Most pirate movies depict at least a few salty buccaneers, swinging on ropes with a burly knife clenched in their jaws. Spielberg even had Chunk in “The Goonies” holding a blade between his teeth before descending, with Sloth, on the Fratelli’s in the final battle aboard One-Eyed-Willie’s pirate ship!
The word ‘Buccaneer’ is actually pretty interesting too! You see, many pirates, at least the ones most of mainstream America thinks of when we hear the word, were once called Privateers, and their way of life was not only deemed legal, but was encouraged by the government!
In the time of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy wasn’t much. The British Navy, on the other hand, was known for being one of the most devastating forces ever created up to that time. In order to stand a chance, Patriots asked France for help, but also told fishermen, merchants and other ship captains that if they could take out a British vessel they could keep all the loot onboard, and they could keep the ship as well! These captains were called Privateers, using their own private vessels for war, and it was in this way that many successful privateers came to command entire fleets of ships!
When the war came to an end, privateering was quickly outlawed, but the privateers had been making so much more than they ever did fishing, there was no way they were going back to their old ways of life! They were then hunted as Pirates, and would hide out in less colonized areas around what is now Florida and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico!
Not all privateers were part of the United States. Many were Spanish and French, among other nationalities. We weren’t the ones who invented privateering! French pirates and hunters in the Caribbean, when in need of meat, would use a wooden frame called a ‘boucan’ to hang, dry and cure meats of the animals they hunted while ashore. It was after this simple device that the name ‘Buccaneer’ originated!
But, back to ‘Armed to the Teeth.” Flintlocks and Muskets, the guns of the time, only held one shot. Once fired, it took to time to stop, reload and add gunpowder. It wasn’t until nearly a century later, around the time of the Civil War, that repeating rifles and pistols were able to be mass produced. Because of this, pirates preparing for battle would often have multiple flintlock pistols on their bodies and usually one for each hand. Being armed to the teeth meant that they had so many weapons at the ready that they even carried a knife or dagger between their teeth when going into a fight!