Tybee History Series – Ahoy, Pirates!

October 7, 2010 by  
Filed under History & Folklore, Reginald Frazier

Part III – Ahoy! Pirates! The Pirates of Tybee Island

With the arrival of October’s PirateFest, here’s a bit of history about Tybee’s “real” piratic past…

By Reginald Frasier

The “Locals”

During the 17th and 18th centuries Tybee was frequented by pirates who used the island to hide from their pursuers. Pirates later used the island’s inland waterways for a fresh water source.  After the founding of South Carolina in 1670, warfare increased between the English and their allies, and the Spanish and their Native American allies. In 1702, James Moore of South Carolina led an invasion of Spanish Florida (El Florida) with an Indian army and a fleet of “privateers,” (in later years they would be called pirates). The invasion failed to take the capital of Florida, St. Augustine, but did destroy the Guale and Mocama missionary provinces.


The British and Piracy
When the Spanish began to pillage the New World and return hordes of gold and silver to Spain at the end of the 16th century and early 17th century, the other fledgling navies of the world, particularly the French and English, saw a chance to enrich their own treasuries and lessen Spanish influence by unofficially authorizing private captains and their crews to “go on account” (or be given a letter of marque), and loot laden Spanish galleons under their own perspective flags.

For a time the English crown in particular, having limited resources to go against Spain on the high seas considered these privateers very valuable additions to the efforts of the Royal Nacy. But what started out as an asset in times of war, quickly became a global problem, even for the English and French, who were still plying their trades across the Atlantic, as privateers used to rewarding their crews with the spoils of war often turned against their benefactors and began to raid any ship in the Atlantic and Caribbean, whether Spanish, English or French.

It was during this time that the infamous pirates rose to prominence, pirates such as Henry Morgan, Captain William Kidd, and later Edward Teach (Blackbeard). Although Morgan never left any evidence he landed on Tybee Island, there is some evidence Blackbeard and Captain Kidd potentially used Tybee as a port of sorts, certainly as a source of victuals and fresh water.

By the year 1700, renegade captains and their crews had set up a remote settlement in the Bahamas known as the Pirates Republic of New Providence, fortified themselves and declared themselves independent of the crown. Eventually, England would no longer be able to afford such a menance to her colonies in the Americas, and in 1716, after offering a general amnesty she declared all renegade captains and sailors who refused to cooperate “pirates,” and went after them in earnest.  By 1720, most of the pirates who had populated the eastern islands of the Caribbean had been captured and hung, or perished on the high seas in battle.

Captain Kidd (Pirating: 1645 – 1701)
While Captain Henry Morgan was accused of being a pirate after leading a raid on Spanish settlements in Panama in the mid 1600s, he was later acquitted and became governor of Port Royal and himself a pirate hunter.

It was perhaps Captain Kidd who was the most vilified of all the early pirates as he plied his trade between 1645 and 1701. Hired by the English to plunder the Caribbean Sea of their Spanish fortunes, he later became a discomfort, when the Spanish officially complained to the British. A reward was placed upon his head by both the British and the Spanish.

When Kidd learned of this he determined to return to England and clear his name. He’d set sail from Nevis, his fleet laden with an enormous treasure apprehended from the Spanish Main, intent on returning the loot to London, but during a stopover in the Bahamas, he learned he was a wanted man. Kidd then sailed up the eastern coast of the United States and into Canadaian waters (off Oak Island) in a circuitous route back to New York before arriving in Boston harbor to restock victuals and perhaps clear his name.

Instead, he was arrested there in 1699, but upon his arrest, the treasure loaded on his three remaining ships, a treasure he possessed when he left Nevis was missing, and he never told anyone where he buried it. Kidd was transported back to London where he unsuccessfully attempted to make his case and clear his name and was hung at Wallpole gallows in May 1701. His body was gibbeted over the Thames River in an iron cage for 20 years to be seen by every ship sailing from London to serve as a warning to all who set to sea thereafter.

Captain Kidd may have buried his treasure anywhere along his long route to Boston. He may have even anchored at Tybee Island, as this was a popular watering hole for pirates at the time. Tybee would have been a perfect place for Kidd to bury his treasure because it was so accessible. Such a treasure could be buried and easily retrieve at a later date.

But many think he set in at the Bay of Fundy and buried his treasure on Oak Island, Nova Scotia. The famous “Money Pit” on Oak Island has been speculated to hold a buried treasure, having been artfully constructed by an ingenious engineer. Some small strands of gold have been unearthed from the pit over the two hundred years men have been attempting to uncover the treasure buried there, but no one has been successful in retrieving the whole cache. Captain Kidd was not an engineer of this caliber, so it is probable the treasure of Oak Island is not Kidd’s horde.

Lately, there has been some conjecture that the Oak Island Treasure may contain the Ark of the Covenant, captured by the Knights Templar from under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the Crusades. It has been conjectured that the Knights Templar brought the holy artifact back to Europe with them when they returned, and it made its way to Scotland, where Henry St. Clair (Sinclair) took charge of the priceless relic. Henry St. Clair later (circa 1362) made an expedition to the Americas (one hundred thirty years before Columbus) and may have brought the Ark of the Covenant with him, burying it on Oak Island and heading further inland, leaving the Kensington Stone as a land claim in Minnesota. (But that’s another story for another time.) If Oak Island Nova Scotia is not holding Kidd’s treasure, perhaps Tybee is the place to look.

Edward Teach Blackbeard, Pirating 1680-1718)

Perhaps the most famous of the pirates to find refuge in the inland waterways sheltered by Tybee Island was Edward Teach (or Thatch) better known as “Blackbeard.” He used the island as a sanctuary in 1717 and early 1718 sailing the French ship La Concorde, which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. The flagship was originally built by the British and named The Concord but it was captured by the French and renamed La Concorde. When another renowned pirate, Captain Benjamin Hornigold retrieved the ship from the French he placed Edward Teach as Captain and the legend of Blackbeard was born.

Teach used Tybee Island as his staging point in his raid on the port of Charleston, South Carolina in 1718, but when he ransomed the captive population of Charleston for a handsome sum, he grounded the Queen Anne’s Revenge in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina and never visited Tybee Island again. Blackbeard was killed in a skirmish with the famous pirate hunter Sir Robert Maynard on the 22nd of  November, 1718.

That’s all for now, mateys!


Pictured here is one of the flags flown from the Queen Anne’s Revenge by the infamous pirate “Blackbeard” during his reign of terror.