Plot Twist: The Most Famous Fictional Pirate Was Real

By | June 18, 2019

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With a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder, Long John Silver set the standard for literary pirates. Source: (

When Robert Louis Stevenson published his swashbuckling novel, Treasure Island, in 1883, his descriptions of Long John Silver set the bar for all literary and film pirates to come. It was Stevenson’s character that gave us such pirate tropes as a shoulder parrot, wooden peg leg, and a chest of buried treasure. Nearly every pirate novels, movies, and TV shows since then have included some elements of the fictional Long John Silver. But recent research seems to show that Stevenson modeled his treacherous rogue after real-life pirates…two Welsh brothers. Let’s compare these brothers with the Treasure Island character, Long John Silver. 

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Robert Newton (1905-1956), British actor, as Long John Silver, aiming a musket beside an open treasure chest, in a publicity portrait issued for the film, 'Treasure Island', 1950. Source: (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Who was Stevenson’s Famous Pirate?

In the novel, Treasure Island, Long John Silver was the ship’s cook, but he had a secret. He was really the leader of a band of ruthless pirates. He was an all-around terrible guy. He was a greedy, lying cutthroat who with impressive strength and determination. He would fight to the end with every ounce of his being just as easily as he would stab a friend in the back. He was a powerful personality. Stevenson wrote him to be vicious, mean-spirited, and malicious, yet he had a soft spot in his heart for the protagonist of Treasure Island, the enthusiastic young Jim Hawkins.