Would you recognize a pirate if you saw one? What would you look for? An eye patch? A peg leg? A parrot on the shoulder? A treasure map? A hoop earring and a red kerchief?
What about a beard? Famous pirates, like Redbeard and Blackbeard, were named for their beards. But do all pirates have beards?
Absolutely not! In fact, not all pirates were men. Before we talk about a few famous lady pirates, though, let's learn a bit about pirates and how they came to be so famous.
Since the days of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, ships have attacked other ships at sea in search of riches, such as jewels, money and other goods. If there was a body of water used by ships to carry goods to and from other countries, there were likely pirates at work.
From 800 to 1100 B.C., the Vikings and the Danes raided the seas and coastal towns of Northern Europe. During the 14th through 17th centuries, the Chinese ruled the China Sea with large pirate vessels that held hundreds of men.
The 16th to 19th centuries may have been the heyday of pirates, as pirate ships traveled the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, attacking slave ships. Sometimes countries would hire pirates — whom they called “privateers" when hired — to attack the ships of an enemy. Those who attacked ships with loyalty to no one but themselves were true pirates.
If you watch too many pirate movies, you might get the impression that all pirates were men. Although most pirates may have been men, there were certainly several famous female pirates over the years.
Irish “pirate queen" Grace O'Malley resorted to piracy when she was left with nothing after her husband died. After her ships were captured, she appealed to Queen Elizabeth I for mercy. The Queen eventually granted her freedom and money in exchange for her loyalty.
Two other famous women pirates — Mary Read and Anne Bonny — sailed the Caribbean with another famous pirate, “Calico Jack" Rackham. Both were known to dress like men from time to time and could fight with the best of the men.
In the early 1800s, Ching Shih became the leader of the Red Flag Fleet, an infamous group of pirates with more than 1,500 ships that terrorized the Chinese coast. Known for her savage attacks on enemy ships, some historians consider her the "best pirate who ever lived."
So why did pirates — including the women pirates — dress so strangely? No one knows for sure, but the odd costumes worn by pirates can probably be explained by the fact that most of their clothing was stolen from ships they plundered. Check out this pirate image gallery to see some pictures of some interesting pirate outfits!
When you plunder a ship, you take what you can get, so pirates often didn't have a lot of choice when it came to clothing. If you had to wear whatever someone else had packed for a trip across the sea, it's no surprise you might end up with an interesting outfit!