Despite a coastal storm that breezed through the Outer Banks on Friday, the annual Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree was a well-attended success, with hundreds of buccaneers invading the streets of Ocracoke Island.
The multiple-day festival and pirate invasion kicked off on Thursday, October 25, and continued through Sunday, with live music, historical talks, cannon firings, reenactments, food and craft vendors, and – naturally – grog, (and plenty of it.)
Well-attired invaders strolled through the streets admiring the pirate encampment exhibits, perusing the Brigands Bazaar, or stopping by the Books to Be Red Stage to listen to historic talks or a few sea shanties. Music by local and visiting bands such as The Motley Tones and Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers popped up at various locales throughout the village, while sword fighting was on full display throughout the event, thanks to the incredible skills and choreography of The Shadow Players Stage Combat Group.
This year’s Pirate Jamboree also had a few revolutionary changes and surprises in store, due to both the weather, as well as the event’s correspondence with the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s demise off of Ocracoke Island.
Author Kevin Duffus, who is a long-time organizer of the annual event and who literally wrote the book on Blackbeard, (The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate), teased at the ground-breaking events to come during a Saturday morning historic talk. “This afternoon, we’re going to make history…” he said.
On Saturday afternoon, crowds of pirates headed to the edge of Silver Lake Harbor to watch the annual reenactment of the Battle of Ocracoke, which is always a centerpiece of the festival.
The battle is internationally famous as Blackbeard’s last stand, as during this event, British Royal Navy Captain Robert Maynard, (under the direction of Governor of Virginia Alexander Spotswood), surprised the notorious pirate in the waters off of Ocracoke Island. Arriving on the evening of November 21, 1718, Maynard engaged Blackbeard in battle the following morning, which led to the pirate’s demise.
This year, however, the battle took place on land due to the unsafe weather and water conditions in the harbor, and as pirates and Royal Navy crew members fought it out with swords swinging, another change to the traditional reenactment took the crowd by surprise as the end of the battle drew near.
Because this time around, as a nod to the 300th anniversary of the battle, Blackbeard fought Maynard in hand-to-hand combat… and won.
“History has been made today!” said Duffus, as Blackbeard triumphantly raised his sword to the crowd, and hundreds of his fellow pirate spectators cheered.
It was just one of many moments throughout the festival that engaged and delighted the crowd, and which showcased the inherently fun and historic nature of the now popular Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree. Informally starting in 2008, the festival had humble roots and began as a Springer’s Point Memorial Service for those killed in Blackbeard’s Last Battle, but over the years, it grew in scope and size, as multiple days and corresponding events were added, and more and more visiting pirates joined in the island-wide invasion.
“We’ve heard about the [Pirate Jamboree] for years, but this is the first year that we were able to actually come,” said one well-dressed pirate attendee from Virginia. “We didn’t know what to expect, but so far, everything has blown us away! The music, the history, the food – we’ll be back next year for sure.”
Indeed, the multiple-day festival covered every aspect of pirate life, with Ocracoke’s Community Square, Berkley Manor grounds, Wahab House Lawn, and Silver Lake Harbor brimming with activity at every moment. Local restaurants hosted pirate-appropriate food and drink specials and live music on a nightly basis, while family-oriented magic shows and performances kept crowds of pirates entertained throughout the daytime.
The majority of the crowd also came fully prepared for a pirate invasion, with intricate costumes that ranged from the fun to the historically accurate. Walking parrots and pirate dogs strolled side-by-side with realistic pirate captains, outfitted with intricate coats and shimmering chalices, while visitors darted their eyes from one well-dressed pirate to another. The NCDOT suspended weekend repair operations on N.C. Highway 12 to make room for the waves of visitors, and motels and campgrounds were filled with buccaneers who stayed for the entire event.
Though it’s impossible to count just how many pirates trickled into Ocracoke Island for the festival, it’s clear that despite a little stormy weather, the 2018 Pirate Jamboree was a smashing success.
“This year was especially important to us because of the ties to the 300th anniversary,” said a regular annual attendee from Boone, N.C. “It’s just incredible that all this history is right here on Ocracoke Island.”