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Pirate Book

The History of Pirates
by Angus Konstam

The History of Pirates is a well organized primer on pirates from ancient times to the present day.

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What Readers
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“S.R. Staley transports you back to a time when the flapping of canvas, the roar of ships' cannons, and the flash of cutlasses are seen through the smell of gunpowder and smoke. The Pirate of Panther Bay, the young Isabella, prowls the seas. She is dogged by a Spanish man-o-war commanded by a dashing young Spaniard who also commands her heart. A great adventure romance!”
-- Robert, Chapel Hill, NC

Pirate Glossary: A Guide to Pirate and Ship Terms

These definitions were developed using the following sources as core references:



Articles (Pirate): rules adopted and signed by a pirate crew stipulating proper behavior, punishment for bad conduct, and compensation.

Bosun or Boswain: ship’s officer in charge of sails, rigging, hull, maintenance, and other duties related to sailing the vessel.

Brig (or Brigantine): a two-masted sailing vessel, usually square rigged, often armed by pirates with 8-20 cannon.

Bow: front of a boat or ship.

Buccaneer: general term for pirates, particularly in the West Indies, but originally referring to hunters of wild oxen and pigs on Hispaniola (see Dave Cordingly’s book for more background).

Coxswain: a sailor in charge of steering a boat and its crew.

Corsair: pirates who plundered the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa, mainly of African origin.

Doubloon: a gold coin from Spain or Spanish America and the highest valued coin in circulation during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Fathom: a unit used to measure water depth equal to six feet.

Frigate: three-masted ship built for speed and often carrying 30 or more cannon.

Galleon: a large square rigged sailing vessel used from the 15th to 18th centuries for war and commerce (most commonly associated with Spain).

Gunwale (or gunnel): the upper edge of a ship or boat’s side.

Halyard: a rope used to hoist a sail (or spar).

Heave to: a maneuver that stops the forward movement of the boat by pointing the vessel directly into the wind.

Heel: when the boat tilts to one side.

Helm: the wheel or tiller that controls the direction of the ship.

“In Irons”: when a sailing vessel’s bow is directly in the wind so that the sails cannot fill properly and maneuver the boat.

Junk: ships in Chinese waters with a high poop deck, high pole masts, deep rudder, and little or no keel.

Keel: a flat surface built into the bottom of a boat.

Knot: one nautical mile per hour (6,076 feet per hour).

League: unit used to measure distance, varying between 2.4 and 4.6 miles in length.

Leeward: side of a ship away from the wind (downwind).

Nautical mile: 6,076 feet according to international standards (in use by the U.S. since 1959), and longer than the standard land mile of 5,280 feet.

Pieces of Eight: a silver coin from Spain of Spanish America worth eight reales (the Spanish monetary unit of the 16th century), also called a peso.

Pirate: a water-based outlaw who typically robs other ships of their cargo.

Poop Deck: the aft deck of a ship.

Port: left side of boat or ship.

Privateer: a ship (or captain) operating with the written permission of a nation (or king) allowing them to seize ships and cargo.

Quarterdeck: the portion of a deck, usually raised above the main deck, from which the captain controlled the ship.

Quartermaster: a ship’s officer that attends to the helm, stores, clothing, and other stores of a ship (often the second in command of a smaller vessel).

Schooner: two-masted sailing vessel.

Ship: in the 18th century, a sailing vessel of at least three masts and square rigged sails.

Ship of the Line: a ship large enough to form the core of a battle line at sea, often outfitted with 50 to 100 guns.

Sloop: a smaller sailing vessel with one mast, often used by pirates in the West Indies because they were fast and nimble.

South China Sea: part of the Pacific Ocean bordered by Southeast China, Indochina, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaya, and Borneo.

Spanish Main: the mainland of Spanish America, usually the northern coast of South America but also including the Caribbean Sea.

Spar: a wooden pole that could be used as a mast or a Yard.

Starbord: right side of a boat or ship.

Stern: rear of a boat or ship.

Tack: change direction of the ship, usually by zigzagging against the wind.

Tar: term used for ordinary seamen on a sailing ship.

West Indies: islands in the Caribbean Sea spanning the southern coast of North American, Central America, and the northern coast of South America.

Windward: the side facing the direction from which the wind is blowing.

Yardarm: the end of a long spar suspended from mast to set sails.

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