Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's
Chest Pirate Song
The most famous words are
from the first four lines of this pirate song are :
Fifteen men on a dead man's chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
The Robert Louis Stevenson
novel "Treasure Island" was published in 1883.
The words and lyrics of
the first line of the pirate song "Fifteen men on a dead man's chest"
are explainable. Dead Man's Chest is a tiny island that forms part of
the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Pirate legends of the
Caribbean claim that the notorious pirate, Edward Teach ( Blackbeard ),
marooned 15 of his pirate crew on 'Dead Man's Chest' as a punishment for
their mutiny and desertion. All pirates had their own Pirate Code of Conduct .
Article VII of the Pirate Code agreed by Bartholomew Roberts ( Black
Bart ) and his pirate crew in the Shipboard Articles of 1721 stated:
He that shall desert the ship or his
quarters in time of battle
shall be punished by death or marooning
The Pirate Code of Blackbeard stated that each pirate who was marooned
should be given a cutlass and a bottle of rum. The scenes in the movie 'Pirates of the Caribbean' were therefore based
on fact. The pirate hero, Captain Jack Sparrow, was given a pistol
instead of a cutlass when he was marooned by his pirate shipmates.
The Pirate Song Tradition
The custom of singing, or
chanting, various Pirate Songs was an extremely important part in life
of a pirate. The pirate song was sung, or chanted, to accompany the hard
and sometimes tedious tasks that had to be performed as part of the
daily tasks of pirates. A pirate song would have been chanted, rather
than sung, and the words of the chorus would have accompanied a heave or
pull for a task such as raising the anchor on the pirate ship. The
Pirate song was known as a sea shanty. The tradition of the pirate song
raised morale, encouraged team work amongst the pirates, and gave them
the opportunity to express mutinous sentiments.
The Pirate Song - the Sea
The term 'Sea Shanty'
might originate from the French worded 'chanter' meaning to sing
resulting in the chanty or shanty. However, the pirate song was chanted,
rather than sung so this might also have been associated with the
meaning. There were different kinds of pirate song or sea shanties.
Shanty' or pirate song accompanied raising the anchor of the
The 'Short Drag
Shanty' or pirate song accompanied raising the masthead or
trimming the sails of the pirate ship
Shanty' or pirate song accompanied raising the heavy sails
of the pirate ship ( Sails hung from wooden cross-pieces
called yards - thus haul -yards or the Halyard shanty
Shanty' or pirate song also accompanied raising the anchor
of the pirate ship
Shanty' or pirate song accompanied pumping out the water,
emptying the bilge
Shanty' or pirate song was sung in the quarters of the
pirate crews. The appropriate pronunciation for this word is
fo'ksul. The forecastle is the forward part of the main deck
Shanty' or pirate song were sung pirate ship to celebrate
victories or great accomplishments during the voyage of the
The Pirate Song - the
Chantyman or Chanter
The Pirate Song, or sea
shanty, was lead by a 'chantyman' or 'chanter' who chanted the words of
the pirate song while the pirates performed an arduous task. The pirates
joined in with the chorus of the pirate song by shouting the well known
chorus lyrics back. The importance of the 'chantyman' is once again
highlighted in the Pirate Code agreed by Bartholomew Roberts ( Black
Bart ) and his pirate crew. Article XI stated:
"The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath
Day only by right.
The Pirate Song
On all other days by favour only."
The words and lyrics of
the actual 'Pirate Song' are as follows:
The Pirate Song
To the mast nail our flag it is dark as the grave,
Or the death which it bears while it sweeps o'er the wave;
Let our deck clear for action, our guns be prepared;
Be the boarding-axe sharpened, the scimetar bared:
Set the canisters ready, and then bring to me,
For the last of my duties, the powder-room key.
It shall never be lowered, the black flag we bear;
If the sea be denied us, we sweep through the air.
Unshared have we left our last victory's prey;
It is mine to divide it, and yours to obey:
There are shawls that might suit a sultana's white neck,
And pearls that are fair as the arms they will deck.
There are flasks which, unseal them, the air will disclose
Diametta's fair summers, the home of the rose.
I claim not a portion: I ask but as mine
'Tis to drink to our victory - one cup of red wine.
Some fight, 'tis for riches - some fight, 'tis for fame:
The first I despise, and the last is a name.
I fight, 'tis for vengeance. I love to see flow,
At the stroke of my sabre, the life of my foe.
I strike for the memory of long-vanished years;
I only shed blood where another shed tears,
I come, as the lightning comes red from above,
O'er the race that I loathe, to the battle I love.