| October 18, 2017
Blackbeard Memorial Service: The Genisis of Ocracoke’s Pirate Jamboree
BY KEVIN DUFFUS
years ago, on the morning of the 22nd of November 2007, I stood alone
on the sandy beach of Ocracoke Island’s Springer’s Point with my camera
gear to take photos for my yet-to-be-published book, The Last Days of
Blackbeard the Pirate.
day I pondered that, Blackbeard and the men who died there in the
Battle of Ocracoke in 1718 ought to be remembered, they ought to be
honored for giving history something worth preserving. Twenty-three
mariners were killed that day, including 11 Royal Navy sailors. On that
quiet morning in 2007, I resolved that in forthcoming years I would not
stand there alone. It was then that an idea was born that would take on
a life of its own.
was begun the annual “Black Beard Pirate Memorial.” One year to the day
that I had stood there alone at Springer’s Point, I was surrounded by
60 pirates—even though the temperature was unusually frigid and the
wind pierced the outer defenses of the pirate’s period clothing. And
more than 100 self-invited Ocracoke residents and visitors joined us
for what was a solemn and emotional event. Hymns were sung, the history
was chronicled, a wreath was dedicated, and a canon or flintlock weapon
was fired for every man who was killed there in 1718.
been doing it ever since, except for the years when hurricanes lashed
the Outer Banks and damaged NC 12, the precarious highway lifeline
linking the villages of North Carolina’s remarkable barrier islands.
result of the success of the Memorial Service, the first annual
“Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree” was held on October 25-27, 2013. The
Jamboree has been an enormous economic success for Ocracoke, exceeding
everyone’s expectations. The reenactment of the Battle of Ocracoke
within the watery amphitheater of Silver Lake is always a spectacle to
be seen and chilling in its authenticity. The sea battle, replete with
smoke-bellowing black powder weapons, featuring Capt. Horatio Sinbad’s
Meka II sailing in the role of Blackbeard’s sloop Adventure and joined
by Captain Ben Bunn’s historic skipjack Ada Mae, and the Beaufort Oars.
Sadly, Blackbeard loses the battle and his head every year.
docks and wharves surrounding Silver Lake are always thronged with
spectators. Families flock to the authentic pirate encampment of tents,
guided by the smell of wood smoke and savory meats roasting on spits.
They watch spellbound by demonstrations of navigational skills and rope
making or participate in a scallywag school for young aspiring pirates.
Cannon maker Lawrence Campbell describes how he practices a fascinating
lost art, while Michelle Murillo presents her rare collection of Port
Royal artifacts and shares her knowledge of the infamous pirate port.
The ever-present and indefatigable Motley Tones of Raleigh perform
melodious madrigals or bawdy sailor songs—depending on the age of their
audience. And Steve Whetzel and his Shadow Players Stage Combat Group
have audiences rollicking in laughter with his bullwhip antics assisted
by gullible volunteers.
ghost of Blackbeard must be pleased with what we have done. Two hundred
ninety-nine years ago, Blackbeard and his Carolina pirates from the
Pamlico River aided the ailing economy of North Carolina’s tidewater
region in ways shamefully overlooked and under-appreciated by history
and shunned by popular culture. And Blackbeard and his pirates still
contribute to North Carolina’s economy.
Now, at a time of year when Ocracoke’s off-season economy had been
typically slow, hotels and rental cottages are full, restaurants are
crowded, and retail shops are bustling.
places in America have real pirate history to commemorate, and even
fewer have a valid reason to celebrate the notorious Blackbeard,
arguably the world’s best-known pirate. In North Carolina,
surprisingly, there are just two—Ocracoke and Bath.
pirate history is nothing like the Hollywood pop-culture, romantic,
fairy tale version so perpetuated by publishers and producers and
adored by its fans. True pirate history is actually more interesting,
more complex, more relevant to our own life and times. The story of
North Carolina’s own Blackbeard remarkably mirrors today’s newsworthy
issues of political conflict, economic distress, deficits, taxes,
unemployment, social discord, health concerns, government corruption,
and climate change. Certainly, there’s a place in our hearts and minds
for folklore and fiction, for swashbuckling, swaggering, Errol Flynn-
and Johnny Depp-like pirates, but we should never fail to understand
and appreciate the real story.
10 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, I will lead a solemn procession at
Ocracoke’s Blackbeard Lodge, led by the stirring sounds of a lone
bagpiper. We march the long, mile and a half route to the sandy shores
of Springer’s Point, paced by the beat of a drum and refrains of
Amazing Grace, passing bystanders, quaint homes, and the sphinx-like
Ocracoke light. A couple of hundred yards offshore over the very site
of the 1718 battle and Blackbeard’s death will be anchored the
venerable sailing vessels Meka II and Ada Mae ready to fire their guns
in salute to the fallen.
to previous years, specially-composed songs will be sung, the history
of that fateful day will be retold, a memorial wreath will be launched.
As their names are called, a bell will be tolled singly for each
man—pirate and Royal Navy sailor—who died in battle on November 22,
is, perhaps, no better way to experience the past than to visit the
very places where momentous events took place, to walk in the footsteps
of our forebears. Nowhere is Blackbeard’s history observed in its proper context and more accurately than at Ocracoke. We hope to see you there.