In the early 18th century, while sailing to Port Royal, Jamaica, Governor Weatherby Swann, his daughter Elizabeth, and Lieutenant James Norrington encounter a shipwreck and recover a boy, Will Turner. Elizabeth discovers a golden pirate medallion around his neck, keeping it in order to protect him. Elizabeth sees a ghost ship vanish into the fog.
Eight years later, Norrington is promoted to Commodore and proposes to Elizabeth, but her corset makes her faint and fall into the sea and activate the medallion. Captain Jack Sparrow comes to Port Royal to commandeer a ship, and rescues her. Norrington identifies Jack, and a chase ensues. Jack encounters Will, now a blacksmith and swordsman. They duel, and Jack is captured and imprisoned.
That night, the Black Pearl, which Elizabeth saw as a child, attacks Port Royal searching for the medallion. The crew of the Black Pearl capture Elizabeth, taking her to meet Captain Barbossa for negotiations. Elizabeth claims her last name is Turner, to conceal her identity as the governor’s daughter, but Barbossa takes her prisoner. Elizabeth learns that after Barbossa’s crew took the cursed treasure of Cortés from Isla de Muerta, they were forced to bear the curse of undeath; they appear as heavily decomposed corpses in moonlight. To lift the curse, they need to return all 882 gold pieces with the blood of the owner of each piece. Elizabeth’s medallion is the final piece.
Will Turner frees Jack to rescue Elizabeth, whom he is in love with. Jack agrees upon learning Will’s surname. The two commandeer the HMS Interceptor and head for Tortuga to recruit a crew, including Jack’s friend Joshamee Gibbs. Jack reveals that Will’s father “Bootstrap” Bill Turner was a pirate, who was thrown overboard while tied by his bootstraps to a cannonball. Gibbs tells Will that Jack was captain of the Black Pearl until Barbossa mutinied and marooned him. At Isla de Muerta, Will and Jack witness Barbossa sacrificing Elizabeth’s blood and the final gold piece. The curse is not lifted because the medallion belonged to Bootstrap Bill, making Will the owner by bloodline. Will rescues Elizabeth and brings her to the Interceptor, while Jack is captured by Barbossa and his crew and gets locked in the brig of the Black Pearl.
The Pearl pursues the Interceptor, taking the crew hostage and destroying the ship. Will makes a deal with Barbossa to release Elizabeth in exchange for his blood, but Barbossa exploits a loophole in the agreement, marooning Jack and Elizabeth on the island Jack was left on before. Elizabeth makes a smoke signal, and Commodore Norrington brings the HMS Dauntless to rescue Elizabeth and arrest Jack. Elizabeth requests Norrington to return for Will, convincing him by accepting his marriage proposal.