The 13 Most Gruesome Ways Pirates Have Killed People Throughout History

Pirates have often been seen as bloodthirsty and vicious villains who commit evil acts of aggression 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 conflict whenever possible.

This makes sense when you think about it. After all, if every pirate engagement ended with the crew meeting a gruesome end, it would cause sailors to make life as difficult as possible for the invaders. They would likely fight valiantly 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, end captives 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 taking out their enemies that will make your skin crawl.

  • A French Pirate Pulled Out A Victim’s Heart And Ate It

    A French Pirate Pulled Out A Victim’s Heart And Ate It
    Photo: Unknown, book by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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 captives 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 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 some of it in front of him.

  • Captain Morgan Popped Out Captives' Eyes Using A Metal Bar

    Captain Morgan Popped Out Captives' Eyes Using A Metal Bar
    Photo: Howard Pyle / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan was never afraid of getting aggressive 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, so they 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 perish when the pressure caused their eyeballs to pop out of their skulls.

  • A Dutch Pirate Roasted Farmers Alive

    A Dutch Pirate Roasted Farmers Alive
    Photo: Unknown, book by Alexandre Exquemelin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Roche Braziliano was a Dutch pirate who lived between 1630 and 1675. 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 aggressive rampages he would routinely go on.

    However, 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.

  • Keelhauling Was A Common Practice

    Keelhauling Was A Common Practice
    Photo: Lieve Verschuier / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One of the worst ways to perish 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 person in question would be tied to a rope that looped around the entire length of the boat. The crew would then drag the person 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 did not perish from the impact would undoubtedly drown.