Keelhauling was a brutal form of punishment used by pirates during the Golden Age of piracy. It involved dragging the offender under the ship’s hull from one side to the other, often resulting in severe injuries or death.
The process of keelhauling involved tying the offender to a rope or line and then dragging them under the ship from one side to the other. The offender would be scraped along the barnacle-covered hull of the ship, causing cuts, bruises, and sometimes even broken bones. If the offender was lucky enough to survive the ordeal, they would often be left with permanent scars.
Keelhauling was typically used for serious offenses such as theft, mutiny, or desertion. The punishment was often carried out in public, with the crew forced to watch as a warning against disobedience.
William Kidd Keelhauling
One of the most famous instances of keelhauling occurred in 1699 when Captain William Kidd punished a crew member named William Moore for insubordination. Moore was keelhauled twice and was left badly injured and disfigured. He died a few days later from his injuries.
Charles Vane Keelhauling
Another notorious keelhauling occurred in 1718 when the pirate captain Charles Vane punished one of his crew members named John Rackham for stealing from him. Rackham was keelhauled and left with severe injuries, including a broken collarbone.
Keelhauling was eventually abolished as a form of punishment in most navies by the mid-19th century, including the British Royal Navy in 1853. However, it continued to be used by some pirate crews well into the 19th century.
The use of keelhauling by pirates was often exaggerated in popular culture, but it remains a testament to the brutal and violent nature of piracy during the Golden Age.
- Rediker, M. (2004). Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age. Beacon Press.
- Woodard, C. (2007). The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Houghton Mifflin.