The 14 Most Gruesome Ways Pirates Have Killed People Throughout History

Pirates have often been seen as bloodthirsty and vicious criminals who would commit evil acts of violence without a second thought in order to secure treasure or evade justice. This perception can make wonder about the grisly ways pirates killed people. However, just like with many portrayals of them on screen and in books, the truth is actually something quite different. In the same way that they didn’t walk around with parrots or speak in that infamous accent, the vast majority of pirates tried to avoid violence whenever possible.
This makes sense when you think about it. After all, if every pirate engagement ended with the crew being tortured and executed, it would cause sailors to make life as difficult as possible for the invaders. They would likely fight to the death rather than submit easily, something pirates wanted to happen so they could make a quick getaway.
That did not stop some of the swashbucklers from committing some terrible deeds. How did pirates kill people? Sometimes they had to torture a person to find out information, kill prisoners to keep them from escaping, or even make an example of a fellow pirate who had turned against his crew. Whatever the case, pirates had some fairly ingenious and gruesome ways of murdering their enemies that will make your skin crawl.

A French Pirate Pulled Out a Victim’s Heart and Ate It
François l’Olonnais was a French pirate who became well-known throughout the Caribbean for his ruthlessness. He was willing to go to extreme lengths in order to get what he wanted, including torturing prisoners to extract information. This culminated in 1668 when he set sail for Honduras. There, he captured several Spanish soldiers and interrogated them to find the safest route to pass through to Central America. Finding that his methods were not working, he cut open the chest of one of the men before pulling out his heart and eating it in front of him.
Captain Morgan Popped Out Prisoners’ Eyes Using a Metal Bar
The Welsh pirate Captain Henry Morgan was never afraid of getting violent when he needed to find out valuable information. This is exactly what he did when he sacked Portobelo in 1668, a valuable port that saw all kinds of precious commodities pass through, including a vast amount of gold. After taking over the city, he and his crew were unable to find all the treasure and so began to torture officials. The main method was something called woodling. It involved strapping a leather cord around a person’s forehead and then tightening it with a metal bar. Those who didn’t reveal information quickly enough would die when the pressure caused their eyeballs to pop out of their skulls.
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A Dutch Pirate Roasted Farmers Alive
Roche Braziliano was a Dutch pirate who lived between 1630 and 1671. He operated mainly near the Caribbean island of Jamaica, where he would come into constant conflict with Spanish farmers and sailors. He was particularly cruel and was described by people at the time as a barbarian, thanks to the violent rampages he would routinely go on. But he saved the worst punishment for two farmers who refused to tell him where their pigs were located: he cut off their limbs and roasted them alive on a spit over a fire.
One Pirate Cut Off His Victims’ Lips, Ears, and Noses
It was not uncommon for pirates to mutilate their enemies and prisoners during interrogations. In fact, it was one of the standard punishments for those who had disobeyed the rules set down by the captain and his crew. Standard mutilations often involved cutting off the lips, ears, and noses of the victim before they were simply left to die. Edward Low was known to be particularly fond of this type of punishment and it is rumored that he once cut off the lips of a captain, boiled them, and then slaughtered his entire crew in the 1740s.
Keelhauling Was a Common Practice
One of the worst ways to die at the hands of a pirate was through an act known as keelhauling. However, pirates were not the only group to use this method, as several navies also saw fit to punish people using it. The victim would be tied to a rope that looped around the entire length of the boat. The crew would then drag the victim under the ship and keel several times, leading to loss of limbs and even decapitation as they were torn to pieces by the hard wood and barnacles. Those who were not killed by the impact would undoubtedly drown.
Ching Shih Would Nail Her Enemies’ Feet to The Decks of Their Own Ships
Ching Shih is one of the most famous pirates who ever lived. Having begun her life as a prostitute, she was able to rise through the ranks of important Chinese pirate factions and eventually take command of hundreds of ships when her husband died in the early 19th century. Her favorite method of dealing with rival crews and enemies was to nail their feet to the deck of their own ship and proceed to beat them to death. The only way out of this horrendous torture was to agree to join her ranks and become part the Red Flag Fleet. This not only sent a to anyone who would stand against her but also made sure she had plenty of replacement pirates to bolster her crews.
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Montbars the Exterminator Nailed His Victims’ Intestines to Posts
Daniel Montbars, who was also known as Montbars the Exterminator for his violent and cruel nature, was a 17th-century pirate. He became one of the biggest enemies of the Spanish Empire during his career and thus developed an intense hatred of any Spaniards he met. While he did not like to murder anyone without reason, he was merciless to any enemies that fought against him and would brutally torture any surviving soldiers. His favorite method was to cut open the stomach of a prisoner, pull out his intestines, and nail them to a post while hitting the man with a burning log.
Some Pirates Really Did Make People Walk the Plank
Media often depicts “walking the plank” as the standard means of killing people for pirates. While it was used very occasionally, it was often considered too theatrical for common use. The actual method of making someone walk the plank was also much more horrific than generally make it out to be. Pirates would bind their prisoners with rope so that they could not swim and weigh them down with cannonballs to ensure they would sink. Finally, they would often drop the captives into shark-infested waters as a way of guaranteeing they would die.
Black Bart Burned People Alive on Their Own Ships
Bartholomew Roberts, otherwise known as Black Bart, was another pirate who developed a reputation for his horrific methods. The extreme violence and lack of morals certainly seemed to help him, as he is arguably the most successful pirate of all time. He is estimated to have captured up to 400 ships during his career, which spanned from the late 17th century into the early 18th century. One of his favorite ways of dealing with ships he had plundered was to simply set them on fire and sail away. Unfortunately, he often did not bother to get passengers or crew off the ships before he set them alight. In one instance, Black Bart burned 80 slaves alive when he didn’t want to waste time unshackling them.
Edward Low Liked Burning Prisoners’ Hands Down to the Bone
Often called the most vicious pirate to have ever lived, Edward Low has become infamous for the maniacal violence he liked to inflict on his victims in the early 18th century. Though he had a rather short career, he quickly acquired an enjoyment from carrying out extreme torture. One of the cruelest acts he developed saw him tie up the hands of his prisoners with rope. He would then insert lit matches between the fingers so that the rope would burn. The flames would strip away the flesh and eventually burn down to the bone, killing the person from blood loss and shock.
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A Few Pirates Tied Up Their Victims and Pelted Them with Glass
Sometimes, a pirate crew would come across someone who they really did not like and wanted to humiliate. A popular way of doing this was to tie them to the mast of a ship and then hurl glass bottles and barrels at them. The glass would easily cut through the victim’s flesh as it broke, while the heavy barrels could cause serious internal injuries.
Some Pirates Forced Prisoners to Run Until They Died of Exhaustion
One sadistic form of torture that usually ended up with the victim dying was known as sweating. It was often used as a form of psychological as well as physical torture as it was done in front of the entire crew of a ship. This also made it perfect for setting an example to anyone else who thought of crossing the pirates. The captain would force the prisoner to run up and down the deck of the ship while attached to a rope. At the same time, the rest of the crew would be poking and stabbing the man with swords and other instruments, causing wounds that would eventually lead to death.
Captain Morgan’s Crew Tied Men to Stakes and Beat Them
Captain Henry Morgan could be incredibly cruel, and the rest of his crew was not averse to the odd act of torture, either. When they attacked Gibraltar in the mid-17th century, they came across a Portuguese man who was unwilling or unable to hand over the treasure they were seeking. The men eventually tied up the civilian by his hands and feet to four stakes before beating the rope with planks of wood, causing intense vibrations in his body. When he still didn’t give them the information they wanted, they placed a 200-pound boulder on his stomach and burned him all across his body.
Pirates Tied Murderers to Their Victims and Threw Them Overboard
People get many wrong about pirates. Most believe them to be squabbling thugs who were constantly fighting each other, but they were actually a rather sophisticated group of people. Not only did they operate as a democracy with each crewmember having a vote, many did not tolerate crimes such as murder and rape. Those who did kill a captive or one of their fellow crew would often be tied to the dead body as punishment and thrown overboard. This meant certain death for the murderer as they sank to the bottom of the ocean with their lifeless victim.