Parrots and Pirates

I know you have all seen the iconic shots from the movie Treasure Island of Long John Silvers and his parrot Polly.  And though I hate to burst bubbles, this is yet another myth about pirate.  They may have had parrots on board but the likely hood of one of the pirates training one and keeping it as a pet on board ship is slim to none.

The Truth

Pirates did transport exotic pets: parrots, monkeys, etc.  All manner of animals found their way onto the deck and below decks of a pirate ship.  You see, pirates were business men.  They knew that it was important to have a cargo load of goods that they could sale when they got back to port.  When pirates from the Old World got the the New World they saw a lot of new animals that they had not seen before.  In the islands of the Caribbean they found parrots and monkeys in large supply.  Some industrious pirate thought that these animals might become all the rage in Europe and they took a load of animals back across the Atlantic.  All of a sudden the pirates had a new trade – the animal trade.  This is why the image of the pirate was tied so heavily to the parrot.

Imagine if you will, Danial DeFoe (author of Robinson Crusoe), the first time that he steps foot on a pirate ship.  He sees all manner of man and he notices this beautiful plumage on a parrot that came from South America.  He asks about the bird and is told that the bird is the pet, the mascot of the ship by the pirate captain that is trying to impress the rich Englishman.  Little did DeFoe know that below decks there was a menagerie waiting to be seen or that the pirates had just off loaded every other animal on board.  Pirates, during the Golden Age of Piracy made quite a pretty penny selling their animals in every port.

The Myth
From the time that Robert Louis Stevenson penned Treasure Island, the concept of pirates having a pet parrot on ship has been ingrained into our pop-cultural societal mind-set when it comes to pirates.  Long John Silver and many other pirates in movies and on the written page have been tagged and pictured with parrots over the years.  In more modern times, Captain Barbosa in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies has a monkey on board ship.  And though undead monkeys would not have been common, the average monkey might have been on ship to have been sold later.

Parrots and monkeys, possibly even something like lizards and other critters certainly found their way onto pirate ships and though they might have been a pet for a time they would have been sold at the first sight of silver instead of remaining on board as a pet.