Shiver Me Timbers—Our Blackbeard Tour was a Big Success!

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Bruce Venter

Wow! Our Blackbeard and the Pirates of the Chesapeake tour was terrific. We had excellent weather and our historian, the affable and incomparable John Quarstein excelled in his descriptions of pirate history and legend. Plus he did not limit himself to just pirate history. John brought in Civil War and Revolutionary War history at the appropriate times, even describing the little-known 19th century Oyster Wars between Maryland and Virginia.

But Edward Teach or Thatch, if you prefer, (alias Blackbeard) was the focus of our adventure. After a drive along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, we had a pleasant 45 minute ferry ride from Hatteras (near where the USS Monitor sank in a late 1862 gale) to Ocracoke Island. Lunch was at Howard’s Pub, a local favorite. After lunch, we stopped at Teach’s Hole where the nasty pirate leader sheltered his ship. Then John regaled us along the island’s inner shoreline with the story of how Lt. Robert Maynard of the British Navy attacked and overwhelmed Blackbeard and his crew in November 1718. Maynard’s stunning victory cost the bloodthirsty pirate his life as well as his head. Blackbeard’s head was cut off and legend has it that it was tied to the bowsprit of Maynard’s ship. It was displayed in the city of Hampton, Virginia as a warning to other would-be pirates. After a two hour ferry ride from Ocracoke to Cedar Island, we spent the night in Moorhead City.

Our second day started at the North Carolina Maritime Museum where curator, David Moore gave us a power point presentation on Blackbeard, the wreck of his ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge and its eventual discovery off Beaufort, North Carolina. David is part of the dive team that is rescuing parts of the ship. His knowledge of Blackbeard, pirates and the ship itself is encyclopedic. He also provided us with a behind the scenes look at a new Blackbeard exhibit that was not scheduled to open for another week. This unannounced addition to our tour is another example of the extra effort America’s History likes to provide for its tour participants.

Next we went to Fort Macon to view the site of the Queen Anne’s Revenge from the fort’s parapet wall. John was able also give an overview the fort’s story during the Civil War as well. This is an excellent site and a great example of the brick and masonry forts that were built by our government following the War of 1812.

We had a great lunch in New Bern at the Chelsea restaurant where our good friend and preeminent Mosby historian, Horace Mewborn joined us. Later that day we had stops in Bath and Edenton. Bath was a known hangout for Blackbeard as he cut deals with Governor Charles Eden and Tobias Knight, another colonial official who protected the pirate in exchange for a share of the booty.

On Saturday we drove out to Hampton Roads to see Lynnhaven Inlet and Cape Henry where Chesapeake pirates fought engagements with Crown forces in the 17th century. Cape Henry also gives an excellent view shed for the site of French Admiral de Grasse’s naval defeat of a British fleet in 1781, thus assuring George Washington’s victory over Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown a few weeks later.

Our tour ended in the city of Hampton at its annual Blackbeard Festival where costumed pirates and aggressive wenches gave the crowd a spirited recreation of what the “Golden Age of Piracy” was like three centuries ago. The festival included a mock water battle off the Hampton docks between Lt. Maynard’s ship and Blackbeard’s sloop with cannons blasting. But the same fate awaited the pirate captain as it did in North Carolina three centuries earlier. An oversized papier-mâché’ head of Blackbeard was displayed to a jeering crowd, then paraded thru the streets to the delight of young and old alike.

As we returned to our hotel, tour participants expressed many requests for John Quarstein to do another tour for America’s History and he will. John is serving on Virginia’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee and is writing a book on the war, so look for a spectacular tour on the War of 1812 in 2012 with John as our tour leader!

~Bruce Venter

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