November 25, 2008
Pirates return to Ocracoke to honor their dead
…WITH SLIDE SHOW
By 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, Va., 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 Nov. 22 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
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 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 Nov. 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 11
pirates and 11 Royal Navy sailors who also died that day.
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 wind chill 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. The
onlookers 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 for 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
“It’s got a lot of potential,” he said, comparing it
to the World War II British Cemetery memorial service held on Ocracoke
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
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 said with a laugh.
The pirates stayed in character as much as possible.
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
“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
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 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
“I think of those lost souls,” Kevin said. “I hope to
think their spirits appreciated what we did for them today.”