Skull and Shackles
Buccaneers began operating under a set of rules variously called the Chasse-Partie, Charter Party, Custom of the Coast, or Shackles Discipline. These eventually became known as Articles of Agreement, or the pirate’s code.
Pirate articles varied from one captain to another, and sometimes even from one voyage to another, but they were generally alike in including provisions for discipline, specifications for each crewmate’s share of treasure, and compensation for the injured.
Each crew member was asked to sign or make his mark on the articles, then swear an oath of allegiance or honor. This act formally inducted the signer into the pirate crew, generally entitling him to vote for officers and on other “affairs of moment,” to bear arms, and to his share of the plunder. The articles having been signed, they were then posted in a prominent place, often the door of the grand cabin.
After a piratical cruise began, new recruits from captured ships would sometimes sign the articles, in some cases voluntarily, in other cases under threat of torture or death. Valuable sea artisans, such as carpenters and navigators, were especially likely to be forced to sign articles under duress, and would rarely be released regardless of their decision to sign or not. In some cases, even willing recruits would ask the pirates to pretend to force them to sign, so that they could plead they were forced should they ever be captured by the law. Generally, men who had not signed the articles had a much better chance of acquittal at trial if captured by the law.
Pirate articles are closely related to, and in some cases derived from, privateering articles, which similarly provided for discipline and regulated distribution of booty (though usually far less equally than with pirate articles). According to the code, the pirates ran their ships democratically, sharing plunder equally and selecting and deposing their captains by popular vote.
I. Every member of the crew gets an equal share of treasure. Anyone caught taking more than his fair share of loot, or refusing to report its discovery in a timely manner, shall be marooned. The captain receives extra shares of any treasure, as do shipwrights, carpenters, and officers to lesser degrees.
II. Every member of the crew must tend to his own weapons and keep them ready for battle.
III. Anyone who shows cowardice in the face of the enemy or deserts in battle shall have his throat cut or be marooned.
IV. No crew member shall hide his abilities from the crew. A sailor who can perform magic shall use his abilities on behalf of the ship.
V. No crew member shall take a position on a new ship or talk of leaving until each crew member has acquired at least 1,000 gp worth of treasure through his labors.
VI. No fighting is allowed between crewmates. Quarrels shall be set aside until shore leave, at which point grievances may be settled with violence on shore.
VII. All crew members must obey the captain and his officers.
VIII. Any pirate found stealing from crewmates shall take 30 lashes and be put ashore at port.
IX. The person who spots a sail shall have first pick of its loot.
X. Any crew member who loses a limb in service to the ship shall be paid 800 gp for its loss.
XI. Every sailor has an equal right to vote in decisions put to the crew by the captain.