Last year, the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah gave up part of her captain: a leg bone found in concretion is widely believed by archaeologists to belong to “Black Sam” Bellamy, New England’s most famous pirate, who became wealthy not because of greed but through anger at the exploitative English system. 

Bellamy knew this firsthand. Once in service, ship captains routinely cheated sailors of their wages, giving them worthless IOUs, sometimes not paying them at all. By contrast, pirate society was democratic and fair. And for a long time, it worked. In 1717 Bellamy and his crew captured the Whydah Gally, a slave ship he refitted with an advanced weapons system capable of attacking any man-of-war.  In one year, Bellamy and his crew raided 54 ships along the East Coast and the Caribbean. 

Our ideas of extreme violence weren’t true to pirate life: Bellamy is said to have lived by the credo, “fight smart, harm few.” If he didn’t have to kill someone, he didn’t. Captured crews were invited to join the pirates; others were left with their ships after plundering. 

A lesson for the ages—and perhaps, mostly, ours.

X