Matelotage (French for "seamanship") was a same-sex civil union amongst European sailors, in particular pirates, in the 17th and 18th century. An economic partnership, "matelots" would agree to share their incomes, and inherit their partner's property in the case of their death.[1] In addition, they would pledge to protect and fight alongside each other in battle and otherwise act in the other's interest.

While often interpreted as a platonic form of mutual insurance, many historians believe that matelotage would be much more accurately comparable to same-sex marriage.[2][3] In the male-dominated world of piracy, homosexuality was common. A union such as matelotage may have acted as a manner of validating relationships that would otherwise have been considered against contemporary societal norms. One often-cited instance of matelotage as a romantic rather than economic union is that of John Swann and Robert Culliford, pirates in the Indian Ocean during the late 17th century. Their appearance in British records represents one of the few written sources of the practice. Beyond the documentation of their union, Swann was referred to as "a great consort of Culliford's, who lives with him."[4]

Another allusion to matelotage's true significance was the disapproval it was shown by colonial authorities. For example, in 1645, Governor of the colony of Tortuga, Jean Le Vasseur, requested to the French government that female prostitutes be sent to the island, supposedly in order to deter matelotage among the buccaneers.[5]


  1. ^ Leeson, Peter T. (2009). "1. The Invisible Hook". The Invisible Hook. Princeton University Press. pp. 1–22. doi:10.1515/9781400829866-003. ISBN 978-1-4008-2986-6. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  2. ^ Burg, B. R. (1995). Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition : English Sea Rovers in the Seventeenth-Century Caribbean (Second ed.). New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-3922-8. OCLC 1242730027.
  3. ^ Turley, Hans (1999). Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Piracy, Sexuality, and Masculine Identity. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 9780814738429.
  4. ^ Headlam, Cecil, ed. (1908). Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series: America and West Indies, 1724-25, Preserved in the Public Record Office. p. 289. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  5. ^ Milne, Andrew (2020-08-01). "Did Pirates Really Practice A Form Of Gay Marriage In The 1600s?". All That's Interesting. Retrieved 2021-03-23.