The South Carolina Coast has been fertile ground to grow the legend of pirates. With a rich trade history, these colorful characters roamed up and down the beaches of South Carolina snatching riches and looking for the perfect place to hide their booty. There was no shortage of hiding places with the coast’s inlets, inland rivers and marshes – who knows how many Dead Man Chests, are yet to be discovered. The pirates that plundered the South Carolina surf were as varied as the treasures they stole. Here is a brief history of the scoundrels that preyed on the shores of the Carolinas.
John Rackham a.k.a. “Calico Jack” – Anne Bonny – Mary Read
Nicknamed after the Indian cloth that he commonly wore, Calico was a pirate that paid his dues by quartermastering on others ships until he earned his own vessel. Calico was a terror to Jamaica. After loosing his first ship to a naval confrontation, Calico escaped to the island of Provindence and met a female pirate, Anne Bonny. Bonny was married to a retired pirate but Calico and Anne could not be stopped. They fell in love, stole a ship and resumed their lives as pirates. For years, the two rampaged through the Carribean, only to seek safe haven in South Carolina – where the governor of the time was sympathetic to pirates.
In the Carolinas, they picked up another female pirate, Mary Read, who joined their leagues and excelled as a duelist. Known for her courage, she once killed a rival pirate for challenging a young man who was her love interest. Calico, Bonny and Read were successful privateers until the Jamaican Governor once again set his sights on Calico Jack, sending a fleet to capture their sloop. Calico Jack was hung in Jamaica. Mary Read died with her unborn child in a Jamaican prison of a fever. The history of Anne Bonny is unknown. Some say she was ransomed back to the Carolinas. Some say her wealthy family came for her. Others say that she escaped with the help of other pirates. The truth is no one knows.
Bartholomew Roberts a.k.a. “Black Bart”
Black Bart had been a sailor from a young age and after a ship where he was a mate was captured by pirates, he decided to join them. Quickly rising in the ranks, Bart became an unrivaled privateer. Accumulating 51 million pounds of treasure over his career – his skill as a navigator and an intimidator were unprecedented. Spanish trade routes to the Carolinas had to be adjusted to avoid Roberts.
Perhaps it was his greed that ended Black Bart’s dominance, leaving the Carolinas to Pillage the African coast; Bart was out-maneuvered by the Royal Navy and killed by cannon fire. He was so loved by his crew that they threw him overboard to allow his dead body to escape seizure.
Stede Bonnet a.k.a. “The Gentleman Pirate”
Said to have become a pirate to get away from his wife’s nagging. Being from a wealthy background, Bonnet was an inexperienced pirate but made several successful raids on merchant ships, always retaining his manners from his fine upbringing which garnered him the name, “The Gentleman Pirate.” He trolled primarily off the Carolina coast but perhaps his claim to infamy was his feud with Blackbeard.
Blackbeard befriended the young pirate and even brought Bonnet on board his own ship long enough for Blackbeard’s crew to steal Bonnet blind. After Blackbeard left Bonnet with an empty ship, he swore to get revenge on Blackbeard but South Carolina’s military ships got to him first and Bonnet was tried and hanged in Charleston. His body was left dangling at White Point for four days as an example of what happens to pirates on the Carolina coast.
Edward Teach a.k.a. “Blackbeard”
Beginning as a sea merchant, Teach became a privateer during the Queen Anne War. Having a taste for the taking, Teach took to pirating after the war, outfitting his ship with 40 cannons and manning the vessel with an experienced crew. Teach’s warship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was built for combat and Teach made himself into a persona that inspired fear.
Dressing all in black with a long black, braided beard filled with colorful ribbons and burning match cord. Armed to the teeth with daggers, cutlasses and pistols – he had transferred himself into Blackbeard. Blackbeard spent his life robbing merchant and naval ships. He was one of the most colorful and satisfied pirates. He treated it like a career by having quite a successful life on the land, bribing officials to allow his lavish existence, but always returning to the sea to make his living.
Blackbeard’s long run came to an end when he was ambushed by a small naval ship lead by Lieutenant Maynard of Virginia while anchored in a North Carolina inlet. The two crews engaged in hand-to-hand combat and Blackbeard was stabbed approximately 25 times and shot at least 5 times. He was beheaded and Maynard hung his head from the bow as a trophy. Members from both crews have said that once Blackbeard’s headless body was thrown overboard that it swam around the ship 3 times before finally sinking down into the abyss.
Believe the legends or not, the pirates that pillaged the shores of the Carolinas were real. So do your homework, unroll the map and grab your metal detectors. Because who knows what you might find when you let the legends take you on an adventure of your own.