PYRATES When it comes to the buccaneers who sailed off the East Coast, don’t believe everything you read or see By Pam Creech 22 WBM july 2016 of the Carolinas Each year on New Year’s Eve, someone in Beaufort dresses as a pirate and walks off a plank into chilly Taylor Creek, a small stretch of water connected to Beaufort Inlet. While many natives of eastern North Carolina take pride in the state’s pirate heritage, historians argue that the idea of “walking the plank” and other legendary practices are more fable than fact, stem-ming from works of fiction including Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic 1883 novel “Treasure Island” and, more recently, Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise. “People take for granted the things most authors or movie productions tell them,” says Kevin Duffus, North Carolina historian and author of “The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate.” Duffus says the romantic notion of buried treasure, which figured prominently in “Treasure Island,” is unlikely to have been a common practice among pirates. “Think about a chest that’s two feet by two feet by two feet. If it were eight cubic feet and filled with gold, it would weigh 9,700 pounds,” Duffus says. Duffus also says that many fallacies surround the most noto-rious pirate of the Carolinas — Blackbeard. “Many of these misconceptions stem from ‘A General History of the Pirates’ published by Captain Charles Johnson in 1724, six years after Blackbeard’s death,” he says. “That book made Blackbeard a household name. It created the myth that he had slow-burning fuses under his hat and in his beard, and that he had 14 wives. It was not written to be a history book. It was written to entertain, to tell a popular story and sell a lot of copies. Many historians today rely on that book for information about Blackbeard.” The character popu-larized by Johnson continues to captivate people nearly three centuries later, even though Duffus’ research suggests it bears scant resem-blance to reality. “Often people believe that Blackbeard was the most ruthless pirate who ever lived. I have found no example of him punishing any-body,” Duffus says. “The day he was killed at Ocracoke, Blackbeard was one of 10 pirates against 12 Royal Navy sailors. If Blackbeard were as fearsome as everybody thought, you’d think he’d be able to defend him-self. The manner in which he died was rather sensational: he was shot five times and stabbed 20 times before he fell. The 10 pirates were killed, but the sailors made it out alive.” Duffus believes the intriguing story of Blackbeard’s death contributed to his fame.
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