North Carolina Coast Channels Real Pirate History
Near the haunts and hideouts of Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, North Carolina confronts Hollywood fantasy this summer with heightened action at year-round pirate destinations.
A bold new exhibit at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, in Beaufort, renders a verdict in the 14½-year exploration of the wreck found nearby in 1996: The sunken vessel is indeed the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the 90-foot frigate that Blackbeard seized and made his flagship.
The state maritime museum in Southport reopens in July in a new riverside location near the spot where fate caught up with Bonnet, the “gentleman pirate” whom Blackbeard betrayed.
There, artifacts, replicas and interactive stations will underscore the differences between Hollywood’s myths and the real figures from the Golden Age of Piracy.
Pirate action has long played out on North Carolina’s seascapes. With Blackbeard’s retreats on the Pamlico Sound and Bonnet’s fondness for Cape Fear, coastal communities create the means to trace history and revel in pirate lore.
Tours, festivals and performances abound with added momentum this summer from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides,” with Blackbeard as the antagonist.
History regards Blackbeard, probably born as Edward Teach, as the most notorious pirate of them all, and the last dramas of his life occurred on North Carolina’s coast. After sailing into a sandbar near Beaufort in 1718, he briefly settled in the Colonial village of Bath and soon thereafter lost a death match at Ocracoke Island.
Beaufort has become a must-visit destination for anyone interested in Blackbeard. The Maritime Museum frames its latest display of 200 to 250 artifacts with a compelling look at how American and European researchers concluded that the wreck found in Beaufort Inlet is the Queen Anne’s Revenge. In stating the case, the exhibit lends insight into the era and meaning to the display of hull fragments, weaponry and everyday objects, including galley items, medical syringes and an apparatus from the head near the captain’s quarters.
Fascination with piracy runs up and down North Carolina’s 300-mile coastline. Even such playful events as the Outer Banks Pirate Festival and the Bald Head Island Pirate Weekend convey a connection to history, and serious pursuit of the past extends beyond nautical archaeologists and scholars.
Passionate enthusiasts in Washington, N.C., will present a provocative view of history at their inaugural Pirate Parley, a daylong symposium that includes a tour of nearby Bath, where Blackbeard took a wife and briefly settled down.
One of the organizers, author-filmmaker Kevin Duffus, has gone so far as to challenge accepted history in a book called “The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate,” which theorizes that the pirate was actually born in Bath and named Edward Beard.
For a dazzling view of legacy’s convergence with lore, visitors head to Ocracoke Island. A flashing buoy marks Teach’s Hole, the channel Blackbeard used to reach his favorite island nook. Tradition holds that Springer’s Point, which overlooks the channel, was where Blackbeard, “Calico Jack” Rackham and other pirates partied at length the month before Blackbeard’s final fight.
In the village of Ocracoke, a shop called Teach’s Hole exhibits such items as a turn-of-the-18th-century sword and sells an impressive assortment of pirate paraphernalia. Blackbeard’s Lodge borrows the pirate’s name but claims no historic ties.
Find an itinerary for seeing the sights at www.visitnc.com/journeys/articles/pirates-of-the-nc-coast. For details about events, tours and attractions, search “pirate” at www.VisitNC.com.
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