This series of worksheets looks at the history and culture of pirates of our past. We also look at modern and fictional pirates.

These worksheets begin by introducing the concept of pirates of the sea and we slowly advance on well-known radical seamen that were robber barons. We look at how modern times have been affected by the history of these scoundrels. We also look at how popular culture has immortalized these characters in the form of literature and film. The worksheets below are super diverse. We look at historical pirates in the Jolly Roger, Ching Shih, Blackbeard, Sir Francis Drake. Who does not want to learn to speak like a Pirate? We all do. Many people think that pirates are just a folktale, but they even roam the Earth today.

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Piracy Reading Worksheet

Piracy Reading Worksheet

Piracy is the act of committing robbery or violence on the sea. Historically, piracy has often taken place when a vessel enters a narrow channel, such as the Straits of Gibraltar and Malacca, Madagascar, the Gulf of Aden, and the English Channel.

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Piracy Multiple Choice Worksheet

Piracy Multiple Choice Questions

The oldest known instances of piracy were committed in the 14th century BC by a group of ocean raiders known as the Sea Peoples, who attacked Aegean and Mediterranean ships.

Jolly Roger Worksheet

The Jolly Roger

The flag most associated with pirates, and which identified them as such, was called the Jolly Roger. They sometimes used flags to fool their victims into thinking they were the ship of an ally and not a pirate at all.

Jolly Roger Short Answer Worksheet

The Jolly Roger Short Answer Questions

Who are the first people known to use the skull and crossbones symbol? The earliest known use of the skull and crossbones flag dates back to the Knights Templar, who flew the symbol over the ships of their 13th century naval fleet.

Real Life Pirates Worksheet

Three Real Life Pirates

Sir Frances Drake was considered a pirate by the Spanish, but he was both a privateer and a hero to his native England.

Real Life Pirates Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: Three Real Life Pirates

Henry Morgan is generally considered to be the best-known pirate of the buccaneering era.

Ching Shih Worksheet

Female Chinese Pirate Ching Shih

Under her leadership, the organization grew even stronger and more prosperous. They raided and plundered every town and ship from Macao to Canton.

Ching Shih Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: Female Chinese Pirate Ching Shih

How did the Chinese government eventually get rid of the Red Flag Fleet?

Blackbeard Worksheet

Blackbeard Worksheet

Blackbeard became well known for attacking settlements in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic Coast of North America. His ship was called the Queen Anne’s Revenge. His typical targets were merchant ships, from which he would steal gold, jewelry, coins, food, liquor, and weapons.

Blackbeard Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: Blackbeard

Blackbeard is most infamous for creating a blockade of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina in 1718.

Sir Francis Drake Worksheet

Sir Francis Drake Reading Passage

Seeking revenge, Drake became a privateer, a private citizen under contract with the British government.

Sir Francis Drake Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: Sir Francis Drake

How did Britain's Queen Elizabeth feel about Drake, and how did she show her feelings?

Modern Day Pirates Worksheet

Modern Day Pirates

Piracy has been ongoing well into the early 21st century. Modern pirates have been operating along the Somali coast, which wraps around the Horn of Africa.

Modern Day Pirates Question Worksheet

QUESTIONS: Modern Day Pirates

Many of these pirates were once poor fishermen living in war-torn African countries.

Fictional Pirates Reading Worksheet

Famous Fictional Pirates Reading Worksheet

A memorable fictional pirate is Long John Silver, from the novel Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson. Though fantastical, these movies do offer some aspects of authenticity. They dramatize the superstitions of sailors from hundreds of years ago.

Fictional Pirates Question Worksheet

Famous Fictional Pirates - Short Answer Questions

How was the character of Captain Hook unrealistic?

Golden Age of Piracy Worksheet

The Golden Age of Piracy

In the early 1900s, historians used the term "golden age" to refer to a particular era of pirate history, though they sometimes differed with regard to the beginning and ending dates of such a period.

Golden Age of Piracy Multiple Choice Worksheet

The Golden Age of Piracy Multiple Choice Questions

Today, the Golden Age of Piracy is considered to have begun in the 1650s and ended in the late 1720s, and is further broken down into three distinct periods.

Talk Like a Pirate Day Worksheet

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day is celebrated on September 19th. The holiday is the invention of John Baur and Mark Summers.

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Talk Like a Pirate Day - Short Answer

What famous columnist helped them to promote Talk Like a Pirate Day? Why did they pick September 19th?

What Are Pirates?

Pirate movies are some of the most popular action movies around. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has generated billions in revenue at the box office, and Captain Hook from Peter Pan is perhaps one of the best-known pirates of all time. However, despite their popularity, one thing many people remain confused about is also one of the most basic pirate facts – what, exactly, are they?

Pirates are essentially criminals who attack people and ships on the seas. Most criminal behavior against another person is classified as piracy as long as it takes place on the water and ships are involved. So, illegal activities at sea, like kidnapping and murder, all count as acts of piracy.

They are marauders and thieves of the sea. Traveling on sailing vessels in groups these seamen would attack, seize, and even destroy ships that were in harbors or very near to shore. Historical pirates were also key figures in the slave trade and were well known for smuggling contraband for parts few dare enter. They did not fight for a country or rebellion group they were most on their own. Piracy became such a threat to society that almost all countries viewed the offense to be punishable by death. The earliest known of these types of raiders were from what today is the country of Turkey in 1300 BC they were known as Lukkans.

Though we wish piracy was a distance memory in the twenty-first century we have seen piracy take place in the failed state of Somalia where people, cargo, and full ships were taken hostage. The best way to explain to kids what Pirates are and were is to call them the Bank Robbers of the seas. In the early eighteenth century, the condition of the seas was ripe for the picking and many young men pivoted to piracy as a way of life. This was the time that Blackbeard and Calico Jack became famous. Because of the dangers of their chosen profession most of these raiders were only active for a few years until they met their end.

Pirates in History

They aren’t a modern invention – they’ve been around for thousands of years, likely since the first people started sailing. One famous story about ancient pirates relates to Julius Caesar. 

In 75 BCE, a band of pirates captured a young Julius Caesar, years before he would become a famous Roman general. Instead of being terrified at being kidnapped, Caesar simply told his captors that they had set his ransom too low – and when he was ransomed and released, he raised a naval force, captured them, and had them all killed. 

That said, when people think about pirates, they rarely think about these ancient forms of marauders. There are two main types of pirates people generally think about: Vikings and the pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy.

Vikings

Most people don’t realize it, but while Vikings raided settlements on land, there were also Viking pirates that attacked and raided ships at sea. The primary difference between them and “true” pirates was the fact that they were equal opportunity raiders who did not limit themselves to only attacking when on the high seas.

The Golden Age of Piracy

The Golden Age of Piracy was a period of time that lasted for about 80 years, from about 1650 to 1730. During this time, the conditions in Europe were perfect for allowing piracy to thrive.

During this period, this type of activity was extremely common, and traveling by ship was very dangerous. One of the reasons that piracy could thrive was that young men found that joining a pirate ship offered better conditions and pay than joining the navy or a merchant ship. Additionally, the British Caribbean offered these raiders of the sea a safe haven when they wanted to spend time on shore, so pirates had a place to go when they were tired of life on the sea. 

It was during this era that some of the best-known and most feared pirates were active, including:

  • Captain Kidd
  • Blackbeard
  • Calico Jack Rackham
  • Anne Bonny
  • Mary Read

More pirate-themed movies and TV shows are set during this period of time, including well-known ones like the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and the TV shows Our Flag Means Death and Black Sails

The Golden Age of Piracy declined for a variety of reasons, including the growing strength and ability of the British Royal Navy to attack and capture other ships and the people on them.

Additionally, they often attacked slave ships, freed the enslaved people, and gave them a space on their ships. This impacted profits for slave traders and led to an increased effort to capture them. When the pirates lost the last of the towns (Nassau in the Bahamas) ruled by them, the Golden Age of Piracy was essentially over.

Pirates Today

Though the Golden Age of Piracy ended centuries ago, piracy has not died out completely. Modern piracy causes losses of about $16 billion a year and is especially common in:

  • the Indian Ocean
  • the Strait of Malacca
  • and off the coast of Somalia

Like ancient pirates, today’s forms are often young men who are faced with crushing poverty and turn to piracy as a solution.

Final Thoughts

Pirates were essentially criminals who attacked at sea. There has been this type of activity on the sea for thousands of years, and the first pirates likely started attacking soon after humans began traveling by sea.