Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters… Arrrr!

Have you ever wondered what life was like for the pirates who terrorized the high seas from the 17th to 19th centuries?

Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters, an incredible interactive exhibit in Quebec City, Quebec, invites you to climb aboard a historically accurate reproduction of a pirate ship (complete with pirates) and experience the life and living conditions of these treasure-seeking scoundrels.

Unlike what Hollywood movies would have you believe, women were not permitted on pirate ships. Pirates considered them bad luck – along with dice, rabbits and whistling.

But superstition did not stop adventurous females from disguising themselves as men and living the pirate life. Two of the most successful were Anne Bonney and Mary Read.

Both were fierce fighters who spent years sailing with the infamous Calico Jack – who was the model for the Jack Sparrow character in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Bonny and Read managed to keep their gender a secret until the ship was captured by the British navy. They avoided hanging by “pleading their bellies” (meaning they were going to have a baby).

Like the fictional Jack Sparrow, real pirates certainly drank a lot of rum. This was because plain water became contaminated after just a few days of being stored in the ship’s barrels. The ‘tastes and smells’ part of the exhibit shows how pirates received nutrition from meat and fish preserved in salt.

It’s also true pirates robbed or looted treasure from the ships they attacked, but they were even more interested in stealing weapons and medication. These were the two things they needed to win battles and treat injuries. The exhibit’s display of medical tools – which includes saws for cutting off limbs and wooden pegs and metal hooks for replacing them – suggests that being a doctor on the high seas was a terrible job.

Although known for being ruthless, pirate crews thought of themselves as brothers and were very democratic about how they did things.

They voted on everything including who got to be captain, how the booty or treasure would be divided, and even how people would be punished.

Punishments were cruel and inventive. A captain who refused to attack another ship, for example, would be abandoned on a barren island with no food or water. A man who killed someone would be tied to his victim and the two would be thrown overboard together.

Although pirates preferred warmer climates, the cold waters of the St. Lawrence River and North Atlantic Ocean were visited by privateers, citizens whom the government allowed to attack enemy ships in times of war and freebooters, independent soldiers who did the same but without the government’s official consent.

Oliver ‘La Buse’ Levasseur is one example of a respected naval officer who turned pirate while serving as a privateer for King Louis XIV. He plundered the seas for eight years before being captured by the French.

As he was about to be hanged, La Buse threw a cryptogram (word puzzle) into the crowd and cried, “My fortune to he who can understand!” To this day, the puzzle remains unsolved and the treasure is still waiting to be found. Maybe even by you.

Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters runs from July 1 to Sept. 5 at the Brown Basin “interpretive centre”, 615 E Champlain Blvd. (at the foot of the Cap Blanc stairs) in Quebec City.

Related Link
The website for Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters.
Basin Brown interpretive centre (website in French).


Writing/Discussion Prompt
Today’s story is not really a news article. News articles almost always explain significant events that are happening. Today’s article doesn’t do that. Instead, it tells about a museum exhibit in Quebec. Articles that give you an idea of what an art exhibit, theatre piece or movie is about are called “reviews.” Take another look at today’s article and think about all the ways that news articles are different from reviews.

Reading Prompt
Having read today’s article, would you want to go on a trip to Quebec City to see this exhibit? If yes, what things would you say to convince your parents/guardians it’s a good idea? If not, what reasons would you give your parents for staying home?

Express personal opinions about ideas presented in texts (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Make judgments and draw conclusions about the ideas and information in texts and cite stated or implied evidence from the text to support their views (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Evaluate the effectiveness of both simple and complex texts based on evidence from the texts (OME, Reading: 1.8).

Grammar Feature: Onomatopeia
Onomatopeia isn’t just a fun word to say, it’s a pretty nifty word, too. Onomatopeia is a type of word that is spelled like a sound that we hear. For example, today’s article includes the onomatopeia word “Arrrr” in the headline. “Arrrr” isn’t a verb, or a noun, or any other part of speech for that matter, so it doesn’t mean something the way that other words mean something. It’s just a sound. But don’t overlook these kinds of words just because of that. Comic books, for example, are able to communicate lots of different things by using onomatopeia, from a speeding train to a massive explosion!

Attach an onomatopeia word to each of the examples below: 

1. A powerful punch: _____________________________.

2. A furious hurricane: ____________________________.

3. A mouse scurrying away: ________________________.

4. Raindrops falling in a puddle: _____________________.

5. A dazzling fireworks display: ______________________.