life.

The golden age of piracy

Let’s give some context to the whole pirate scenario. Yes, we all know that piracy existed before the 1650s. Yet, for the sake of the context of all gay marriage between pirates, we will start with the golden age of piracy from the 1650s to the 1730, where pirates sailed the high seas, robbing ships and even ransacking entire cities in the Atlantic and the Spanish Main which included the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually, European pirates even roamed the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

You might remember the name “Blackbeard” floating around back then, and that’s because he was a real person. Edward “Blackbeard” Teach (also registered as Thatch) was a fairly famous pirate at the time. A native of Bristol, the English ruled the West Indies with his French-captured ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, with over 300 men. He would later be killed by Lt. Robert Maynard after stealing over $12.5 million in today’s currency. He wasn’t the best known at the time, but he made a name for himself.

Blackbeard depicted in a painting, 1736. (Scanned by Szilas from The Pirates by Douglas Botting, Time-Life Books 1978/Wikimedia Commons)

Now, why is this piece of context important? Well, all the loot from the pirates, some of it goes to their men for their loyalty and service. Yes, the life of a pirate could be exciting but brief. Blackbeard was only active for about two years. They could die anytime without warning if an enemy ship passed by or if their victims were well armed. Despite Hollywood legends, pirate ships were mostly small, fast sailing ships that could knock down any merchant they could board and capture. They didn’t want to sink their prize with cannon fire but take it in one piece. The captured ship was also very valuable. Each of the pirates received an equal share of the loot they seized after the captain and first mate got their shares. So you have accumulated a considerable amount of loot, what happens if you are killed while boarding or die from a disease? Given the possibility that they might not live very long, the pirate crews searched for a way to ensure that their share of the shared wealth would not simply be stolen (or fought over by the rest of the crew).

So what did they do to fix the problem? The answer was Seamanship, a form of same-sex marriage between pirates.

What is a Matelotage at 7 seas?

Matelotage, the French word for matelotage, was, in many ways, a way for pirates to secure their income through a form of legal marriage to another crew member. If one of them were to die, the survivor would inherit their loot. Many of these pirates also shared their regular income as part of the deal. These relationships were most common with French buccaneers, Caribbean hunter-pirates operating from the Tortugas, but extended to pirates of other nationalities as well.

The researchers said that homosexuality was common during this time, as sailing the seven seas became very repetitive, and of course these people had raging hormones to satisfy. That’s not to say that everyone who got involved with Seamanship was equally sexually active with each other. Some people did it just for their safety. On the other hand, the fact that homosexuality was punished quite harshly in Europe and that those who took up piracy did so out of a desire to escape what they saw as tyrannical laws, a life of piracy can have was particularly attractive to homosexuals who did not. want to hang because he’s gay.

This view is conveyed by mainstream research which tells us that 17th century pirates enjoyed a fairly egalitarian society that accepted same-sex marriages. It was illegal in most countries at the time, but if you were to be a lawless pirate on the high seas, it would seem rather contradictory to then say, “Oh, but these same-sex marriage laws, we will stick to these.”

For a penny, for a pound, as the saying goes.

Some of these Matelotages included a formal ceremony to marry and exchange vows and wedding rings. They were presided over by the captain of the ship or even a pirate priest.

Most of the images we have of pirates are of macho people, with their swords and a pair of guns, swaggering gangsters romanticized in movies and books, but there might be something more to flashy clothes. and ornate tricorns. with feathers. Johnny Depp’s swishy, ​​flamboyant, drunken portrayal of Jack Sparrow may have played the part quite “straight”.

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