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History is inevitably written by the victors, and while the golden age of piracy and pirates have been romanticised in recent years it is still clearly framed as villainous. Modern piracy is not viewed in nearly the same light.

My question, however, is did pirates call themselves pirates? Was it a title they were happy with? Did they take pride in it? Or was there something else they prefered?

I guess as a secondary question, this could be extended to privateers. Where did they stand in regards to pirates, what did they call themselves?

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    – gktscrk
    Jun 9 '20 at 20:21
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    It is all about the branding! youtube.com/watch?v=3YFeE1eDlD0
    – Yasskier
    Jun 9 '20 at 22:42
  • Thanks for that, it was both hilarious and informative. The companion Quartermaster video is also equally good: youtube.com/watch?v=T0fAznO1wA8 Jun 9 '20 at 23:08
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    Many did fly the Jolly Roger proudly when about to attack, to instill fear in their victims. If you follow that path, it might help you find the answer you're looking for.
    – msb
    Jun 10 '20 at 0:40
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    Alexandre Exquemelin was a pirate who wrote an autobiography. The English version uses 'pirate' and can be found here. Unfortunately, it's a translation of the Spanish version (I think) which frequently mistranslates the original Dutch. Finding the original Dutch might help answer your question. Jun 10 '20 at 0:57
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question: Did pirates call themselves pirates? Was it a title they were happy with? Did they take pride in it? Or was there something else they prefered?

Generally No. Pirates is the oldest and broadest term which applies to nearly any misdead on or near the sea. Historically there were different and more specific words which distinguished the nuances of piracy. The differences between privateer and piracy was in some cases the differences between national hero and capital crime. The three most famous branches of the pirate tree all started out as privateers and evolved from there coming up with more specific words to describe their pursuit.

A privateer was a form of irregular private navy for various nations. They carried letters which authorized these civilian or former military captains to intercept and confiscate enemy shipping. An example was Sir Francis Drake who won fame and fortune raiding spanish towns and ships in/from Central and South America.

The term corsair was used by Ottoman Muslims in the Mediterranean Sea and their European victims. They were essentially privateers with a religious rather than national twist who took thousands of prizes over hundreds of years and in the end extorted protection fees from some of the greatest nations of Europe and the Americas.

The Golden age of Pirates generally used the term buccaneer, which was also geographically specific. Specific to the Caribbean and the Pacific coast of South America. The term is derived from the French boucan, a grill for smoking meat, and was first applied to French wild game hunters living in western Hispaniola in the early 17th century. Buccaneers however grew to include a multinational groups. Buccaneers originally were a kind of privateer who preyed upon Spanish shipping and enjoyed some support from the British and French. However when When England seized Jamaica from Spain in 1655, the buccaneers ran a foul of the British and were hunted as pirates by the British, French, and Spanish navies at various times.

Comments

from Steve Bird
Calling Sir Francis Drake a privateer is anachronistic. The term only applies to private warships issued a letter of marque after the English Civil War (when the term was coined). I suggest that you have a look at N.A.M Roger's article in the Mariner's Mirror (The Law and Language of Private Naval Warfare). He notes When writers describe privateering as ‘legalised piracy’ they are not just employing an exhausted cliché, but betraying a weak understanding of both law and history, which makes it difficult to think clearly about piracy.

The practice of privateering was hundreds of years old by the time of the English Civil War(1642–1651). It can be traced back to the 1300s with the Victual Brothers (1360–1401). The first English monarch to issues letters of Marque authorizing private citizens to take foreign shipping predates even the 1300's. It was King Henry III of England in 1243.

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    I think the mention of privateers here is eminently useful. The majority of false-flag pirating operations would have carried letters of marque from a sovereign, making these people privateers rather than pirates (though the side subjected to this would have considered them as pirates).
    – gktscrk
    Jun 12 '20 at 10:07
  • Calling Sir Francis Drake a privateer is anachronistic. The term only applies to private warships issued a letter of marque after the English Civil War (when the term was coined). I suggest that you have a look at N.A.M Roger's article in the Mariner's Mirror (The Law and Language of Private Naval Warfare). He notes When writers describe privateering as ‘legalised piracy’ they are not just employing an exhausted cliché, but betraying a weak understanding of both law and history, which makes it difficult to think clearly about piracy.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 12 '20 at 13:28
  • @SteveBird are you asserting sir Francis drake was not a privateer? Because that’s an easy source. I’m not clear on your point. Nor familiar with the controversy you refer too.
    – user27618
    Jun 12 '20 at 13:59
  • @SteveBird I also disagree with your definition of privateer as too narrow. History is full of civilian sea captains contracted by states to harass there enemies not just Britain and not just veterans of any single war. No one country or culture monopolized this behavior, nor one period.
    – user27618
    Jun 12 '20 at 14:07
  • @JMS The question was "Did pirates call themselves pirates?", Sir Francis Drake wouldn't have called himself a privateer because the term simply didn't exist in his time. It came about because of a change in English law that happened following the English Civil War. This significantly changed the law around the issue of letters of marque (which at that point were very misnamed) and resulted in the new term 'privateer' arising.
    – Steve Bird
    Jun 12 '20 at 14:48
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De Americaensche zee-roovers

In 1678 Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin published "De Americaensche zee-roovers". A reprint of the original Dutch text can be found at The Digital Library for Dutch Literature (DBNL)

I'm not sure whether a literal translation of zee-roover is sea-robber or just sea-rover.

At least one English translation has parts written in the first person, and so the original Dutch text might be an indication of the sort of words the pirates would have used about themselves.

Part II Chapter XIV

The next morning, being Wednesday, November the 3rd, 1680, about seven O'clock, we set sail from Hilo,

Not being able to read the original Dutch, I can't be sure, but it seems that the sort of pirates Exquemelin wrote about would have used a variety of words to describe themselves, words like buccaneer and freebooter, that are synonyms of pirate.


The Unfortunate Englishmen

In John Cockburn's 1740 autobiographical book "The Unfortunate Englishmen", The ship carrying the author is captured by pirates led by Henry Johnson. The survivors are marooned along with one Spanish speaking pirate who had fallen out with his captain. Cockburn describes one conversation:

He said "if it was possible for us to swim to the mainland, he knew several gentlemen of fortune there (meaning pirates ..."

So terms like gentlemen of fortune (or a Spanish equivalent) were probably used among pirates.

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  • "Gentlemen of fortune" was popularized by Treasure Island, Long John Silver uses it often, to the point his fictious biography is called "Long John Silver: The True and Eventful History of My Life of Liberty and Adventure as a Gentleman of Fortune and Enemy to Mankind". Jun 12 '20 at 9:31

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