Women on the High Seas
Life for a woman at sea, whether as a pirate or on another type of vessel, was not an easy one. With few exceptions, most women who took to a life of sailing donned male clothing, lowered their voices, and pretended they were men. It was a hard life, filled with long hours of physically demanding and dangerous work, and most men refused to believe that women were capable of doing it. The vast majority of pirates didn't want women aboard their ship; many articles (see Chapter 9) expressly stated that no women would be allowed onboard and that any man found hiding one would be shot. Many captains felt that a woman would be a distraction, one that would most certainly cause fights among the crew. Women who masqueraded as men aboard a pirate ship faced the inherent danger of being discovered and subsequently raped, tortured, or even murdered.
Some captains took the precaution of hiring unmarried men for their crews, and on occasion even freed prisoners who were married. Unwed captives were typically made to sign a ship's articles and join their crew. Few captains wanted men thinking about their loved ones, or considering leaving the crew to return home to wives and children.
Motivation for Mayhem
Why a woman would choose to become a pirate is a difficult question to answer. For many who did, it was out of necessity. Throughout the millennia, it was never easy for a woman to find a job to support herself. Pirating offered a chance to share in the loot and perhaps earn additional wealth that could never be achieved on land. Some women, of course, may have been following a man when he signed on to a pirate crew. Love has always been a strong motivator, and no doubt there was a woman or two who fell for a pirate, and became one herself to be near him. For most of these rogue women, piracy offered a chance to live a life of adventure. Many of the known female pirates were rebellious individuals who enjoyed getting drunk and gambling, things they couldn't acceptably do in their hometowns. These women were not afraid to fight — or die. For them, pirating would offer a chance to live a life they otherwise could only have dreamed of.
Life aboard a pirate ship was extremely precarious for female pirates, especially in regard to personal issues. Sleeping quarters were always cramped, and a woman would have to be careful not to undress where she could be seen. The same held true for bathroom facilities, which were primitive and out in the open at the bow of a ship. For the duration of their piratical service, these women would also have to engage in the same work as their male counterparts, and they would have to do it equally well. They would need to be strong and willing and able to fight. In addition, they'd have to be able to survive on little food and water for long periods of time, tolerate the foul odors of rotting food, and overcome the rough language of pirates. Yet regardless of the perils, women did choose to live this life and many died living it.