Pirate Pursuits

Searching for Blackbeard and Calico Jack along the Carolina shores.

During the Golden Age of Piracy from the 1650s to the 1730s, pirates were a menace on the high seas and around popular ports of call. Stories of their horrific crimes — ranging from looting to murdering — circulated the globe.

Infamous pirates such as Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Stede Bonnet, Jack Rackham (Calico Jack), Capt. William Kidd and others spent time on the coast of the Carolinas. Blackbeard, who held the city of Charles Town (Charleston) hostage as he waited for the arrival of his medicines, was killed in a battle led by British Royal Navy Lt. Robert Maynard off Ocracoke Island, his head exhibited from the bow of Maynard’s ship. Born in Barbados to a wealthy family, Bonnet and 30 of his men were taken prisoner on the Cape Fear River inlet by an expedition commissioned by Governor Robert Johnson of South Carolina. They were later hanged in Charleston. Believed to have hid his treasure on Money Island near Wrightsville Beach, Kidd was also hanged, as was Jack Rackham (Calico Jack) in Jamaica. The few women who engaged in piracy were just as reckless and wild as their male counterparts. Mary Read, who worked with Calico Jack, died in prison. Also, the fate of Anne Bonny, his wife who fought alongside him, remains a mystery.

Pirate Adventures in South Carolina

Several sites in Charleston have a pirate connection. The Powder Magazine, which dates to the 18th century when Charleston was a walled city, and the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon, completed in 1771, are a part of pirate history. The Pirate House at 141-145 Church Street, dates to around 1704 and was thought to be a gathering place for pirates. The story goes that buccaneers traveled through a secret tunnel from the Battery to the basement of the house. The Powder Magazine, which features interactive exhibits, is included in the living history tours given by Charleston Pirate Tours. Another exciting pirate experience is the Pirate Adventure Cruise, which departs from Bohicket Marina on Johns Island and sails into the North Edisto River.

More pirate adventures await visitors in other coastal towns of South Carolina. Recommended for children ages 2 to 10, the Pirates Hilton Head tour company takes passengers around the Calibogue Sound on the Black Dagger. A similar pirate experience is available aboard The Sea Gypsy III, which departs from the Dead Dog Saloon in Murrells Inlet.

What better way is there to wrap up your pirate adventures on the Carolinas coast than taking in a show at the Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show at Myrtle Beach? Arrive early and enjoy the preshow activities, and then take your seat for dinner and an exciting evening of entertainment featuring Blackbeard and Calico Jack.

PirateAdventures in North Carolina

At the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, you can see actual artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship. In 1718, under Blackbeard’s command, the ship ran aground. It was discovered in 1996 at a depth of 28 feet near Fort Macon State Park. The wreck was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Hundreds of artifacts have been recovered from the ship and are on permanent exhibit at the museum in the historic town that dates to 1709. After visiting the museum, you might take the Blackbeard and the Pirates of Carolina walking tour and meet various pirates like Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Charles Vane. Or, board the Revenge for a pirate cruise, operated by Beaufort Pirates Revenge. The double-decker bus tour, which departs from Beaufort Historic Site, is recommended, too. Pirate buffs are also drawn to Teach’s Hole off Ocracoke Island, where Blackbeard met his bitter end. A gift shop by the same name offers pirate souvenirs. Enjoy the ferry ride to the island — without any fear of marauding pirates boarding the ship.

Bath, incorporated in 1705 and the oldest town in North Carolina, has long been associated with Blackbeard. While living in the area, Blackbeard took a local girl as his 14th wife and mingled with the town’s high society. Governor Charles Eden, a Bath resident, pardoned Blackbeard for his crimes. Ruins on nearby Plum Point are rumored to be Blackbeard’s home.

Hatteras is not only the site of the tallest lighthouse in America, but also home to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The attraction explains the role pirates played in causing ships to wreck on the treacherous barrier islands off the coast. Legend has it that pirates lured ships to the shores by placing lanterns on the heads or around the necks of their horses — hence, the name “Nags Head.”

Consider taking the Graveyard of the Atlantic Walking Tour, based in Manteo on Roanoke Island. In addition, the annual Outer Banks Pirate Festival in August provides interactive fun for pirates of all ages. Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks offers excursions aboard the Gypsy, which sails from downtown Manteo.

The Wilmington area has some exciting pirate experiences for visitors, too. You can play the part of a pirate and learn about famous pirates on a Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours’ Pirate Treasure Hunt Adventure. Or learn about Stede Bonnet’s capture and Blackbeard’s death at Wilmington’s Museum of the Bizarre. Pirate cruises aboard The Belle of Topsail riverboat depart from Surf City on Topsail Island.  

(Top photo by Therese Louise Kehner/Charelston Pirate Tours; Middle photo by Charleston Pirate Tours; Onion Jar photo by N.C. Maritime Museum Beaufort)

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