Not only pirates
Pirates knew that their dashing life could end at any moment, and therefore did not limit themselves to carnal joys. When you live one day, social boundaries become a burden.
The European community of the 17th-18th centuries was militantly opposed to male homosexuality: gays were called “sodomites” and “homosexuals.” Theoretically, same-sex relationships could even lead to the death penalty, although in practice this almost never happened.
The funny thing is that same-sex love was often associated with the elite – those to whom, as they say, “the law is not written.” But, judging by the severity of the laws, there was something to fight. Here is what the Reverend John Flavel wrote about sailors to the merchant John Lovering: “To kill their passions is the surest way to revive your trade.” On ships, where for many months men were only in the company of other men, a love affair was almost inevitable.
But the pirates, who were already far from a moral lifestyle, did not see anything shameful in same-sex unions, and if such unions were secret in the navy, the pirates did not hide their actions.
The term comes from the French “sailor”, from the same word later came the English “mate” – companion, comrade. It meant a connection between two pirates – in fact, marriage.
This practice was very common among pirates. In the XVII-XVIII centuries, it was not only romantic, but also social and economic. The property was common to both partners, after the death of one of them, the second inherited everything. When the men of the French filibuster François Olone seized the coast of Veneuel in 1666, the captain made sure that all the “matelots” of the dead pirates received their share of the spoils.
Mathelotage was optional, meaning pirates could choose not to engage in such relationships if they didn’t want to.
Sometimes it even included a formal ceremony with a feast and an exchange of rings. Usually one of the partners was much older than the second, who could even be a teenager, since quite young men also got on pirate ships. The pirate captain Robert Culliford had a “wonderful companion” John Swan who lived with him.
Passions boil: jealousy and women
In 1645, on the island of Tortuga, which served as a real den for pirates and corsairs, matellotage was so widespread that the French governor even sent a group of prostitutes there, hoping that the presence of women would return the pirates to the mainstream of heterosexuality. It wasn’t there. The robbers accepted the corrupt women favorably, but this did not force them to abandon their “matelots”. Moreover, they divided the wives “brotherly”: according to the principle “all mine is yours.”
However, the pirates were hot people, so there were outbursts of jealousy. Bartholomew Roberts, better known as Blackbeard, forbade taking both boys and women on his ship so that the robbers would think about work, and not about entertainment.
Apparently, the “gentlemen of fortune”, despite their criminal activities, were not devoid of empathy and romantic aspirations.