We may be in the midst of prime summertime, and there’s still fall and the whole holiday season ahead, but we’re getting ready and counting the days to one of the most exciting cultural events in the country. Yes, you guessed it. Mardi Gras, the iconic Carnival celebration, is just six months away and thus it’s not too early to mark your calendars and make your plans for this incredible, weeks-long event filled with music, parades, costumes and the true spirit of the South.
No, I didn’t know there was an International Pirate Talk Like a Pirate Day (IPTLAPD for short) either. Luckily Mindy Bianca alerted me that it was a global event and gave me some background. Created by two friends in Oregon back in 1995. I shiver my timbers (whatever that means) just thinking of all those IPTLPAD good times I’ve missed for the last 26 years.
But not anymore! I’m up to date on IPTLPAD and Mindy has kindly pointed out places with historical ties to pirates as well as destinations which feature pirate-related events, tours, restaurants, and attractions.
Mindy wants to assure anyone who asks that she knows that pirates aren’t good guys and gals.
“They were scallywags who did things that would certainly not make their mamas proud, so we’re not here to celebrate their achievements … just to acknowledge their existence and the role they played in history,” she says, adding that pirates, no matter how bad they were, are certainly part of our pop culture.
So all hands on deck as we get started with our tour of all things pirate with a look at coastal Louisiana where pirate Jean Lafitte is legendary and intertwined with big moments in Louisiana’s history.
Not a whole lot is known about the early years of Lafitte, who claimed to be born in France–but can you really trust what a pirate tells you? We do know he ultimately made his way to the Gulf of Mexico with his brother Pierre to make his fortune—but not by hard work. Among his most horrible act was smuggling enslaved people.
“His bad behavior worked to Louisiana’s incredible advantage during the Battle of New Orleans, the final conflict of the War of 1812. Lafitte agreed to fight on the side of the Americans – General Andrew Jackson gave him the choice of assisting the American cause or going to jail – and the Americans were victorious against the British in great part because Lafitte and his buccaneers knew the bayous and waterways so well,” Mindy tells me. “It certainly didn’t hurt that they were no gentlemen; they ignored the established rules of engagement and used whatever means necessary to get the job done. The pirates led the British into the swamps, for example, and ambushed them or just let them get lost among the alligators and snakes.”
After all, pirates operate on the principle of “dead men tell no tales.”
Throughout Southern Louisiana
*Please note that this region was recently impacted by Hurricane Ida, so now isn’t the best time to visit. Please put these on your list to visit in the future!
In his later years, Jean Lafitte established headquarters in Galveston, Texas, so he spent some time near the southwestern part of Louisiana. But in his earlier years he dominated the southeastern part of the state, where today you’ll find four of the six sites of his eponymous national park. Two of those park sites are within MBPR’s client destinations.
The Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center in Lafourche Parish are also known as Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou. Though the center itself, located in the town of Thibodaux, focuses on the region’s Cajun heritage, rangers there tell us that Bayou Lafourche, the body of water for which the parish is named, was among Lafitte’s preferred smuggling routes. He’d load and unload his cargo at the mouth of the bayou. But he and his band of pirates also aided the U.S. by preventing the British from accessing the body of water during the Battle of New Orleans. It’s a job they took very seriously indeed.
Over in Jefferson Parish, in the little town of Marrero, the national park site is called Barataria Preserve and it offers an incredible peek inside the wild wetlands of Louisiana. The preserve features 26,000 acres of bayous, swamps, marshes and forests that are home to plenty of alligators, plus more than 200 bird species and an array of plants and wildflowers. Wander along its boardwalk on a self-guided tour or accompany a ranger on a Wetlands Walk (tours are offered at 10 a.m. every Wednesday through Sunday) and it’s easy to see how Lafitte and his hearties could easily vanish in these swamps.
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
*Please note that this region was recently impacted by Hurricane Ida, so now isn’t the best time to visit. Please put this on your list to visit in the future!
Jean Fafitte is one of two towns in Jefferson Parish named for Louisiana’s favorite pirate (the other is just called “Lafitte.”) The region was a huge draw for Lafitte who found its bayous, swamps and waterways the perfect cover for his illegal activities. He favored places on Bayou Barataria, whose dark depths hide all kinds of secrets. Visitors can tour the region’s mysterious swamps (alligator sightings guaranteed!), enjoy some of the best seafood ever, and learn the history of the people who make their home here.
Jean Lafitte Harbor is one of the stops on the new “Soul of the South” tour itinerary, which was designed to help visitors learn the many untold stories of Native, Creole and African Americans in South Louisiana. The harbor is located along Lafitte’s favored smuggling routes.
Louisiana Pirate Festival – held annually in May
900 Lake Shore Drive, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Lafitte was a busy, well-traveled guy who sailed along and through the waterways of the state’s southernmost reaches. Legend has it that as he and his band of buccaneers were making their way west toward Galveston, enemy ships gave chase. To avoid being captured Laffite and his crew hid amongst the waterways of what would become Lake Charles. According to legend, their very favorite hangout was a place now called “Contraband Bayou,” an apt name given that Lafitte and his crew were reputed to have buried a treasure trove of silver and gold there.
This legend is celebrated in early May with the Louisiana Pirate Festival, which takes place on both land and sea. A highlight of the event is the reenactment of Lafitte and his band taking over the city, complete with cannons firing and the mayor “walking the plank.” Costumes are encouraged, and the event features live music, plenty of rations and grog, carnival rides, and appropriately themed pirate booty for purchase.
Louisiana loves a festival, and the Louisiana Pirate Festival in Lake Charles is one of the best.
We’re changing course now, away from Jean Lafitte and Louisiana and sailing on to other parts of the country, not all of which have their own pirate history but do subscribe to the theory that it’s “a pirate’s life for me.”
Wilmington Pirate Festival – held annually in June
The Kalmar Nyckel is the official Tall Ship of Delaware, a sailing ambassador that serves as a floating classroom and encourages visitors to learn about the maritime heritage of Delaware and its historic ties to Sweden and Finland. The ship is a replica of the original Kalmar Nyckel, which was known as the “Swedish Mayflower” because it brought the settlers who founded the colony of New Sweden here in 1638 and thereby established the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley. That wasn’t a pirate ship, but today’s Kalmar Nyckel hosts a Pirate Festival each June just for fun. Guests can climb aboard the ship for cannon and craft demonstrations and a variety of pirate-related activities. On select weekends when the ship is docked in Wilmington (it often travels throughout the Mid-Atlantic), visitors can also go out for pirate sails. This month’s 90-minute sails will depart on Sunday, September 19 (International Talk Like a Pirate Day!) and 26.
Pirates Ahoy! – held annually in July
We’re not sure that pirates knew anything about reading and writing then that the letter X marks the spot. But the tiny pirates you find in Allegany County, on The Mountain Side of Maryland, definitely enjoy a good book. This summertime event hosted by the Children’s Literature Center of Frostburg State University is expected to return to its usual roost along Main Street of Frostburg (in 2021 the event moved to a park as a COVID precaution) on July 6 next year. Full crews of costumed lads and lassies and their parents take part in all manner of buccaneer activities, including pirate-themed crafts and treasure hunts. A children’s book author is always invited to present a reading and book-signing of their pirate-themed book; the 2022 author has not yet been announced.
Just one of the crew of small pirates who descend upon Frostburg, Maryland for the adventure of reading.
One of the oldest city’s in the U.S. Mobile was founded three centuries ago, and as an important port on the Gulf of Mexico, it’s certainly seen a pirate or two. No make that a lot more. To prove our point, consider the following. In 1711, British privateers pillaged neighboring Dauphin Island. In 1815, Jean Lafitte (yep, him again!) and his brother Pierre sold their ship, the Adventurer, in Mobile. River pirates such as Paddy Scott raided cargo barges as they tried to make their way to and around Mobile. The stories of these 18th- and 19th-century pirates and more are recounted during a 90-minute walking tour around Mobile’s waterfront. A costumed guide offers guests a step back in time back, teaching them to talk like a pirate and sing a sea chanty while also giving them a few “pointers” in sword fighting.
A Bounty of Pirate Activities
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Local lore tells us that the bays and coves on the north side of this part of coastal Alabama once provided shelter to pirates and privateers who sailed their ships into countless protected areas that hid them from view. Modern-day visitors looking for a taste of the pirate life can grab a bushwacker (a favorite local cocktail) and burger at Pirate’s Cove restaurant near the town of Elberta, which is about a 30-minute drive from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and an even shorter boat ride. The dog-friendly atmosphere assures that your best first mate can come along on the adventure, too. Back in Orange Beach, the youngest swashbucklers enjoy climbing aboard the Pirate Cruise that leaves Hudson Marina at Skull Harbor. They take to the high seas with a crew in full garb and learn about the pirates who once sailed these waters. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, those lads and lassies might also appreciate the Pirates & Princesses Breakfast served at The Hangout, a legendary restaurant in Gulf Shores. For one of their famed cocktail recipes see below.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
What’s Dolly Parton’s connection to pirates? Well, like Dolly, the swashbucklers in her employ are a fun-loving crew … multi-talented and great at keeping an audience entertained. The first Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show opened in 2011 in Myrtle Beach, which has plenty of ties to Captain Edward Teach, a.k.a. “Blackbeard.” At the dinner show, a modern-day Blackbeard leads two incredibly athletic crews, the Sapphire Pirates and the Crimson Pirates, who battle on deck, in the water and in the sky above a pair of full-sized pirate ships docked in a 15-foot indoor lagoon. The show features acrobatic competitions and an original music score by Dolly and Mark Brymer. The show also includes a four-course pirate feast. Who knew that pirates enjoy buttery biscuits and crispy fried chicken as much as landlubbers do? The Myrtle Beach theater proved so successful that in 2019 Dolly decided to bring the show to Pigeon Forge, already home to her Dollywood theme park. In November and December, the fun-loving pirates in Myrtle Beach truly get into the holiday spirit, adding a little “ho-ho-ho” to their usual “yo-ho-ho.”
Leaving the continental United States, we set sail for the Caribbean.
Negril and Montego Bay, Jamaica
Pirates abounded in Jamaica in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. One, Henry Morgan, even became the island’s lieutenant governor. But perhaps Jamaica’s most famous pirate was “Calico” Jack Rackham, who’s credited with introducing the now-famous Jolly Roger flag. Jack, who is said to have earned his nickname because of his preference for calico clothing including his underpants, and his band of pirates made themselves at home in Negril while they pillaged merchant and fishing vessels along the north shores of Jamaica.
His crew included two female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who were said to be much more ruthless than any of their male counterparts. Calico Jack and members of his crew were captured in Negril, which is where today you’ll find Sunset at the Palms, an adults-only, all-inclusive resort. Its family-friendly sister properties in Montego Bay, Sunset Beach Resort, Spa & Waterpark and Oasis at Sunset, share a campus that features a pirate-themed water park.
Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
This luxury resort on St. Croix gets its name from buccaneer Jean Martel, who in the early 1700s made his fortune hijacking ships in the waters surrounding Jamaica. When Martel traveled to St. Croix for supplies, Jamaican officials received a tip that he was in the Virgin Islands and sent a warship into Christiansted harbor to capture him. Trying to escape, Martel ran his ship aground just off Beauregard Bay, right where one of the resort’s beachfront restaurants sits today.
Martel along with some of his crew were able to escape in one of the pirate’s sloops, but others were forced to hide on the island as authorities confiscated their remaining ships. As for the gold? We don’t know as no record exists that it was ever discovered. But then would you admit it?
Anyway, for the last three centuries rumors have run rampant that the gold is buried somewhere on the island. When the Armstrong family opened The Buccaneer in 1947– the resort is still owned by the Armstrong family and is run by the third generation–guests often spent their days searching for the gold. They never found it, nor did the construction crews who built Beauregard’s on the Beach, the restaurant that sits where the treasure is said to have been buried.
And here’s a final entry you probably didn’t expect:
Pittsburgh Pirates Artifacts at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Cooperstown, New York
Cooperstown has nothing to do with pirates … unless you count the name of one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams represented at its famous museum dedicated to baseball. But why are the Pittsburgh Pirates called Pirates? The team used to be named the Alleghenys, but according to Major League Baseball, it’s due to their habit of plundering players from other teams that they became informally known as “pirates.” The team officially took the name in 1891. The Hall of Fame and Museum is a treasure chest of baseball artifacts, and the “Starting Nine” is a collection of nine key artifacts from each Major League team. Among the nine items currently on display for the Pirates are Roberto Clemente’s retired #21 jersey; Willie Stargell’s 1979 World Series bat; and an incredibly rare Honus Wagner T206 baseball card, considered one of the “Holy Grails” among card collectors.
Avast, me hearties. We hope you’ll celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day in style! Wear your calico bloomers, perch a parrot on your shoulder, watch a few of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise movies, and above all, avoid walking the plank.
Surf’s Up Cocktail from The Hangout
Yield: 1 serving.
Fill a 12 ounce glass with ice cubes.
Add: 1 ounce Bacardi light rum, 1 ounce Malibu coconut rum and 1/2 ounces peach schnapps.
Then carefully, to keep colors as separate as possible, pour enough pineapple juice in one side of the glass and cranberry juice in the opposite side to fill the glass. Top with a generous drizzle of Blue Curacao. Garnish, if desired, with an orange slice and a cherry, which you stick on the end of a straw.