Friday, May 4, 2012

Charleston's Pirate Past-Colorful History Telling And Family Fun

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
Who doesn't remember the unforgettable Seinfeld episode where Jerry unwittingly agreed to wear the puffy shirt. "I don't want to look like a pirate," he lamented. Jerry apparently was not impressed by the fact pirates have become quite fashionable in recent times thanks to the infamous attraction at Disney called "Pirates of the Caribbean", the ride that inspired the creation of the character movie fans and pirate lovers have come to know as Captain Jack Sparrow. Pirate popularity borders on that of cultural icons. There is even a day set aside since 1995 called "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" commemorated on September 19. So, what was it about pirates, speaking of the ones from the Golden Age of Piracy and not the modern version, that makes them appealing enough for people to be willing to fork over $11 to sit and watch two hours of piratical hijinks?

If one is to believe the movie version of pirates, such as what Disney presents, one would envision an individual where a healthy, personal hygiene appears to be lacking as well as an upstanding vocabulary and daily change of wardrobe. Existing in a state of a rum induced coma would have been a common repose along with swinging from ropes with sabres clenched in their rotting teeth pillaging and plundering seaside towns and ocean going vessels as their frowned upon preoccupation. All these apparent characteristics are not what you would exactly call desirable or inspiring, if you are to believe the movies. Actually, the shreads of known reality and imagined myth have been inseparably intertwined by bookwriters and storytellers when it comes to the real pirate life.
Still, I think what appeals to the masses on the subject of pirates is the socially unfettered freedom they represented. The pirate lived outside of the social contraints others were bound by either religiously or politically. A freedom to do what you pleased, go where you pleased, and do it when you pleased is appealing to the modern person who rises every morning to an alarm clock and answers to an institution he or she depends upon for economical survival. In reality though, a pirates life was anything but glamorous. Life on the high seas was rigorous and dangerous. Only a few names attained greatness, but their endings were ignominious.

Charleston was no stranger to pirates and piracy. Famous names like Stede Bonnet, Blackbeard, and Calico Jack are recalled and stories recounted in its historic tours and even though the list is male dominated, a few women had made their claim to fame in the annals of pirate legends, Anne Bonny and Mary Read to name a couple. So, the following facts to my knowledge are true because "Dead men tell no lies."
Guard House at Half Moon Battery where Bonnet's crew was imprisoned now the Old Exchange 
Stede Bonnet, also called "the gentleman pirate", figured prominantly in Charleston's pirate past partly because of his association with Blackbeard, but mainly due to the fact he met his demise in 1718 dangling from a rope at White Point Gardens overlooking Charleston Harbor on the end of E. Bay Street. His captor, William Rhett, also had a Charleston connection. In the early days, when Charleston was called Charles Town, Rhett purchased a sugar plantation on Hassel Street where he built a house that was completed in 1716. It still stands today as a tourist attraction. Sullivan's Island was also a part of the Bonnet story. Shortly after his capture by Rhett, Bonnet escaped custody and hid on the island where he was recaptured for the last time.
Blackbeard (Edward Teach)

Blackbeard's real name was Edward Teach. Of all the famous pirates, his legend is the most remembered in Charleston. Blackbeard, in 1718, blockaded the harbor with his fleet and plundered any ship making an attempt to enter its port, thus cutting off any supplies coming into Charleston. He held the entire town hostage with this action and had only one demand, medicines. If the town didn't meet his demands, the captives he took from the pillaged ships would have their heads cut off and the ships burned. Blackbeard sent Mr. Marks and two other pirates to retrieve the medicines. When the entourage didn't return, Blackbeard moved his ships into port and threatened to burn the town. It seemed the two pirates did what pirates do, drank and got drunk. A reporting messenger also claimed Mr. Mark's boat capsized on the way into town, adding to the delay. Finally, they returned with the medicines and Blackbeard honorably held to his side of the bargain by releasing the ships and hostages minus anything of value, including their clothing. After all, he was a pirate. In time, Blackbeard had his head separated from his body and his crew taken in irons to meet their fate.

Pirates have walked the streets of Charleston and drank in its taverns, creating tall tales blended with a mixture of truth and myth. A good example is the Pirate House with its Pirate Courtyard on Church Street next to St. Phillips Church Cemetery. Legend tells it was a boarding house for pirates. There is even another story linked to Blackbeard where it was rumored the top of his skull was sent back to Charleston to be fashioned into a drinking cup. The Pink House on Chalmers Street, once a tavern, was also a likely drinking hole. "Drink up me harties, drink up." You can learn all about the fascinating piratical history at the various tours in Charleston. Check out Charleston Pirate Tours and Tour Charleston.
Pink House on Chalmers Street

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