• Imagining History

Did Pirates Really Have Peg-Legs? And Other Pirate Myths – Myth Buster Guide For Kids

Did Pirates Really Have Peg-Legs & Hook Hands?


No – this is very unlikely.


Could you imagine trying to climb the mast to hoist the sails with a wooden leg, all whilst the ship was being tossed about on the ocean? It would be very difficult and you would probably end up losing your other leg in the process.


The myth of pirates with prosthetic limbs came from stories written over a century after the Golden Age of Pirates had ended. Fictional characters, such as Long John Silver from Treasure Island and Hook from Peter Pan, were given fake limbs to make them scarier and more memorable.


But, that being said, life on a real pirate ship was dangerous and injuries were common. And with the unsanitary conditions aboard a ship, even the smallest of wounds could become infected. Unfortunately, as antibiotics wouldn’t be discovered for another 250 years or so, your options would be limited. You could do nothing and probably die from infection. Or you could get the ship’s cook or carpenter to chop the infected limb off (there would rarely be a doctor on board) and probably die during the surgery.


If the poor injured pirate was lucky enough to survive having an arm or leg chopped off, they would no longer be of any use aboard the ship and their career as a pirate would likely be over. No peg-legs or hook hands here.


But it’s not all bad news, according to the Pirate Code of Conduct, any crew member who was wounded or lost a limb would receive an extra-large cut of the pirate booty. So that’s nice.



Did Pirates Really Wear Eye Patches?


Yes – but not because of a missing or wounded eye.


The popular theory amongst historians is that pirates would wear eye patches to help their eyes adapt to the dark.


When attacking a ship, the pirate crew would often need to move quickly between the bright sunlight on deck to the darkness of the lower decks during battle. This caused a major problem - the human eye can quickly adapt when moving from darkness into light but it doesn't work so well the other way round. The human eye can take a good 25 minutes to adapt to see again after moving from light to dark. The pirates could hardly pause the battle and kindly ask their opponent to wait 25 minutes until they could see again.


The theory goes that pirates always wore an eyepatch on one eye so as to block out all of the light to that eye. That way, when they moved to the lower decks they could remove the eye patch and see through the eye that had already adapted to the dark. Less chance of having to swing your sword blindly in the hope of hitting someone and being hacked to bits by your opponent who’s probably swinging blindly too. Clever.



Did Pirates Really Bury Their Treasure?


No. Well… okay, sometimes.


Pirates loved treasure – this much we can agree upon. But pirates were spenders, not hoarders. Any booty captured by a pirate crew would quickly be split amongst the members of the crew, following the rules laid out in the Pirate Code of Conduct.


What’s more, pirate “treasure” wasn’t always the gold and silver variety. Pirates would steal anything of value that they could trade or sell on. This could include food, cloth, animals, spices, cocoa, cotton, wood and more. These items would be ruined or spoiled if they were buried.


But that’s not to say that there has never been a pirate who buried their treasure. Sir Francis Drake buried some of the gold and silver he and his crew had stolen because they couldn’t carry it all. Captain William Kidd buried his treasure with the hope that he might be able to buy his own freedom, if he was ever arrested for piracy, by sharing the location of the treasure with his captors.


So, I suppose you could say pirates didn’t normally bury their treasure. But sometimes they did. Either way, there’s no evidence of a map where X marks the spot.


If you liked what you just read, why not consider donating to support the blog? It's thanks to awesome people like you that we are able to continue creating content for this History Resource.


Help keep these resources free by donating today! Any amount is greatly appreciated.



Subscribe to Our
Newsletter

Receive updates on our latest blog posts* including new articles, history guides, arts & crafts ideas and more. 

Plus, it's all free!

*We will not spam you or pass your information onto any third parties. You can unsubscribe at any time using the links at the bottom of the email. For more information, see our Privacy Notice or email us at the address below.

Choose a History Topic:
Support Us

To keep the Imagining History Resource blog content free, forever.

  • RSS
  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Call Us
  • Email Us

Lancaster, England

Prestige Award Winner

History Educational Workshop of the Year