Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Blackbeard and other pirates played a colorful role in Ocracoke's history, as is evident from the many references to Edward Teach in publications about our island...and from the sale of pirate memorabilia in many businesses on Ocracoke.

But, as we all know, pirates were not just colorful. They can be, and have been, described as dissolute, barbarous, murderous, and notorious.

In the author's introduction to "A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates" by Captain Charles Johnson, published in 1724, we find an account of a band of buccaneers who were captured  by Woodes Rogers, onetime privateer, and later Governor of Providence Island in the Bahamas, in 1718.

Rogers (right) receives a map of New Providence Island from his son, in a painting by William Hogarth (1729)

In 1718, those ten pirates were tried at a Bahamian court of admiralty, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged by the neck in sight of all of their former companions and fellow thieves (who had accepted King George's pardon as spelled out in his September 5, 1717 "Proclamation for Suppressing Pyrates").

Johnson relates that "The criminals would fain have spirited up the pardoned pirates, to rescue them out of the hands of the officers of justice, telling them from the gallows, that, they never thought to have seen the time, when ten such men as they should be tied up and hanged like dogs, and 400 of their sworn friends and companions quietly standing by to behold the spectacle. One Humphrey Morrice, urged the matter further than the rest, taxing them with pusilanimity and cowardice, as if it were a breach of honour in them not to rise and save them from the ignominious death they were going to suffer. But 'twas all in vain, they were now told, it was their business to turn their minds to another world, and sincerely to repent of what wickedness they had done in this. 'Yes.' answered one of them, 'I do heartily repent;  I repent I had not done more mischief, and that we did not cut the throats of them that took us, and I am extremely sorry that you ain't all hanged as well as we.' 'So do I' says another: 'And I', says a third; and then they were all turned off'; without making any other dying speeches....And thus ended the lives, with their adventures, of those miserable wretches, who may serve as a sad example of the little effect mercy has upon men once abandoned to an evil pursuit of life."

Pirates were colorful, yes...but certainly more (or less) than that. I wonder...should I delve more deeply into the life of Blackbeard's one-time quartermaster, William Howard??

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a history of the maritime hospital on Portsmouth Island. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous8:31 AM

    Philip, you've addressed a notion I've thought about through the years when visiting either Ocracoke or Bath, NC. Pirates were dangerous hundreds of years ago and today, there are some waters which are equally as dangerous because of modern day pirates.

    I suspect a lot of us really would not want to meet Blackbeard, in person, but through the years, his legacy has taken an almost heroric position. Truth be told, he was a mean, selfish person.

    Still, the Blackbeard legacy is exciting and it's part of NC nautical history...not to mention it does bring in curious visitors to lands where Blackbeard left his mark.

    Still looking for his buried treasure, but I think we have all found it whenever we are on Ocracoke Island!

    Go on, Phlip, "walk that plank" and delve into your relative, William Howard's life!


  2. Anonymous9:08 AM

    Pusillanimity. I do believe we should begin to use this word more often. As in "Am I just a pusillanimous bloke - get up and face the day!!!"

  3. Anonymous10:32 AM

    I smell another story brewing.

  4. Anonymous11:02 AM

    To err is human, to "argh" is to be a pirate

  5. Anonymous11:24 AM

    Colorful ---perhaps the back story of pirates have been cherry picked. Pirates dabbled in the slave trade, were all hands on deck willing hands on day one. The notion of a treasure chest of gold could be no doubt be found in Advertising Age archives. The "adventure" was getting through the day pirates were back then what thugs drug dealers, ponzi schemers, day traders, office football pit bosses are today.

  6. Anonymous1:25 PM

    You do know that September 19 is "talk like a pirate day"...right? Well it is!
    I, being a family tree historian of sorts here in PA, say "Philip, many of us have relatives past and present we may not wish to lay claim to...but they are however, still part of the tree....I say...yes, delve into your history" and please ...share your findings.

  7. anita baker3:36 PM

    The pirate history on Ocracoke is awesome. Our family visits several times a year and we always throw some Pirate clothes in our luggage.... Never know when you want to dress as a pirate ;).

  8. Anonymous11:15 AM

    Didn't we all want to dress as pirates for Halloween!

  9. Ey It true How shocking my father tell's me way before the internet that the Howard family has done many things within life. This is another of his do wise info. Ey be thinking where would Mr Howard come from the English I think or the french But if he was a wise black eye he could be a Scottish man ??