Ocracoke's long history has some interesting highlights, but none of the local legends and legacies are as far-reaching or as popular as the island's local pirates. As the temporary home to a crew of notorious buccaneers, including Blackbeard himself, Ocracoke is the destination of choice for pirate lovers who want to explore the stomping grounds of the island's most notorious residents.
History of Ocracoke Pirates
Pirates began to make an appearance along the Eastern Seaboard soon after large clusters of colonists arrived. The unending shipment of good and supplies to and from the New World mainland were irresistible for buccaneers, who were of varying descents and origins. While most people think of swashbuckling degenerates when they think of "pirates," many famous pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries were actually disgruntled aristocracy, former British Navy sailors or privateers, merchants, or all of the above.
The Caribbean originated as one of the most common destinations for pirates, but as trade increased along the northern New World coastline, the pirates effectively migrated.
Ocracoke Inlet and the beaches just off the North Carolina coast became popular waterways for pirates in the late 1600s to mid-1700s, thanks to a huge influx of maritime traffic trying to reach settlements in mainland North Carolina and Virginia. The Diamond Shoals caused many ships to run aground, creating easy prey, and the barrier Ocracoke Island itself was the perfect cover for invading pirates poised to attack.
Vessels could effectively "hide" behind one side of the skinny island, and pop out and attack without the victim ship ever being the wiser to their presence.
It's also rumored that the NC governor at the time, a supposed close friend of Edward Teach or Blackbeard the Pirate, was very lenient when it came to pirate attacks.
Because of these factors, a number of pirates, besides Blackbeard, considered Ocracoke Island one of their favorite plundering destinations. These pirates included the following buccaneers:
- Stede Bonnet - Better known as "The Gentleman Pirate," Bonnet was a wealthy plantation owner who abandoned his family in 1717 to become a pirate. Bonnett would lose his crew, and his loot, to Blackbeard, and would later resurface as the infamous Captain Thomas, with a mission to get revenge.
- Charles Vane - Easily one of the cruelest pirates, Vane was known to torture the crews of captured ships, and cheat his own men out of their earnings. After his fleet was destroyed by a passing hurricane, Vane was captured on an isolated island and hanged in 1921.
- Jack Rackham - Rackham, or "Calico Jack" for his colorful attire, was famous for his two female crew members - Anne Bonney and Mary Read - who, when finally captured by the British, were the only two crew members to stand their ground and fight. Rackham was inevitably hanged in 1720.
Blackbeard the Pirate
The infamous Blackbeard was born Edward Teach, and was one of Ocracoke Island's most frequent and most notorious visitors in the early 1700s. He gained his infamous nickname, as one would expect, from his long black beard, which he would twist into coils and light on fire to intimidate merchant vessels he was about to attack.
Blackbeard was originally a privateer during the Queen Anne's War. Privateers were enlisted and paid to attack and plunder merchant ships, and after the war, many privateers put their newfound skills to good use by becoming pirates.
Blackbeard began his pirate career in the Caribbean under the pirate captain Benjamin Hornigold, and was so effective that he was rewarded with his own vessel, which he later renamed the Queen Anne's Revenge. In 1717, Blackbeard headed north, and began trolling the waters near the newfound colonies with his fair-weather friend, Stede Bonnet.
North Carolina, and specifically Bath and Ocracoke, became his preferred home. Blackbeard had a makeshift camp on the island, where he had wild pirate parties near present day Springer's Point, and a permanent home in the small inland town of Bath where he was supposedly the neighbor of the North Carolina Governor, Charles Eden. In fact, rumors persist that there was an underground tunnel in between the homes of Blackbeard and the governor, making it easy for Gov. Eden to pop in and enjoy the wild pirate bashes without anyone in the community finding out.
For about 18 months, Blackbeard terrorized the ships that were entering and leaving Ocracoke Inlet, and secretly (and supposedly) bribed Governor Eden to turn a blind eye to his coastal piracy.
North Carolina residents and merchants finally appealed to the Virginia Governor for help, and in secret, the VA governor arranged for a barrage of British ships to advance on Blackbeard.
Led by Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard, the navy approached Blackbeard just off the coast of Ocracoke on November 22nd, 1718, and in the ensuring battle, Blackbeard suffered a reported 25 stab wounds and five bullets. Blackbeard was subsequently beheaded, with his head hung on the bow of Maynard's ship, but his legend still persists in Ocracoke today.
Tracking Down Pirates on Ocracoke Island
Today's visitors will find many scenic spots and historic sites to follow the footsteps of North Carolina's legendary pirates.
Teach's Hole - The waters where Blackbeard met his demise can be found just off the coast of Ocracoke Village. Known as Teach's Hole, this locale, though hard to distinguish, is viewable from a number of vantage points along the Ocracoke waterfront.
Springer's Point - Once home to infamous wild pirate parties, Springer's Point is now a peaceful nature preserve where visitors can trod along wooded trails to the soundfront, which overlooks the infamous Teach's Hole.
Teach's Hole Blackbeard Exhibit - This fun museum features a wealth of maritime exhibits as well as a pirate-themed gift shop with replica pirate flags, books, and plenty of pirate toys for the kids.
Ocracoke Preservation Museum - This small museum located in a historic 1900 residence features a wealth of personal stories and collections, which includes tales of Ocracoke's local brushings with offshore pirates.
North Carolina Maritime Museum - Take a day trip to neighboring Beaufort, NC to visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum. A newly opened exhibit features artifacts taken from Blackbeard's favorite pirate ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, which was re-discovered off the coast of North Carolina in the past decade.