Tall ships were in the harbor, and Hampton’s Blackbeard Festival planned a parade and pirate invasion. The city was full of toddlers and parents wheeling strollers. Preschoolers wore eye-patches. And I was there, in the Hampton History Museum, for my first presentation about my new book, Blackbeard’s Legacy.
Who knew that people were interested in a pirate tale over 300 years old? My audience consisted of a small number of adults, interested, animated, and full of questions. They knew something about Blackbeard and more about Virginia history.
I wore a musketeer hat and eye patch and carried models of an ancient pistol, dagger and cutlass. I also brought three different pirate flags, including, of course, Blackbeard’s. While I was offered the use of a microphone, I never used it. My lecture turned out to be a friendly interactive conversation, held in the parish hall of St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the museum.
The plan was to talk about what we know about Blackbeard and what we don’t know. I said, “Blackbeard never said “Aargh,” a sound invented by the actor Robert Newton in the old film of Treasure Island.” I continued, “He also never buried treasure, an idea that also came from Treasure Island.” I remarked that Treasure Island was published in 1883, more than a hundred and fifty years after Blackbeard’s death. In Blackbeard’s day, if you owned treasure in any form, you used it. You bought farmland, ships, or invested it with like-minded investors.
I remarked that the only myth about Blackbeard’s treasure, aside from the fact that nobody ever found out where it was hidden, had to do with the College of William and Mary. There is a murky story that Blackbeard’s money was used to help build the house of the president of the college (!). James Blair had earlier been of assistance to some Virginia pirates, representing them before London courts and getting them released from a London prison. Just a coincidence? James Blair, President of William and Mary, finally occupied a college president’s house in 1722, just four years after Blackbeard’s death.
We looked at images of ships of Blackbeard’s day, maps of the world in 1700 and of early Charles Towne harbor. I also brought images of the Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard’s flagship), of Bath harbor where the pirates met before sailing, and of Blackbeard’s house in Beaufort, NC. We kept up an ongoing conversation through the presentation. I read several passages in the book to illustrate the stories and the history.
“Did Blackbeard’s house have a bathroom?” The answer “No. People didn’t have indoor bathrooms in 1700.” “Where are the Harrison family artifacts?” The answer: “Indiana, because William Henry Harrison was governor of the Northwest Territory. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison VIII, was a senator from Indiana before being elected President of the United States.”
Questions led us to all sorts of side discussions, and the audience and I had a good time. And I signed a few books sold in the museum gift shop. If anyone wants to hear about Blackbeard, I’m ready. Aargh!