Blackbeard in North Carolina: Famous pirate is now tourism draw
This guy look familiar? Carl Cannon dresses as Blackbeard for various events in the coastal North Carolina town of Beaufort. Cannon is featured in a hologram at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort. He also heads a “crew” of pirate re-enactors and organizes Beaufort’s annual Pirate Invasion festival, Sept. 19-20 this year.
Pirates are a popular tourist draw up and down the Carolina coast; in the early 1700s, Blackbeard was the most famous of the many pirates in the area.
Large pirate festivals are staged from Charleston, South Carolina, to the Chesapeake Bay.
This bar and restaurant on the Cape Fear River in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, celebrates Anne Bonny, a famed female pirate who was also the consort of the notorious “Calico Jack” Rackham.
But 2018 is all about Blackbeard, who met his end in the shallow waters off North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island on Nov. 22, 1718.
Also in the limelight, though to a lesser extent, is Stede Bonnet, “the Gentleman Pirate,” who worked with Blackbeard. Bonnet was executed in December 1718 in Charleston.
Legends far outnumber facts when it comes to Blackbeard, who died in shallow waters off Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. His head was cut off during a battle with out-of-state authorities.
North Carolina considers Blackbeard a native son. He is thought to have lived in Bath, a waterfront town that the pirate frequented.
Tiny Bath was the capital of the rough-and-tumble colony of North Carolina in the early 1700s. Colonial buildings that remain, however, were built decades after Blackbeard’s demise.
The view of Pamlico Sound from Bath is pastoral.
In Beaufort, the compact, state-owned NC Maritime Museum covers coastal ecology and more, but the 400-some Blackbeard items there are the main draw.
The small-arms display at the NC Maritime Museum's Queen Anne's Revenge exhibit in Beaufort features period pieces, replicas and actual artifacts from the sunken vessel just off of the Crystal Coast of Carteret County.
Queen Anne's Revenge items on display at the museum range from small personal objects to a heavy bell and a cannon.
Museum exhibits curator Michael Carroway says iron and pewter objects predominate in the collection because they were “concretized” – protected in a hard lime-sand coating over centuries underwater. That doesn’t tend to happen, Carroway says, with anything lead. Or gold.
You need to take a state-owned car ferry to get to Ocracoke Island from a mainland dock at Swan Quarter or Cedar Island. The voyage takes more than an hour to cross Pamlico Sound; the ships must move slowly to avoid encountering submerged sandbars.
Ocracoke Island is now owned by the National Park Service – except for the 4-square-mile vacation-oriented village of Ocracoke. Blackbeard’s legacy is part of the appeal. Garick Kalna owns the 1718 craft brewery there. The name reflects the year Blackbeard died; the speared heart on the brewery logo is adapted from the flag the pirate is said to have used.
Chip Stevens and his wife, Helena, own Blackbeard’s Lodge in the village of Ocracoke. They bought the rambling 1936 hotel -- built by his maternal ancestors – in 2007 and run it as a B&B.
Chip Stevens has a life-size statue of a Blackbeard-looking pirate in the lobby of his inn. Guests frequently ask what happened to Blackbeard’s treasure.
South of the village, high ground now owned by the Nature Conservancy leads to views of the bay where Blackbeard met his end.
The Nature Conservancy’s Springer’s Point Preserve is a different matter, Stevens says. It has been long thought that treasure might be buried there. It was deeded to the Nature Conservancy with the stipulation that anything discovered there would be shared with the grantor’s heirs.
Chip Stevens notes that “Booty was more often hijacked cargo – finished goods, wine and slaves – that could easily be resold, no questions asked.” But that valuable treasure never found includes the anchor cut from Blackbeard’s final ship. Also: “Casks of merchandise may still be buried somewhere.”
By custom and law, discoveries are usually finders keepers. In the Blackbeard’s Lodge lobby is a piece of wood from the Carol A. Deering, a five-master that went down in 1921. Pieces of the crewless “ghost ship” washed ashore at Ocracoke.
The preserve holds a boarded well, one of the few places in colonial days where mariners could find fresh water on Ocracoke Island.
The ancient well area may have been a likely place for Blackbeard’s crew to bury items.
Close to the well is where millionaire Sam Jones is buried. He bought Springer’s Point in the 1940s with hopes of finding treasure. His estate deeded the land to the Nature Conservancy.
The grave next to Jones is occupied by his horse, which locals say he treated like a house pet.
Innkeeper Chip Stevens is not a Jones heir. But he can roll out a genealogy chart showing one ancestor was William Howard – Blackbeard’s quartermaster, who had received a pardon and escaped the noose, and had enough capital to later buy all of Ocracoke Island.
The most current and comprehensive book about Blackbeard, his career and his crew is “The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate,” by North Carolina author Kevin Duffus.