The New England Pirate Museum

Who's Who Aboard a Pirate Ship


The captain of a pirate ship had to possess the qualities of leadership and courage. Generally chosen for his daring and dominating character, a pirate captain often was admired for his cruelty and destructiveness. A captain's power was absolute in time of chase or action, and he could discipline anyone who disobeyed his orders. He also had life and death power over anyone taken prisoner.


The quartermaster came next after the captain in exercising authority over the pirate crew; he was in charge of the men when the ship was not in action. He could punish the men for insubordination and arbitrated minor disputes among the men. The quartermaster usually led the attack and was the first to board the vessel. He was also in charge of food and water supplies.


The sailing master was in charge of navigation. Of course, since charts were often inaccurate or nonexistent, his job was a difficult one. Many sailing masters had been forced into pirate service.


The gunner was in charge of cannon, powder supplies and heavy armaments.


The boatswain supervised the maintenance of the vessel and its supplies of naval stores (tar, pitch and tallow, spare sails, etc.).

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