TftCN: Pirate Graveyards and Graves, The final resting place of pirates

23 Mar

     TftCN: Pirate Graveyards and Graves

Picture taken by Katherine Benbow, 10/30/2009,

Like most people, many members of The Colorado Rogues are caught up in the romance of piracy. (—not the illegal music downloading type), but piracy on the high seas. The Swashbuckling, Jolly Roger waiving, shiver-me-timbers, cutlass brandishing gents and all that. Forget those ridiculous Somali pirates who hijack oil tankers, the real pirates were the eighteenth century swashbucklers, terrors of the high seas, plague of the Spanish Main, wanderers of the Caribbean!

With many of the historical figures in life, good and bad, there are tangible things that we are able to track down that give us an idea of who they were, and how they lived or died. Stories and authentic historical items give us a sense of the person becoming “Real” for us.

For some people being able to visit the final resting place of a person accomplishes this. Though initially it may sound rather macabre, it is actually quite common practice. The problem with finding a “Pirate’s” last resting place however becomes a little more difficult, for several reasons. Contrary to movie history the highest mortality rates of pirates were due to infection, disease, falls and drowning. Pirates who died at high sea couldn’t be kept aboard until they reached a port. The body would cause too many health issues with the remaining crew.  For more information on medicine and cause of death for pirates, is an excellent source of information.

So it is believed that the common practice was to weight the bodies down and throw them overboard in a sort of burial at sea kind of fashion. If they were close enough to shore the body may have been buried in the traditional way, though doubtfully in a churchyard and more than likely without marker or description of who they were.  If the Pirates were captured and brought to justice on shore, they were typically hung at the gallows, or executed but again typically the bodies would not have been buried in a church graveyard, and if they had it is doubtful that they would have had their names inscribed on the marker or a tale of their deeds. Remember these were considered criminals of that time and the cemetery was a place thought to honor the dead.

There are random cemeteries all over the world where you may find a headstone with a jolly roger, just a skull, or just crossed bones that some believe are the final burial place of ancient pirates. Many  of these have legends or tales to accompany them.  However,  just the fact that there is a skull and crossbones upon a headstone does not necesisarily mean that a pirate lies underneath. That symbol was also used denote a person who died of the plague, or a terrible disease. It is hard to be sure in most cases whether the stories are fact or just tales that have been circulating for so  long that people just assume they are true.

The picture  at the top  of  this page was  found on a link to Thyatira Presbyterian Church, with  the caption four pirate graves in an old cemetery. Beneath  is this description:

These four stones, three of which bear skulls and crossbones, and the fourth bearing only crossbones, are a source of great interest to the children in the church.

“According to legend, the pirates were executed, and court allowed their burial only if their stones carried the pirate symbol, and bore no names.”

Due to the distance from the coast, some have speculated that these men may have been highwaymen instead. Some have said that the men were former pirates who moved to the area, and that they were found out, and hung for their past crimes. Also, some say that the elders of the church were the ones forbidding the names on the stones. It would be interesting to find the court records for this case, if this is the truth. Yet others have said that the images actually indicate deaths from an epidemic disease. Without the dates for the deaths, it is difficult to verify the information.

We hope to do future articles with the where abouts of pirate resting places in the future. If you know of any or have pictures you would like to share please feel free. Until  next week. TGIF!

~ Tempest Stormbringer

 Editor of Tales from the Crow’s Nest on Twiztedsails Blog


Posted by on March 23, 2012 in All things Piratey


2 responses to “TftCN: Pirate Graveyards and Graves, The final resting place of pirates

  1. Captain Gabriel Shaw

    March 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Spelling and grammar aside, not a bad article. Being pirate myself, I’ve done lots of studying on the subject. Unfortunately, bones, skulls, and crossbones on gravestones did not signify pirates, just death, decay, dying, and disease. The flag on gravestones idea is not a historical fact (though there are some gravestones known to have pirate-like flags on them), it’s more myth because, as you said, the bodies were rarely, if ever, buried. The idea of a pirate flag on a gravestone is actually the other way around; pirate flags were made from images taken off gravestones, in order to strike fear in their prey and force them to surrender quickly. Pirates weren’t the best fighters, which is why they commonly cheated to win in battle.

  2. Captain Gabriel Shaw, of the Kingdom of Mottistone

    March 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Funny tidbit on the picture of the pirate gravestones. The picture shows four stones, but the web page only mentions three. It also mentions that it is “legend” that they are pirate graves, yet looking at the date of birth of every other gravestone in the cemetery, everyone was born well after the age of pirates (having ended in the late 1720’s), so these graves would have had to have been placed before any other bodies in the cemetery.


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