You can see depictions of pirate organizations in popular media a fair bit. For example, in many movies, and the Captain Morgan commercials. But I get the impression from my readings that most pirate crews operated independently from each other. Of course there were government-sponsored privateers, but their only connection with each other would be that they were sanctioned by the same country.

So were there ever actual organizations of pirates? If so, what were they?

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    Anyone who posts an answer on September 19 (International Talk Like a Pirate Day) in pirate lingo gets an automatic upvote. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 13:26
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    Do Somali pirate count or are you looking pre-nineteenth century?
    – Luke_0
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 14:13
  • @Luke - Hmmm. I think they ought to count, as long as you can show different crews are involved in the same organization.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 14:43
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    I would think there might be some organization around the Barbary Coast pirates, but I never checked on that
    – MichaelF
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 17:42
  • Yarr, and thar still be matey. Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 16:57

5 Answers 5


Arrr, tharr niver has been an orgarrrnization o'pirates in t'traditional sense.

Tharr may well ha' been brief alliarrrnces o' convenyence, for when ye can trust a man no to make ye walk the plank, ye may help each other in gathering in the booty! Also now an' then a Cap'n of dark renown might set up his followers as minor cap'ns in their own right, and so he could head a flotilla o' six or seven ships, all answerin' to hisself. As Oi recall, Cap'n Morgan is said to've led 11 ships, and Blackbeard had several likewise. There were never much formality o'structure and organisation tho', as each Cap'n led by his own charisma an' force o' personality.

We pirates be a free and unruly breed, and don't take kindly to no paperwork. Arrrr!

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    +1 jist fer de pirate lingo. Do ye have no sources? Arrr!
    – Luke_0
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 16:35
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    Due to the extreme popularity of this answer, I will withhold my upvote until you can add some sources. But good job! Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 13:49

Its been two years since this question was scribed, and nobody else be bringn' it up, so perhaps now be th' time to be tellin' th' tale o' th' Red Flag Fleet. It be also th' tale o' Cheng I Sao, th' pirate queen o' th' South China Sea.

Cheng originally got into th' business by th' traditional method: being captured by pirates. She hit it off well enough with captain Zheng Yi that they were married in 1801. Over th' next 3 years Zheng created a jolly alliance that eventually became known as th' Red Flag Fleet. When Zheng visited Davey Jones' Locker in 1807, Cheng (after considerable political maneuvering) took over control o' th' fleet.

Under Cheng, th' Red Flag Fleet reportedly grew to 1,800 ships, and around 70,000 lads, wenches and sprogs. They were effectively th' government o' Guangdong province, and controlled th' entire underworld in th' South China Sea, o' course charging merchants for safe passage. They even had their own laws and taxes. At one point th' Chinese organized a large fleet o' their own to destroy th' Red Flag Fleet. Th' main result o' th' ensuing battle was that Cheng's fleet gained 63 new Chinese-built ships.

Cheng retired a very wealthy wench indeed, and visited Davey Jones' Locker in 1844 at th' ripe age o' 69.

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    Thanks to Capn' Redpen for help in translation.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 15:34
  • Awesome sauce! I have a new topic to study. :) arrrrrr
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 16:05
  • Interesting stuff TED. I saw the movie '300: Rise of an Empire' last night, and Chen Sao's early life seems to have inspired the fictional early life of Artemisia I of Caria portrayed in the movie wikiwand.com/en/Artemisia_I_of_Caria . Started off as a prostitute, ended up powerful commander of a naval force. /end_off_topic
    – Juicy
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 16:51

The Victual brothers, a fourteenth and fifteenth century group first organised to aid King Albert when he tried to defend against Queen Margaret in a war for the Swedish crown. They can arguably have been said to have started as a band of privateers, but when Albert was forced to make peace and give up his crown, they continued their piracy without any veneer of legitimacy.

They had safe harbours in Rostock, Ribnitz, Wismar and Stralsund, and occupied and plundered around the Baltic sea and as far away as in Frisia. They eventually occupied Gotland, and brought all trade in the Baltic to a halt. Margaret had by that time united Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but sought help from Richard II in England. Eventually, the Teutonic order drove them from Gotland.

The Victual brothers were followed by the Likedeelers, based in Frisia, which plundered around the North sea instead, until about 1440.


Some pirates came together and formed democratic nations as associations like the Republic of Pirates from 1706–1718. There were the Barbary states run by coastal pirates in Africa and the Regency of Algiers which was an independent democratic stratocracy from 1659 to 1830. From 1552–1775, a republic was created with Cossacks - many of them pirates - called Zaporozhian Sich.

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    For fun I tried Captain Redpen on this, but the results were disappointing. Looks like a good answer anyway though. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:31

"Did different ships bearning the skull and crossbones ever come together under one flag?" I kind of doubt it.

The likely result would have been a mutiny against one or more of the ship captains, who would then have been made to "walk the plank."

A Jolly Roger was kind of a loner. Getting two or more of them together was kind of an oxymoron, unless it was for an orgy.

  • @T.E.D.: I took up your challenge on September 19, 2013.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 21:00
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    Aye, but wherrrr be da' pirrrate lingo, matey?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 21:22
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    "Skull and crossbones," "Jolly Roger, "Walk the plank," "orgy," is that not sufficient?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 19, 2013 at 21:42

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