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Pirates: on the bleeding edge of HR practices in the 1700’s

Posted by Kathi Chenoweth on April 2, 2009


treasureI recently attended the Real Pirates exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago.  The exhibit tells the story of the ship Whydah, from it’s beginnings as a slave ship to it’s days as a pirate ship.

One section of the exhibit discussed the pirate “recruiting techniques”.  Apparently for the non-pirate ships, the work was grueling and the pay was bad.  Enter the pirates, with larger crews, the promise an equal share of the bounty, and all the rum you care to drink!  Brilliant recruiting techniques, aren’t they? And what a way to ensure employee engagement!

It wasn’t all fun and games.   Injured limbs were cut off without anesthesia, and if there was no doctor on board, the carpenter was called into action.  It scares me to think of the carpenters working at my house having to perform a medical procedure…..but what a versatile skillset!

As an early form of disability pay, a pirate received extra share of the bounty based on injuries or loss of limbs.

Pirate crews also had diversity before diversity was cool.  A single crew mixed men from Europe, North America, Native Americans, and Africans (many escaping slavery).  This naturally made me curious about women pirates– and a quick Google search found a few.  Two in particular are rumored to have dressed as men to be accepted (thus paving the way for the 80’s trends in women’s business attire).

The punishment for piracy was death by hanging.  Good news for our financial industry that this one did not carry forward to modern times.

2 Responses to “Pirates: on the bleeding edge of HR practices in the 1700’s”

  1. Meg Bear said

    thanks for covering the womens angle as well — awesome ;-)

  2. Mary Lou Case said

    Were you married to Larry? I was in his 7:30 AM American history course at SJS while he was finishing his PhD at UC Berkley. Wanted to talk with him about his book, The American Dream of Success.
    Blessings,
    Mary Lou, Scottsdale, AZ

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