The Pirate Code: The rules of the sea for the crew of Black Bart’s ship in the 1700s

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

The Pirate Code The rules of the sea for the infamous Black Bart's ship in the 1700s

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart, was a notorious — and very successful — Welsh pirate who raided ships off North America, Central America and South America, as well as along West Africa. He was known to be active on the high seas between 1719 and 1722.

Even though piracy was illegal, it didn’t mean there weren’t rules, though! Here are the “articles” that were in place aboard Captain Roberts’ ships, otherwise known as The Pirate Code.

Now, as written below, they may not be 100% true to the original, but should be very close. The version below has been taken from Captain Charles Johnson’s book, A General History of the Pyrates, first published in 1724 — meaning they were written down in this form just two years after Black Bart’s death. That’s probably as close as we will ever get.

The Pirate Code: The articles for Captain Bartholomew Roberts’ ships

I. Every man has a vote in affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.

II. Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because, (over and above their proper share) they were on these occasions allowed a shift of clothes: but if they defrauded the company to the value of a dollar in plate, jewels, or money, marooning was their punishment.

ALSO SEE: Sea shanties: Why these songs exist (and who first sang them)

If the robbery was only betwixt one another, they contented themselves with slitting the ears and nose of him that was guilty, and set him on shore, not in an uninhabited place, but somewhere, where he was sure to encounter hardships.

III. No person to game at cards or dice for money.

IV. The lights and candles to be put out at eight o’clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour still remained inclined for drinking, they were to do it on the open deck.

V. To keep their piece, pistols, and cutlass clean and fit for service.

Pirate Code - Young pirate with pistols

MORE: Where did the pirate Captain Kidd really leave his treasure? (1909)

VI. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man were to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carried her to sea, disguised, he was to suffer death.

VII. To desert the ship or their quarters in battle, was punished with death or marooning.

VIII. No striking one another on board, but every man’s quarrels to be ended on shore, at sword and pistol.

IX. No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared one thousand pounds. If in order to this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have eight hundred dollars, out of the public stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.

X. The Captain and Quartermaster to receive two shares of a prize: the master, boatswain, and gunner, one share and a half, and other officers one and quarter.

XI. The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six days and nights, none without special favor.

Captain Bartho. Roberts with two ships, Viz. the Royal Fortune and Ranger 1721
Captain Bartho. Roberts with two ships, Viz. the Royal Fortune and Ranger, takes Sail in Whydah Road on the Coast of Guiney, January 11th, 1721/2.

MORE: See Disneyland’s original Pirates of the Caribbean ride, before the changes


The Pirate Code: Even pirates have to play by the rules

A General History of the Pyrates, by Capt. Charles Johnson

From Their First Rise and Settlement in the Island of Providence, to the Present Time. With the remarkable Actions and Adventures of two Female Pyrates Mary Read and Anne Bonny

Note: It is thought that Charles Johnson was a pseudonym for Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe.

A General History of the Pyrates - 1724

MORE: Why the real pirate Jean Lafitte was known as The Terror of the Gulf of Mexico (1864)

If you liked this, please share it! Our small business appreciates it. :-) You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see exclusive retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Because the fun never ends

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Choose your next adventure