Arrrrrgh! Party With Pirates This Weekend!
Pirate lore has been synonymous with the Outer Banks for centuries. It’s as deeply ingrained in our collective memory as the sand and salt air. North Carolina lays claim to some of the most infamous pirates the world has ever known, and our coastal culture is filled with legends about their adventures on our shores.
The thing about pirates, though, is that just about everything you think you know about them…probably only half true. Oral history is like a centuries-long game of Telephone. If people can’t keep one phrase straight for a couple of minutes, how could they keep all the details of a sensational story completely accurate for hundred of years?
Plus, the truth is boring.
Blackbeard was tall, had long hair, and a beard. Bor-ing.
Let’s try again:
Blackbeard towered over everyone (because he was exceptionally taller than average for the time period), had long black hair and a black beard that made him look like the Devil when he tied burning rope into them (men of that time period rarely wore their hair long or had facial hair – different is scary!). He carried pistols and knives that had the faces of demons engraved on the handles, dressed in all black, and spoke with a booming, authoritative cadence.
Much more interesting, and still true! Mostly.
Blackbeard relied on perception – and storytelling – to do most of his pirating for him.
By the early 1700s, during what is referred to as the Golden Age of Piracy, Blackbeard’s reputation began to precede him. Once a merchant realized who was hijacking his ship he was a lot less likely to try and evade or fight back – the cargo was not worth the wrath of the mighty Blackbeard. Things rarely escalated to the point of violence and all of those people Blackbeard supposedly killed? There’s no record of him ever killing anyone who he held captive.
Blackbeard’s “reign of terror” only lasted a few years. He was killed in 1718 at the age of 38(ish), but he’d only been the captain of his own ship for about a year at that point. He pulled off some pretty amazing stunts during that brief time (like blockading the port of Charleston until he was given the medical supplies he required), but so much of what we know about Blackbeard comes from stories passed down from generation to generation.
In 1718, Blackbeard and crew were anchored in Ocracoke. Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood was able to ascertain their location, ordered Blackbeard captured or killed, and gave Lieutenant Robert Maynard command of two sloops and 57 men. Maynard was able to sneak up on the pirates and a mighty battle ensued. Blackbeard was shot and stabbed multiple times, but only died after having his head chopped off. And even then, legend has it that Blackbeard’s headless body swam around the ship a few times before actually sinking.
Maybe the current picked up his body, causing it to seem like he was still alive and swimming. Maybe those who witnessed it were not thinking clearly due to the chaos of the battle. Maybe it was dark, and they couldn’t see anything. Or maybe Blackbeard’s headless body really did swim around the ship before he finally died.
Sometimes the story is better than the truth.
The Blackbeard Pirate Jamboree will celebrate these legends and more, October 30-November 1 on Ocracoke Island – a great way to spend your Halloween. Pirate costumes are encouraged!
The jamboree will feature an authentic pirate encampment manned by members of Blackbeard’s Crew, a living history group from Hampton, VA. They’ll engage visitors with storytelling, singing, black powder demonstrations, sword fights, navigation, and more. Kids can attend “Scallywag School” and learn skills needed to become a real pirate. There will also be vendors, great food and drink, and special trick-or-treating opportunities for the kids.
At 1pm on Saturday there will be a reenactment of Blackbeard’s last stand in Silver Lake harbor, complete with three tall ships. Watch the fierce ship-to-ship battle that determined Blackbeard’s fate.
Cannons will boom!