Pirates have often been seen as bloodthirsty and vicious criminals who would commit evil acts of violence without a second thought in order to secure treasure or evade justice. This perception can make people wonder about the grisly ways pirates killed people. However, just like with many portrayals of them on screen and in books, the truth is actually something quite different. In the same way that they didn’t walk around with parrots or speak in that infamous accent, the vast majority of pirates tried to avoid violence whenever possible.
This makes sense when you think about it. After all, if every pirate engagement ended with the crew being tortured and executed, it would cause sailors to make life as difficult as possible for the invaders. They would likely fight to the death rather than submit easily, something pirates wanted to happen so they could make a quick getaway.
That did not stop some of the swashbucklers from committing some terrible deeds. How did pirates kill people? Sometimes they had to torture a person to find out information, kill prisoners to keep them from escaping, or even make an example of a fellow pirate who had turned against his crew. Whatever the case, pirates had some fairly ingenious and gruesome ways of murdering their enemies that will make your skin crawl.
A French Pirate Pulled Out a Victim’s Heart and Ate It
François l'Olonnais was a French pirate who became well-known throughout the Caribbean for his ruthlessness. He was willing to go to extreme lengths in order to get what he wanted, including torturing prisoners to extract information. This culminated in 1668 when he set sail for Honduras. There, he captured several Spanish soldiers and interrogated them to find the safest route to pass through to Central America. Finding that his methods were not working, he cut open the chest of one of the men before pulling out his heart and eating it in front of him.
Captain Morgan Popped Out Prisoners' Eyes Using a Metal Bar
The Welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan was never afraid of getting violent when he needed to find out valuable information. This is exactly what he did when he sacked Portobelo in 1668, a valuable port that saw all kinds of precious commodities pass through, including a vast amount of gold. After taking over the city, he and his crew were unable to find all the treasure and so began to torture officials. The main method was something called woodling. It involved strapping a leather cord around a person’s forehead and then tightening it with a metal bar. Those who didn’t reveal information quickly enough would die when the pressure caused their eyeballs to pop out of their skulls.
A Dutch Pirate Roasted Farmers Alive
Roche Braziliano was a Dutch pirate who lived between 1630 and 1671. He operated mainly near the Caribbean island of Jamaica, where he would come into constant conflict with Spanish farmers and sailors. He was particularly cruel and was described by people at the time as a barbarian, thanks to the violent rampages he would routinely go on. But he saved the worst punishment for two farmers who refused to tell him where their pigs were located: he cut off their limbs and roasted them alive on a spit over a fire.
One Pirate Cut Off His Victims' Lips, Ears, and Noses
It was not uncommon for pirates to mutilate their enemies and prisoners during interrogations. In fact, it was one of the standard punishments for those who had disobeyed the rules set down by the captain and his crew. Standard mutilations often involved cutting off the lips, ears, and noses of the victim before they were simply left to die. Edward Low was known to be particularly fond of this type of punishment and it is rumored that he once cut off the lips of a captain, boiled them, and then slaughtered his entire crew in the 1740s.
Keelhauling Was a Common Practice
One of the worst ways to die at the hands of a pirate was through an act known as keelhauling. However, pirates were not the only group to use this method, as several navies also saw fit to punish people using it. The victim would be tied to a rope that looped around the entire length of the boat. The crew would then drag the victim under the ship and keel several times, leading to loss of limbs and even decapitation as they were torn to pieces by the hard wood and barnacles. Those who were not killed by the impact would undoubtedly drown.
Ching Shih Would Nail Her Enemies' Feet to The Decks of Their Own Ships
Ching Shih is one of the most famous pirates who ever lived. Having begun her life as a prostitute, she was able to rise through the ranks of important Chinese pirate factions and eventually take command of hundreds of ships when her husband died in the early 19th century. Her favorite method of dealing with rival crews and enemies was to nail their feet to the deck of their own ship and proceed to beat them to death. The only way out of this horrendous torture was to agree to join her ranks and become part the Red Flag Fleet. This not only sent a message to anyone who would stand against her but also made sure she had plenty of replacement pirates to bolster her crews.
Montbars the Exterminator Nailed His Victims' Intestines to Posts
Daniel Montbars, who was also known as Montbars the Exterminator for his violent and cruel nature, was a 17th-century pirate. He became one of the biggest enemies of the Spanish Empire during his career and thus developed an intense hatred of any Spaniards he met. While he did not like to murder anyone without reason, he was merciless to any enemies that fought against him and would brutally torture any surviving soldiers. His favorite method was to cut open the stomach of a prisoner, pull out his intestines, and nail them to a post while hitting the man with a burning log.
Some Pirates Really Did Make People Walk the Plank
Media often depicts "walking the plank" as the standard means of killing people for pirates. While it was used very occasionally, it was often considered too theatrical for common use. The actual method of making someone walk the plank was also much more horrific than films generally make it out to be. Pirates would bind their prisoners with rope so that they could not swim and weigh them down with cannonballs to ensure they would sink. Finally, they would often drop the unfortunate captives into shark-infested waters as a way of guaranteeing they would die.