I’ve never tried to shave on a seaborne galleon, but I assume it’s not the easiest thing to do. That might be why you see a lot of pirates depicted in paintings, illustrations, or woodcuts as being bearded (or at least mustachioed). Certainly, there were a ton of pirates with chin scruff, but only a few that were truly epic. You’ve got to remember, too, that these pirates managed to crop fantastic manes without the use of beard oil, beard balm, or even regular trips to the barbar. So these were some true achievements in beardmanship.
4. Blackbeard (Edward Teach)
Let’s go ahead and get the obvious one out of the way. Captain Teach was better known as Blackbeard, and he was, without question, the scariest son of a bitch ever to step foot on a boat. Other than his tendency to shoot first and ask questions never, Blackbeard’s terrifying persona was a carefully crafted stage presence. He liked to secure canon fuses under his hat and light them when in combat, so that his head was wreathed in flame and smoke. When you’re already on edge because you’re in battle with a few dozen pirates, seeing what looks like the devil himself coming at you is bound to leave your pantaloons a lot heavier.
His beard is, of course, known to be epic. He is the only pirate, and maybe one of history’s only figures, who is best known for his beard. I mean, you know that Abraham Lincoln had a beard, but no one calls him President Beard. All bearded pirates must bow to their king, and we give him the first mention on our list.
3. Henry Morgan
Other than lending his visage and part of his mythos to one of history’s greatest rums, Captain Morgan actually had one hell of a career. He’s one of the few famous pirates who retired from piracy and went on to live a long, comfortable life, dying in his bed at 55 (practically ancient for 1688). He began his career by plundering two major port towns in the Caribbean and Mexico, which if you have ever played Sid Meier’s Pirates! you know is a hell of a way to start your career. We was later appointed as a privateer and won not only glory in battle against the Spanish, but a government position in Jamaica.
Despite having more than dabbled in piracy in his life, Morgan was known to be a decent enough guy. When a book was published detailing his exploits, and characterizing them as horrific and cruel, he actually sued the publishers and won a retraction and a 100 pound settlement (which I think was about a trillion pounds, accounting for inflation). His reputation was important to him, and when he died of tuberculosis in 1688, it was pretty secure as a legendary gentleman pirate.
He’s commonly depicted as having a bit of a curly, dandy mustache, but images exist depicting him as having been nicely bearded in his younger days. The more famous images are likely from a bit later in his life, when he had retired to political life in Jamaica.
2. The Barbarossa Brothers
You’ve heard of these two, but you probably know them by other names. They’re commonly referred to as the Barbary Pirates, but if you’ve ever heard of the pirate Redbeard, that’s these guys, too. Aruj and Hizir were two Greek brothers who not only preceded the golden age of piracy by more than a century (active in the early 14th), but were unbelievably good at it. They looted countless merchant and military vessels in the Mediterranean. Aruj actually killed the sultan of Algeria, conquering the territory and much of the land surrounding the North African Sea. The brothers built fortresses to defend their holdings, and after Aruj died in a Spanish uprising, Hizir took over and ruled as Sultan for many years.
Aruj was known as Baba Oruç (meaning Papa Aruj), but this sounded like Barbarossa to the Europeans, who assumed that this was his nickname because of his red beard. While that may not have been correct, the nickname stuck. After Aruj’s death, the nickname passed to Hizir, and thus their legacy as the Redbeard Brothers.
1. Turgut Reis
Also known as Dragut (because history isn’t keen on adhering to only one spelling), this guy was one of the most influential men in the Turkish expansion into North Africa. He was a naval commander and privateer who wrecked some ass in the Mediterranean for quite some time. He was appointed some lofty military and political positions, and is a key luminary in Turkish history.
But all that aside, let’s talk about this beard. This is the sort of beard you’d expect a Sultan to have, especially if your knowledge of them is based chiefly on Aladdin. The shape and fullness of the thing are epic, and this is in a time before beard oils and beard balms could help with that sort of thing. If he used oil at all, he’d probably have been coating it in olive oil, which is not the worst thing to coat your beard in, but also a fairly primitive method. Nature gave this bastard a beautiful beard, and it’s hard to believe his success in life wasn’t at least a little influenced by it.
Honorable Mention Mustache
Scouring the history books for pirate beards is not nearly as easy as finding pirates with some sweet mustaches. Come to think of it, that probably warrants an article of its own (I’ll get to work on that later). There were far more pirates with ‘staches than pirates without, which actually makes picking the best of the lot much trickier.
Just kidding, it’s Black Bart.
Bartholomew Roberts (Black Bart to his friends and enemies alike) is depicted with so many looks that it’s hard to know exactly what he looked like. But all depictions seem to agree on one thing . . .
. . . and that is, dude had a kickass ‘stache.
There’s no way to know what kind of work he put into it. He may have used a mustache wax, or just kept it nicely trimmed. Like I said, we can’t even be completely certain what he looked like (that second picture there looks more like the western outlaw Black Bart, and is likely modeled after him). But if history only remembers one thing about your appearance, and that’s that you rocked the ‘stache, then it must have truly been the stuff of legends.