The North Carolina Coast Feature

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North Carolina's Pirates

North Carolina's coast was a magnet for marauding sea dogs during the Golden Age of Piracy, a period in the first quarter of the 18th century. Among those who visited was Stede Bonnet, the so-called gentleman pirate. For this successful owner of a sugar plantation, piracy seemed the result of a midlife crisis. He should have stayed on the farm: he was cheated by Blackbeard, captured by authorities, and hanged in 1718.

Anne Bonny was the Irish illegitimate daughter of a lawyer. Married at 16 to a small-time pirate, she fell in love with "Calico Jack" Rackham, and the two ran away together and put together a pirate crew. In 1720 they were attacked and most of the scalawags were too drunk to defend themselves. Rackham was sentenced to be hanged; Bonny claimed she was pregnant and was eventually pardoned. She disappeared from history before the age of 25.

Of course, the most notorious buccaneer of them all was Blackbeard, whose two-year reign of terror began in 1716. He cultivated fear by strapping on six pistols and six knives, tying his luxuriant beard into pigtails and, legend has it, tucking lighted matches into it during battle.

A polygamist with at least 12 wives, Blackbeard attacked ships in the Caribbean and settlements along the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas. At least three of his ships sank in North Carolina's waters; archaeologists are studying artifacts from what is likely the flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground on a sandbar near Beaufort Inlet in May 1718.

The following November a seafaring posse caught Blackbeard in one of his favorite playgrounds, Ocracoke Inlet. The pirate was decapitated and his head was hung from one of the conquering ships. Blackbeard's other lost ships and his reputedly fabulous treasure are still being sought today.

Updated: 09-2013

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