Peglegs & Hooks

The pop-culture view of pirates is one of Long John Silver and Captain Hook.  In other words, we view pirates as people with disabilities, but the truth of it is that peglegs and hooks were not common at all among pirates.  A one legged man on board ship would have been a liability.  And a man with one hand would have been a poor skirmisher and probably a worse sailor.  And while people with disabilities have an equal opportunity today, in the Golden Age of Pirates, that was not the case.

Pegleg

ljsThe pegleg was certainly used for people that had lost a limb during the 16th and 17th century.  Made of wood and strapped on with leather, the pegleg gave these people the ability to walk under their own power.  But peglegs on on pirates is kind of a bad idea.  Plus, leg removal was rare and people surviving leg removals was even rarer.  But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that a pirate losses his leg, it is removed by the ships carpenter (usually the person that filled in for the surgeon on pirate vessels)  and that pirate survives and gets a pegleg.They are the one out of a million that avoids the serious infection that i guarantee they were going to get.

Now, Pegleg Pete is on board ship.  He cannot work in the rigging.  He cannot fight in ship-to-ship combat.  He might be able to work as cook (a la Long John Silvers) but that would mean that the ship had a cook and most of them did not.  Plus even the cook would have been required to fight.  Peglegs on ship would not have worked.  It is a bad idea, plus a wooden pegleg in the salt air and the sea water would have spread infection and potentially it would have rotted.

Hook

petterpansetHook1Much like the missing leg, the pirate with a missing hand would have served very few purposes on ship.  The missing hand would have excluded the pirate from working in the rigging.  The missing hand would have made it impossible for him to be as effective in combat.  And again you have the problem of the removal of the hand itself.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say that he lost the hand, got it removed, survived the surgery and then had it replaced by a hook.

Mr Hook (not gonna make him a captain yet) is expected to work on the ship – the missing hand makes climbing the rigging impossible.  Lifting the canon balls during battle or swabbing out the same canon is very difficult without the other hand.  Even swabbing the deck becomes almost impossible.  Then there is the idea of attacking another ship.  When he swings onto the other ship, he can only attack one target at a time.  The one-hand pirate is going to be very ineffective as a sailor and a warrior.

Now, all of that being said, if you can figure out a pegleg for your pirate garb then go for it.  It looks great and it is certainly piratey.  And there are plenty of people that do the hook-thing at the various faires.  Two things to remember when you try for either one of these things:

  1. If you have your leg tied up behind you, watch it when you sit down.  Breaking your leg while pretending to not have a leg is ironic but bad.
  2. If you have the hook – DON’T SCRATCH YOUR EYE!