going upon the <account> which was a sea term for a pirate

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Senior Member
Hi folks,
this is cited from Captain Singleton by Defoe.

whether the Portuguese seamen, by faltering in their account,
made them suspect that we were out upon the cruise, or whether they
told it in plain English or no (for they all spoke English enough to
be understood), but so it was, that as soon as ever the men carried the
news on board, that the ships which lay by to the eastward were English,
and that they were going upon the _account_, which, by they way, was a
sea term for a pirate;
say, as soon as ever they heard it, they went
to work, and getting all things ready in the night, their chests and
clothes, and whatever else they could, they came away before it was day,
and came up with us about seven o'clock.

(my question: I did not find what it meant. Word account means piracy for a pirate? Or only a sea term? Where they were going? Upon the account??
or it means "they were going by hearsay"?
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    According to the OED entry it is punctuated like this:
    The ships which lay by to the eastward were English, and..they were going upon the account, which by the Way, was a Sea Term for a Pyrate.

    Here are the OED's other examples:

    1822 Scott Pirate II. ii. 30 Their ships, I suppose, were clumsy enough; but if it is true that they went upon the account as far as the Levant, I scarce believe that ever better fellows unloosed a top-sail.
    1929 New Eng. Q. 2 658 One reads here first-hand accounts of adventure with the gentlemen who sailed ‘on the account’.
    2004 M. Rediker Villains of all Nations ii. 37 He did not know..that the next ten years would be a ‘golden age’ of piracy. He did not know that thousands of people would go ‘upon the account’.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    USA - English
    And there teddy has given you your answer. The phrase "on the account" is a euphemism for acting as a pirate. When Defoe says the ships were "going on the account" it means that the ships were planning on being pirate ships. By "sea term", Defoe means that this is sailor slang, or sailor jargon.
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