But when September 19 rolls around, men imitating one voice are heard on NPR. The pirate accent, famed on stage and screen (and rock opera), is the product of one man, Robert Newton, a distinguished British actor. His scenery-chewing performance in 1950’s Treasure Island resonates years after the rest of his career has largely been forgotten. One day, a parrot, an eyepatch, and a parody of Newton’s burlesque of a Cornish accent may not serve as an emergency Halloween costume, but perhaps Newton’s contribution to world culture will last as long as that of the ancient Greek lyric poet pirates like best. Arr.

When Marcus Rediker of the University of Pittsburgh decided to write a book about the golden age of Atlantic piracy, he chose the title with care. Villains of All Nations is the story of a brawling, violent culture, where life was cheap but the maimed received pensions, where infractions could be punished by summary execution but the captains were chosen by the crew (a radical doctrine that inspires swooning among anarchist visionaries to this day). They were of all nations; Rediker makes a convincing case that the astounding levels of institutionalized (and frequently rewarded) sadism of the average eighteenth-century naval vessel, no matter what flag it flew under, made piracy an attractive option for the average sailor. Pirates didn’t need press gangs (although they used them; "Black Bart" Roberts, the most successful pirate of his day, had been third mate on a slave vessel before it was captured by Howell Davis and he was offered the Articles or the plank). The wickedest city in the West, Port Royal, swelled with Dutch and English sailors, Frenchmen, Spaniards, an occasional escaped African slave. Bartholomew Roberts, William Lewis, and Henry Morgan (who led a gigantic pirate fleet to burn Panama City to the ground before entering into a fitfully successful political career that would lead to his name one day gracing America’s most popular rum) were all Welshmen.

But when September 19 rolls around, men imitating one voice are heard on NPR. The pirate accent, famed on stage and screen (and rock opera), is the product of one man, Robert Newton, a distinguished British actor. His scenery-chewing performance in 1950’s Treasure Island resonates years after the rest of his career has largely been forgotten. One day, a parrot, an eyepatch, and a parody of Newton’s burlesque of a Cornish accent may not serve as an emergency Halloween costume, but perhaps Newton’s contribution to world culture will last as long as that of the ancient Greek lyric poet pirates like best. Arr.