November 30,  2009

Cannons thundered at Teach’s Hole for the
second annual Blackbeard pirate memorial


The thunder of a cannon sounded across Teach’s Hole and a puff of smoke emerged from the pirate sloop anchored there. On shore at Springer’s Point on Ocracoke Island, a group of jauntily dressed pirates answered with black powder firing of their own.

This was not a flashback to the 17th century. The date was Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, and it was part of the second annual Blackbeard Pirate Memorial. It was held at the very spot where the famous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, met his death in fiery battle on Nov. 22, 1718.

The event was organized by Kevin Duffus, Raleigh historian and author of the book, “The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate,” to memorialize the “Battle of Ocracoke” and raise awareness of this historic event. It was a follow-up to a similar event held last year on the same date by Duffus and members of the group, “Blackbeard’s Crew.”

Duffus hopes that in future years an actual re-enactment of the battle can be conducted.

There were about 15 pirates at this years event, all dressed out in splendid pirate attire, including cutlasses and flintlock pistols. They stayed, appropriately enough, at Blackbeard’s Lodge on Ocracoke’s Back Road, where on Saturday night they watched the Disney movie “Blackbeard’s Ghost.”

On Sunday, Nov. 22, Captain Horatio Sinbad sailed his pirate ship to Teach’s Hole and the other prates walked in a solemn, one-mile procession to Springer’s Point, accompanied by drum rolls and followed by intrigued observers.

On the soundside beach at Springer’s Point, a beautiful history and nature preserve, the pirates gathered, facing the crowd of observers. Duffus spoke about the historical significance of the event and some of the new theories about Blackbeard in his book.

This was only the second time in 291 years the battle has been memorialized. The names of the 23 men who died in battle that day were read and honored, and 18th century music was played.

Blackbeard, often portrayed with a flaming black beard and fierce demeanor, is one of the world’s most famous and colorful pirates. Numerous books and movies have been produced to try and recreate the story of him and his pirate crew. Common belief has him coming from Bristol, England, where he sailed for the Crown against Spanish ships.

Duffus’ research, however, leads him to believe that he was born in the Carolinas around 1690. He has found no evidence of Edward “Thatch” or Teach serving the British Crown, but says he may have fought against Spanish ships when mating on an American merchant ship.

The first documented evidence of his being a pirate appears in 1716, when he is listed as a pirate commanding one of four pirate sloops in the Bahamas. During the next two years he embarked on four major piratical cruises, plundering throughout the Caribbean and up and down the East Coast.

Duffus believes that Blackbeard returned to North Carolina about six months before the battle at Ocracoke, established connections with Gov. Charles Eden, and was due to receive a pardon from him just weeks before he died.

It was Gov. Spotswood of Virginia, tired of Blackbeard’s pirating Virginia ships, who sent Lt. Robert Maynard with two ships to capture or kill the pirate and his crew.

Maynard found them anchored at Teach’s Hole and engaged them in a battle which, according to Duffus, lasted fewer than six minutes. Maynard’s men managed to overcome the pirates by pretending to be dead and then attacking. Duffus believes it quite likely that the 23 men killed in battle are buried at or near Springer’s Point.

As interesting as the characters they portray are the re-enactors themselves.

There was Capt. Horatio Sinbad, the Michigan native who spent five years--10,000 hours-- building the ship anchored in Teach’s Hole. How he got his ship, which he calls the Meka II, out of his backyard, where it was constructed, and into the water was an adventure story in itself. Capt. Sinbad has since sailed it, he says, for four decades.

Hatchet Meg, otherwise known as Susan Lemieux-Cortez, is a member of Blackbeard’s Crew, a re-enactment group located in Hampton, Va. She recently published the book “Hatchet Meg’s Famous Gourmet Rum Cakes,” a compilation of 42 recipes for rum cake interwoven with pirate stories and the history of that pirate favorite, rum.

When asked why she wants to be a pirate, she answered, “A million reasons! It’s fun and exciting. I like history and I like to see the expressions on kids’ faces when they see us.”

Lee Jennings, who was cleaning a late 17th century Queen Anne flintlock pistol as he spoke, is a pirate re-enactor at a Delaware state park where he has worked since 1998. His wife, Linda, also dressed in pirate garb, is a seamstress who makes 18th and 19th century re-enactment clothing. Jennings, who is also familiar with Civil and Revolutionary re-enactments, says that pirate events are more fun than others, with fewer rules and political feuding.

The “Dread Pirate Willoughby Caught” (Cindy Warner of Williamsburg, Va.) was the musician for the group. She called herself a shanty woman,” playing mandolin, penny whistle, and Bodhram drum as well as singing.

Asked when she became a pirate, she said, “I’ve been a pirate all my life, but I realized it 15 years ago.” Asked why she became one, she said it as for the freedom, which she claimed as “as necessary as the air.” She owns a business called “Hysterically Correct” that markets a pirate show, storytelling, and music for all ages. Her CD, “My Inner Pirate,” is a collection of pirate tunes with lyrics that she wrote.

Pirate re-enactor Pat Mansfield is the head of the “Blackbead Adventure Alliance,” which is gearing up to build a replica of the pirate ship, “Adventure,” in Washington, N.C. Mansfield and her husband moved to Bath, N. C., from Wisconsin, in part because of their love of cruising and pirates.

“And what is a pirate without a ship?” she asked, explaining her excitement about building Blackbeard’s last ship. “He was an expert sailor, with five ships and over 350 men under him,”

Cap’n Pern is another member of Blackbeard’s Crew in Hampton, where he has held the position of the Adventure’s boatswain, Garrett Gibbens. Cap’n Pemell Taylor joined up to be a pirate seven years ago because of his love of history and pirates in particular. He described with excitement a pirate ship being re-built in Hampton in conjunction with Blackbeard’s Crew.

The Colonial Seaport Foundation, he said, is funding the Luna Project, which bought an old vessel for $1 and is refitting it to be a living history classroom in the Chesapeake Bay in summer and a merchant vessel in winter. It will be captained by Blackbeard’s Crew.

One re-enactor, Jeannine Haigler from LaGrange, N.C., was a newcomer to the pirate world. She learned about the Blackbeard event as a teacher participating in Ocracoke’s North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching program, where Kevin Duffus presented a program. Her new pirate name, she said, is Mistress Le Plume.

The audience included visitors to the island and local residents.

Among them were George and Mickey Roberson, owners of Ocracoke’s pirate shop and museum, Teach’s Hole.

George said that thought the memorial service was very nice and well done, with the cannons and the pirate ship being a nice touch.

He added that “Kevin Duffus’ research looks pretty sound,” and he plans to add a new exhibit to his museum which will incorporate some of his theories.

Roberson said he hopes that the event will continue next year and possibly draw more visitors to Ocracoke for the fall season.

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