Punishment for Pirates

The “hempen jig” was the dance of death at the end of the hangman’s hemp rope. This was the fate that awaited pirates who were caught and convicted. For most pirates, though, life at sea was far riskier than hanging. Few pirates were actually brought to justice and often those found guilty were pardoned. Privateers were only ever sent to jail.


Jails were crowded, disease-ridden places. Pirates were often put in chains to prevent them from escaping. William Kidd was forced to wear chains that weighed 7kg. Newgate was the most infamous British prison.


In 1776 Britain had prison ships made from naval ships that were no longer sea-worthy. Conditions for the prisoners onboard were damp and unhealthy.


Hanging was a traditional punishment for pirates. Wooden gallows were specially built for each execution. Hangings were public events and pirates’ last words were recorded and published for the grim enjoyment of the public.


The bodies of executed pirates were often hung from a wooden frame called a gibbet to act as a warning. The corpse would be chained into an iron cage. Pirates feared being measured for the gibbet even more than they feared the hanging itself. William Kidd’s body was exhibited in this way.


Check out books about pirates at your local library!