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The Dubious Art of Pirate Injury Compensation

Author: Krzysztof Wilczynski

Pirate Compensation Chart


1. Bartholomew 'Black Bart' Roberts' Code:

  • Loss of an eye: 100 Pieces of Eight
  • Loss of a leg: 400 Pieces of Eight
  • Loss of an arm: 600 Pieces of Eight

Source: "General History of the Pyrates" by Captain Charles Johnson


2. John Phillips' Code (The Carpenter's Pirate Articles, 1723):

  • Loss of a right arm: 600 Pieces of Eight or six slaves
  • Loss of a left arm: 500 Pieces of Eight or five slaves
  • Loss of a right leg: 500 Pieces of Eight or five slaves
  • Loss of a left leg: 400 Pieces of Eight or four slaves
  • Loss of an eye or finger: 100 Pieces of Eight or one slave

Source: "The Buccaneers of America" by Alexandre Exquemelin


3. Edward Low and George Lowther's Code:

  • Loss of an arm or leg: 800 Pieces of Eight
  • Wounds resulting in permanent disfigurement: Up to 500 Pieces of Eight, depending on the severity

Source: "The Republic of Pirates" by Colin Woodard


4. Sam Bellamy's Code (as Captain of the Whydah Gally):

  • Loss of a limb in service: Equivalent to 800 Pieces of Eight
  • Severe injury preventing a sailor from piracy: A smaller ship from the fleet or its equivalent value

Source: "Blackbeard and Other Pirates of the Atlantic Coast" by Nancy Roberts


While these rates and compensations may seem arbitrary, they give us a glimpse into the values and priorities of pirate society. The higher compensation for the loss of the right arm in some codes reflects the importance of being right-handed in a world where many tasks, from sword fighting to ship navigation, required dexterity. Likewise, the provision for permanent disfigurement shows an understanding of both the physical and psychological toll of visible injuries.

It's also interesting to note the use of slaves as a form of compensation in some codes. This reflects the sad reality of the time, where human lives were commodified and used as a bargaining chip.


Many a modern soul imagines piracy as a never-ending merry-go-round of rum-swilling and merry shanties, punctuated occasionally by the business of plunder. But what did a pirate do when a cannonball took his leg, or a stray cutlass relieved him of an eye? Yes, my curious reader, we're delving into the surprisingly bureaucratic world of pirate injury compensation.

Now, don't get your hopes too high. The pirates weren't exactly pioneers of workers' compensation. But amidst the glistening treasure and rum-fueled revelries, the pirate code (a more binding agreement than one might assume) often outlined compensations for those unlucky buccaneers who faced the occupational hazards of the high seas.

For instance, consider the notorious Bartholomew 'Black Bart' Roberts. While he spent his days hunting galleons, he was no stranger to the concept of injury compensation. Under his pirate code, the loss of a right arm entitled a sailor to a sum hefty enough to make any self-respecting parrot flutter with envy. A lost leg? That was worth a smaller sum, but still enough doubloons for a pirate to retire to a modest beachside shack. Eyes and fingers had their own designated rates, like a menu of misfortune.

But how did such a system come to be, one wonders? The answer, as with many things pirate, lay in pragmatism. The promise of compensation kept the crew loyal. If they were to risk life and limb in storming a merchant vessel, it was only fair they'd have a safety net of sorts. After all, a peg-legged pirate still had tavern bills to pay.

Of course, it wasn't all plain sailing. Disputes arose. Was a particular injury worth a full hand's compensation, or just a few fingers? Arguments on these matters were settled the pirate way – with lots of shouting, the occasional brawl, and the inevitable intervention of the ship's captain or quartermaster. These debates were the maritime precursor to the modern insurance adjuster's office, albeit with more eyepatches and the looming threat of walking the plank.

Now, it’s worth noting that pirate insurance wasn't all about cold hard cash. Sometimes, compensation took on a more... personal touch. A pirate who'd lost an arm in battle might be given a prime position at the helm, where only one good arm was required. An eye? Well, there's always a need for a lookout. Even with one good peeper, a pirate's hawk-eyed vision was often better than any landlubber’s.

All in all, the pirates' approach to injury compensation was a strange mix of cold pragmatism and an unexpected sense of fairness. Sure, it wasn't a perfect system. There were no 401ks or retirement plans – unless you count a chest of buried treasure. But in a world where danger lurked behind every wave, it was, perhaps, the best that could be hoped for.

So, the next time you hear tales of dashing pirates and their daring exploits, spare a thought for the peg-legged buccaneer counting his injury doubloons, and remember that even in the wildest of worlds, there's always room for a touch of order and a dash of fair play.