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Related: Becoming Blackbeard in Beaufort: How a jack-of-all-trades from Carteret County found his calling and shored up a Crystal Coast tradition. Pillage & Plunder Swansboro The boom of cannon fire

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Related: Becoming Blackbeard in Beaufort: How a jack-of-all-trades from Carteret County found his calling and shored up a Crystal Coast tradition. Pillage & Plunder Swansboro The boom of cannon fire

Photo Essay/

A Pirate’s Life

Related: Becoming Blackbeard in Beaufort: How a jack-of-all-trades from Carteret County found his calling and shored up a Crystal Coast tradition.

Pillage & Plunder

The boom of cannon fire reverberates across downtown Swansboro as pirates invade Front Street during PirateFest each May. While musical group The Motley Tones roams the event, singing sea shanties, the MEKA II, a replica of a 17th-century pirate brigantine, patrols the harbor. Anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 attendees can watch unchoreographed sword-fighting demonstrations or learn to fight with a cutlass, tie knots, or fish using 18th-century methods. Kids shoot a cannon — with a foam ball — or complete a scavenger hunt for prizes like pirate treasure. “It’s such an interactive event,” Anna Stanley, director for Swansboro Parks and Recreation, says of the joint effort between the city and Onslow County Parks and Recreation, which created PirateFest. “I love seeing everybody dressed up and having fun.”

ECU’s mascot was once known as PeeDee the Pirate, named for the Pee Dee River, where pirates were known to set up camps. The school officially dropped the name in 1985, but some fans still call him PeeDee. photograph by CLIFF HOLLIS/ECU NEWS AND COMMUNICATION

Home of the Pirates

During battle, pirates raised the “No Quarter” flag — often a skull and crossbones on a red background — to indicate that they would take no prisoners. At the end of the third quarter at football games — and similarly at other sporting events — East Carolina University raises its own No Quarter flag while fans cross their arms to symbolize a skull and crossbones, signaling to their opponents that they will show no mercy. Other ECU Pirate traditions include firing a replica of an 18th-century English 32-pounder cannon after the team scores a touchdown. The Pirate became the school mascot in 1934 — replacing the previous mascot, the Teachers — and has been inspiring school spirit ever since.

Fact & Fiction

According to Beaufort legend, Blackbeard lived for a time in the Hammock House with one of his many wives. The story goes that he became so angry with her that he hanged her from a tree in the backyard. But, in fact, letters written by the house’s first owner, Samuel Leffers, to his brother indicate that the house was built in 1800, more than 80 years after Blackbeard was killed. To sort fact from fiction, visitors can head to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which showcases the artifacts that have been recovered from the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge after they’ve been conserved at the QAR Lab.

North Carolina Maritime Museum
315 Front Street
Beaufort, NC 28516
(252) 504-7740

Young passengers on the Revenge’s Pirate Treasure Cruise take their battle against “Black Hat” Finney seriously. “It is just the most precious thing for them,” says co-owner Lauriel Lebeau. photograph by Charles Harris

All Hands on Deck

Wind flutters the many pirate flags hanging from the halyards of the Revenge as it sails through the calm waters of Taylors Creek along the Beaufort waterfront. Built to resemble a pirate sailing vessel, the modern motorized tour boat offers a Pirate Treasure Cruise for younger children and a sunset Ghost Float that’s appropriate for older kids and adults. During the Treasure Cruise, kids don pirate bandanas and tattoos, and face off against a pirate, like Kegger “Black Hat” Finney, in a battle for treasure using the high-pressure water cannons that line the side of the boat.

During sunset cruises, the pirate Black Hat regales new crew members with tales of North Carolina’s most infamous buccaneers. photograph by Charles Harris

Ghost Stories

Along with sharing local ghost and pirate lore, the crew of the Revenge’s sunset cruise invites passengers to participate in magic tricks and sea shanties, and points out local landmarks — like the site of the wreckage of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which ran aground in Beaufort Inlet in 1718. “There’s no better place for a pirate boat than Beaufort,” says Lauriel “Fettucini” Lebeau, who owns the Revenge with her husband, George “Captain Spike” Aswad. “There’s so much history here, and we get to tell those stories while we’re sailing the same waters that Blackbeard was sailing.”

Beaufort Pirates Revenge
600 Front Street
Beaufort, NC 28516
(252) 728-7827

Legend has it that the Bonner family, who lived in the house (top left) across from Blackbeard’s home on Plum Point (right of boat), would see a ball of fire the size of a man’s head while sailing around on stormy nights. photograph by Chris Hannant

Land Ho!

After running the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground in what is now known as Beaufort Inlet in 1718, Blackbeard sailed to the port town of Bath, where he accepted a pardon from Gov. Charles Eden and settled down. Many believe that he took up residence in a home on Plum Point and married his 14th bride here. But the adventuresome buccaneer could not be satisfied with the life of a land-dwelling law-abider. Just a few months after accepting his pardon, he took up pirating again, bringing his spoils back to Bath.

“There’s a lot more fantasy than known fact about Blackbeard,” says Capt. Rob Temple (right). Painter Jean Leon Gerome Ferris imagined the infamous pirate’s last stand in Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718. photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

Final Port of Call

Capt. Rob Temple sails the Windfall II, his schooner — an antique type of sailing vessel with two masts that became popular around 1712 — in much the same way that pirates sailed in the 18th century. He aims the boat into the wind, hoists the sails, and heads out of Ocracoke’s Silver Lake harbor into Pamlico Sound. As he sails past Teach’s Hole — a part of the sound just south of the village, where Blackbeard was anchored in the months leading up to his death — Temple tells passengers about the notorious pirate’s final battle, in which he was beheaded by Lt. Robert Maynard of the British Royal Navy in November 1718. Legend has it that after the pirate’s body was thrown overboard, it swam seven times around the ship before finally sinking.

(252) 928-7245

Pirate’s Landing, a steak and seafood restaurant in Elkin, was built to resemble a pirate ship, from the masts rising above the roof to the cannons stationed inside. photograph by Revival Creatives

Drink Up, Me Hearties

Across the state, businesses celebrate our pirate history with drinks like Blackbeard’s Breakfast, a pecan honey rum cocktail at Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo, or the Pirates Golden Ale at Mooresville’s Jolly Roger Brewery, named for the traditional pirate’s flag. In Jarvisburg, Sanctuary Vineyards’ red muscadine wine The Plank features a depiction of Blackbeard on its label, while Edward Teach Brewery in Wilmington sports what many believe to have been the pirate’s real name. Blackbeard and his crew frequented the waters off our coast hundreds of years ago, but the buccaneering spirit lives on in the hearts of North Carolinians everywhere. To us, these swashbuckling seafarers have taken on legendary status — their rebellious nature continuing to inspire a thirst for adventure.

This story was published on Oct 24, 2022