Wyeth, Long John Silver leading Jim Hawkins, 1911
Ever since Long John Silver clomped around on a wooden leg with a parrot on his shoulder, the literary and pop-culture conception of pirates has involved the parrot. But at this point, fact is very hard to separate from fiction. What, exactly, about a classic pirate Halloween costume—the parrot, the peg leg, the eyepatch, the bandana, the snarling vaguely Scottish accent—is actually real? Is any of it real?
“The parrot trope is almost certainly grounded in reality,” says Colin Woodard, author of The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Long John Silver, the star of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, was the first major fictional pirate character to walk around with a pet parrot, but this, according to Woodard and other experts in the field of classic piracy I spoke to, was based on real truths. And the reasons why the parrot became associated with pirates actually give us a pretty good glimpse at the real, true-life existence of a pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy.