Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” Mark Twain
No matter what the movie Pirates of the Caribbean says, pirates have also been seen along the Eastern seaboard from Florida to New England. There have been myths and legends told about them in the Old Dominion.
Because valuable cargoes traveled through the Chesapeake Bay, trade in Virginia often came to a standstill when pirates patrolled sea lanes and threatened vessels could not leave the safety of ports. During one six-week period, not a single ship dared to leave the safety of Virginia shores. Edward Teach, Blackbeard, as he was more known as, was the main cause of this maritime panic. Using a summit, now referred to as Blackbeard's Hill, the pirate and his watchmen had an open view of the Chesapeake Bay, which the British navy ineffectively protected.
Blackbeard has inspired a Pirate Festival here in Hampton that usually happens the first weekend in June. You can find out more about this festival at http://www.blackbeardpiratefestival.com/.
Author Deborah Painter told me a legend about Blackbeard the pirate. He was killed off the shores of North Carolina and his head was brought back to Hampton to be suspended from a pole on a pier at Sunset Creek, just a mile from where Ms. Painter works. The story goes on that, to this day, the decapitated pirate searches for his head in the Chesapeake Bay.
One evening Blackbeard moored his ship at the mouth of the Potomac River and went ashore. There were two parties. One was to procure provisions, the other to assist in secreting their treasures. An English sloop-of-war followed him and dropped anchor in just the right spot to prevent him from escaping. A manned barge was sent to capture his ship.
Blackbeard and his men went back to their ship. The commander of the men who boarded the ship was a Scotsman who desired the honor of subduing Teach himself. The men battled by sword. The Scot felled a strong blow upon the pirate’s shoulders, causing blood to flow.
“Ha!” said Blackbeard, “well struck, brother seaman.”
The Scot gave a reply, then with his next stroke separated Teach’s head from his shoulders.
The Scot ordered that the head be boiled in boiling water and thoroughly cleansed. As a sign to other pirates, Blackbeard's head was cut off and hung from the bow of a ship. Meanwhile, his corpse was simply thrown overboard. Then, the head was hung on a pole and placed at a point on the James River, also known as Blackbeard's Point. When the Scot went ashore he made a present of Blackbeard’s skull to the governor of the Virginia colony. Then the legend says that the skull was tipped with silver to become a drinking vessel.
Today, Ocracoke, with its history of piracy and maritime warfare is now a quiet island famous for vacationing tourists. The citizens of Ocracoke still continue to speak in the old English dialect, known as brogue. According to legend, Blackbeard's skull cup still exists around the island, even spurring accounts of locals and visitors sipping from the skull of the South's deadliest pirate.
Buccaneers at Carter’s Grove
There is a myth that three pirates were buried in the cellar at Carter’s Grove. It is also said that their ghosts still hold a card game there, every now and then.
Old House Woods in Mathews County
There is a story about Blackbeard involved with the hauntings of Old House Woods that says he killed other pirates burying a treasure there in the seventeenth century. You can read more about this in the Freaky Legends of Old House Woods chapter.
Buried Treasure of Blackbeard and Other Pirates on Assateague
Blackbeard and other pirates reportedly sailed the waters around Assateague Island and used the island as a hideout and as a place to bury their treasure. Whether it is true or not, standing on the island and looking out to sea makes the tales almost believable. One can breathe in the salt from the sea and hear the seagulls as they scream while soaring overhead. As I swept my gaze to the sea and watch a couple of ponies standing in the beach, I almost swore I could see a ghostly pirate ship forging through the white-capped waves. Then the vision vanished as I snapped some photos with my camera.
If Blackbeard or any of his cohorts had buried their ill gotten gains somewhere on the island, then only they, the ponies, and the seagulls know where for sure. For none has ever been found.