Flashback: Pirate Memorial 2008

Sundae Horn

The steady, slow drumbeat accompanied the marchers as they paraded down Lighthouse Road.

Sometimes they sang in unison, and sometimes they marched in silence, with only the sounds of their leather boots striking pavement to accompany the drum. Although photographers swarmed around them, and spectators openly gawked, the marchers never broke ranks or even broke into a smile. It was a solemn occasion, a funeral march, and they kept to their paces seemingly oblivious to the spectacle they were making.

Pirates had returned to Ocracoke to honor their dead.

Blackbeard’s Crew, a piratical living history troupe based in Hampton, Virginia, teamed up with Blackbeard historian Kevin Duffus of Raleigh to organize a “Pirate Memorial,”  an event that they hope will be the first of many. Fifty-eight men and women in period costumes joined together on November 22nd to commemorate the 290th anniversary of the Battle of Ocracoke – that infamous day when Blackbeard the pirate met his match in Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy. 

Down Lighthouse Road, to the entrance of Springer’s Point the pirates marched. The captain led the way through the forest trail, twisting and turning among the ancient live oaks, until the they reached the sandy beach overlooking Teach’s Hole. Named for Blackbeard himself, a.k.a. Edward Teach, Teach’s Hole is a small, but surprisingly deep part of Pamlico Sound off the southwest shore of Ocracoke. It’s a popular fishing spot today, but 290 years ago, Teach’s Hole was an infamous anchorage for pirates and subsequently host to the bloody Battle of Ocracoke on November 22, 1718.

The pirates were gathering to pay tribute to their fallen brethren. With mournful sea chanteys and eloquent elegies they eulogized the long dead souls of the battle’s victims. A cannon was fired to commemorate Blackbeard, followed by the firing of small arms for the eleven pirates and eleven Navy sailors who also died that day.

Flashback: Pirate Memorial 2008

A huge crowd, of mostly Ocracoke residents, followed the pirates out to Springer’s Point and down to the beach at Teach’s Hole. This was in spite of the fact that Ocracoke was experiencing unseasonably frosty weather, with a windchill factor well below freezing. People huddled together against the bitter cold and strained to hear the pirates above the whipping of the wind. Although there was some talking among the crowd, the atmosphere was mostly serious. People behaved as you would expect them to behave at a memorial service where they did not actually mourn the dead – they were respectful, but dry-eyed. The pirates, by contrast, were a bit choked up, although they might try to say it was the wind blowing sand in their eyes that made them so teary.

When the service was over, the pirates marched back through the woods, down the road and right up to their lodgings at – you guessed it – Blackbeard’s Lodge. Then they crossed the street to the Back Porch Restaurant, where they memorialized their fallen brethren in the time-honored nautical way – by toasting them with vast quantities of good ale and rum.

“We believe what we did today was a first – the first time that the Battle of Ocracoke has been commemorated,” said Kevin Duffus, who was sipping a fine single malt Scotch. He believes Blackbeard was actually of Scottish descent, not English as many people assume, and chose his drink in solidarity with the pirate. 

“We hope everyone in the community here was pleased,” Kevin added. He was happy with the day’s turnout and relieved it went off so well. He needed permission from the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust, which owns Springer’s Point, and from other property owners, and couldn’t make final preparations about the ceremony until just last week when everything fell into place. He hopes that in the future the Pirate Memorial will find support and participation from local organizations. “It’s got a lot of potential,” he said, comparing it to the WWII Bristish Cemetery memorial service held on Ocracoke each May.

Meanwhile, the partying pirates were suitably boisterous, and enjoying the authentic meal that the Back Porch chefs had concocted: pork barbeque and baked fish, which was readily consumed by pirates then and now. The house specialty was a recipe researched just for the pirate dinner: salmagundi. The name comes from French and means “a disparate assemblage of things” and to 18th-century pirates that meant a salad-like mixture of meats and anchovies and veggies and nuts and capers and lemons and oh, anything else the cook had lying around. Top it all with some oil and vinegar, and you have pirate cuisine.

The Back Porch staff got into the spirit of the evening, and looked the part of tavern wenches. 

“They’ve been fun to work with,” said Lisa Landrum, manager of the Back Porch. “We had a great time planning the menu, but trying to figure out who’s who when they use their pirate name and then their real name and then their pirate name again has been tricky.”

The pirate who contracted with the Back Porch identified himself as “Cookie” Lisa said.

“They want everything to be authentic, but we’re communicating through email,” she laughed. 

Anachronisms abound, but the pirates stayed in character as much as possible.

Pern Taylor, “Captain Pern” to Blackbeard’s Crew, is the elected leader of the pirate troupe. He explained that not all the pirates at the party were official members of the Crew; some were honorary members and some were special guests for the Pirate Memorial week-end.

“We’re inducting a new member later tonight,” he said during dinner. “It’s a solemn ceremony.”

It takes about a year and a lot of effort, Captain Pern said, to become a member of the Crew. That tradition goes back to the Crew’s beginnings in 2000, when the troupe was founded for OpSail 2000. That was also the first year of the Hampton Pirate Festival, where the Crew are regulars. Now they travel up and down the East Coast, appearing at festivals and parties, and visiting schools and museums. This Pirate Memorial coincided with their year-end meeting, when they induct new members, elect new officers (i.e., “Wench Master” and “Press Gang Master”) and give awards for MVP (Most Valuable Pirate.)

It’s not all just swashbuckling fun and games. Blackbeard’s Crew is a non-profit organization, dedicated to educating the public about the true history of pirates, a mission they take seriously.

“We’re all about authenticity,” Pern said. “We want to teach people about actual history, to focus on real pirates, and get away from the movie fantasy.”

Kevin Duffus also wants to focus on the real history of pirates, so much so that he decided to reject on all the known “facts” about Blackbeard and do his own research. After years of hunting down original sources and developing new theories, Kevin compiled his research into a book published earlier this year. From East Carolina court records to the British National Archives, Kevin followed the elusive trail of the fabled Blackbeard. His search led him to a conclusion, which, although perhaps impossible to prove beyond doubt, makes a great deal of sense. 

The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate posits, among other things, that the rogue wasn’t really named Edward Teach after all. His last name, says Kevin, was Beard! Kevin suspects that Black Beard was not, as has always been assumed, a native of Bristol, England but in fact a homeboy from Bath, N.C. as were many of the men in his crew. He makes a strong case that Blackbeard’s killer, Lt. Robert Maynard, approached Teach’s Hole by sailing down Pamlico Sound rather than through Ocracoke Inlet.

Kevin also believes that the 23 men, including Blackbeard, who died in the Battle of Ocracoke were buried in a mass grave on the shore near Springer’s Point, where this year’s Pirate Memorial took place.

“I think of those lost souls,” Kevin said. “I hope to think their spirits appreciated what we did for them today.” 

This article first appeared on Island Free Press in November 2008. To see a slideshow of great photos of the event (taken by Hatteras Island photographer Don Bowers) click here.


Comments powered by Disqus