Handicapped Pirates????

Did pirates really have a lot of missing parts?

Did pirates really have a lot of missing parts?

While visiting a local school whose mascot is a pirate, I saw a statue that looks like the character above. Did pirates really look like this? A pirate with a wooden leg couldn’t board a ship the crew was trying to capture. He’d also have a tough time climbing in the rigging on the masts, or even getting around on the deck in rough weather. No doubt pirates lost legs. In that day and age, if you had a really nasty leg (or arm) wound, it was easier to lop off the entire limp and treat one large simple wound, than a bunch of small complex ones. The real enemy was infection, not just the wound.

So where did this idea come from? The answer is Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson. The pirate was Long John Silver (who had a great parrot, incidentally.) That was not too far fetched, since Long John’s job on ship was cook. One of the few places, the missing leg wouldn’t be a serious handicap.

What about a hook for a hand? We can thank J.M. Barrie for that notion. He wrote Peter Pan and introduced us to Captain Hook. Again, I’m sure some pirates lost hands, but it would make it tough to board a ship, you were trying to capture.

Finally, what about an eye patch? Glass (or wooden eyes) as replacements for a natural eye you lost have been around for hundreds of years. It is a good bet that pirates wore eye patches, however.

I asked Red Legs about this and he explained that it is dark below decks, even in the daytime. Going into the hold of a ship was tricky, since a member of the opposing crew might be waiting to waylay you. If you go from daylight into a dark room, you can experience this yourself. Of course, if you wait a few minutes, your eyes adapt and you can see in the darker room. By wearing an eye patch for a while, before you go into the dark, you can negate the other sides advantage. Once in the hold, if you lift the eye patch, you can see! This is because the covered eye has adapted to the dark. The modern military teaches tricks like this to today’s fighting men and women. So a pirate with an eye patch wasn’t necessarily missing an eye, he was just getting prepared for his job.