Virginia Beach, on coastal Virgina, is nowadays best known as a vacation resort with emphasis on tourism. But every day around here could be “talk like a pirate” day. This area is so steeped in pirate lore that it wouldn’t surprise me if one day I received my change at the drugstore in “coin of the realm.”
In fact, this area possesses a great deal of history. One part of Virginia Beach, Cape Henry, where the Atlantic Ocean rounds its way into the Chesapeake Bay, was the first landing place of the settlers aboard three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery in 1607. They stayed for several weeks before moving on to a more sheltered anchorage, the now famous Jamestown Settlement. This initial arrival is commemorated at First Landing State Park, Virginia’s most visited state park.
In a milestone event toward the end of America’s fight for independence, the French and English fleets engaged in The Battle of the Chesapeake just off Cape Henry. Though there was no clear winner, it prevented the British from moving reinforcements to the aid of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. The rest, as they say, is history.
Then there is the Civil War engagement, Battle of Hampton Roads, the first-ever sea battle fought between ironclads. The federal ship, USS Monitor, and the confederate ship, CSS Virginia, fought to a draw where the James and Elizabeth rivers converge to empty into the bay, which effectively ended the days of wooden ships for all navies of the world.
But nestled in between those periods, at the beginning of the 18th century, this area was a playground for pirates who preyed on merchant ships. These ships used the Chesapeake Bay to access the thriving ports of Norfolk, Baltimore, and several lesser commercial ports. One pirate in particular, Edward Teach, more commonly known as “Blackbeard”, had an especially lucrative vocation plundering ships in the waters around Virginia Beach. While his two-year reign was relatively short-lived, his legend is not.
Our street, Lookout Road, has a prominent place in this history. Blackbeard and his cohorts liked to conceal his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Pleasure House cove, some ways down from the Bay entrance where they could rest and re-provision without detection. However, they needed a string of lookouts, starting up at Cape Henry, to alert them when a commercial vessel, likely loaded with goods and treasure, was approaching. Upon a sighting, the first outlook would signal the next outpost, and so on, down along the bay coastline until Blackbeard, resting at Pleasure House Tavern, was informed. He would then foray to overtake and capture the unsuspecting and easy target. I will leave it to you to interpret what kind of establishment the tavern might have been. Historical records tell us the original was probably destroyed by the British during the War of 1812 and later rebuilt, possibly a couple of times. But a tavern existed there, dilapidated and unoccupied, until the late 1960’s. Condos now stand their lonely lookout at the spot.
Lake Joyce, the fresh water lake behind our home, which at one time was actually connected to the Bay, has only one island, named Treasure Island, that according to legend was a “pirate headquarters” used for meetings and dividing up the booty. While there is no concrete evidence to back this up, don’t tell the generations of kids, including my own, who have paddled over to camp and play pirate on the island. It would lose its charm.
The street names in our neighborhood, Baylake Pines, also give credence to its history. Names like Bounty Road, John Silver Road, Sea Chest Road, Ben Gunn Road, Treasure Island Drive, Blackbeard Road, and of course, Pleasure House Road.
Most pirate history concerning the east coast of America centers around the pirate home ports in North Carolina and points south, to Florida and several Carribean Islands. In fact, most of the loot they took came from those areas. However, Blackbeard’s nefarious actions in Virginia were severe enough that it was the Governor of Virginia, not North Carolina, that actually put out a bounty on the infamous Edward Teach. He secretly hired navy Lt. Robert Maynard and equipped him with two frigates. Maynard pursued Blackbeard and eventually caught up with him off the North Carolina coast. A pitched sea battle ensued with hand-to-hand combat aboard Maynard’s ship, The Jane, in 1718. Blackbeard was killed by the crew during this engagement. His head was severed and hung from the Bowsprit of The Jane as a warning to any other pirates who might try their luck in the area.
And so the story ends. Now avast me hearties, that be all the tales of the high seas that I have for ye today. If you jackanapes would like to shiver me timbers with a comment, be quick about it or it’s hangin’ from the yardarm ya be.
Wow, the link you gave me in your recent comment on my blog drew me here and what a post. You probably live in the most historical street in America. What fun you must have finding out what went on in your area Al. Quite a read which I did enjoy 🙂
So glad you enjoyed it, Ralph. Sadly, not the most famous as little is known about it outside this area. It is fun to talk about and every time we walk our dogs on the beach I’m hoping I will stumble over a Spanish doubloon!
I love the pirate history and lore of this area!
Glad you enjoyed it. Looking forward to what you have to say bout the area in your posts.
Tarrying as I may, I’ve been in hiding, lest my head and neck part ways. I know you’re tall, Al, but what were ye standing on to get that lovely view from the ocean to the bay?
I can’t believe I missed this post, I love pirate history! Very good and entertaining stuff Al! 🙂
Hmmm……I wonder if this interest you have in pirate history can be traced back to a previous lifetime, Tricia. Perhaps you were the infamous pirate Anne Bonny!?
I think I could be Al….my middle name happens to be Anne ya know….;) Now I have to go Google this person.
Well shiver me timbers, it is you!
I finally read up on Pirate Anne, very cool stuff!
Growing up in NC I heard all the bad history about pirates, however, my attitude toward pirates changed when I read, ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American World’ by historian Marcus Rediker. Pirates invented democracy. Besides, one man’s pirate was another man’s godsend.
Buccaneers were the Robin Hoods of the eighteenth century. Pirates included runaway servants and women, escaped slaves and the riffraff of Europe. They were the hewers of water and yeomen who finally help form a more perfect union and eventually created the United States.
Like most pirates, one of my ancestors was jailed for a minor offense, sentenced to death, escaped and joined a pirate crew….at least I think he did. Pirates dont leave addresses.
Andrew Jackson could not have won the Battle of New Orleans without pirate help in the form of Jean Lafite and his men.
Good stuff, Dianne. Bet you did a bit of swashbuckling in your time as well.
My swash came unbuckled permanently when I was much younger.
LOL. Don’t feel bad, my swash never got buckled to start with.
Most of my time was spent laughing at your crazy comments, and wondering “what on earth is he going to say next.”
Yes, I was a little Trump, way ahead of my time.
You are now up to date, I imagine.
I do history not geography…and Bernice is a tattle tale.
In that case, Jeri said she only reads your blogs for the other readers’ comments. They are the best.
That’s OK Bernice, whatever it takes to build up my visitor stats!!
I know Jeri, that’s why I keep her away from Patty as much as possible.
Oh, this is wonderful, I never knew any of this, we will have to have you review it with us next time we visit…..Fascinating! Thanks for all your research and for sharing it with us. …
You are very kind, Marcia. On your next visit, we’ll kayak over to the island for a picnic. Bring your own cutlass!
I can just imagine all the pirate play that your kids and others did on that island. This be fascinatin’, matey.
Yes, that’s the fun part of it. However, it’s also my personal Elba. Whenever I get in trouble (which is frequently), Patty threatens to exile me to “The Island.”
What a great place to live, both in terms of views and history. Wonderful tales of course, which I should be reading whilst “downing” a tankard of ale, but my coffee will have to do out of respect for the hour. 🙂
Blackbeard would quake at your timidness regarding the hour, but personally, I am impressed.
I thought I was Virginia Beach’s most notorious tourist. Oh well, fame is fleeting. Good writing, Al.
No, that would be “best-looking tourist” in your case, which apparently is not fleeting at all.
Thanks for the adventure re pirate lore in your neighborhood. I have a feeling old Blackbeard would enjoy his ongoing reputation. 😊
One thing for sure, he would be impressed at the bounty his name has created for some local merchants. Thanks for commenting.
I’ll be wittier if I want to, young man!
Did you know that there are several small villages and civil parishs called West Wittering, in England. You gave me a history lesson and I tried geography in exchange!
Thanks, I happen to love geography even more than witticisms.
Love the post! The pirates had their time and place in history. Can’t blame them for liking that area. It is beautiful!
Thanks, Marie. You’re so kind, I know Blackbeard would take you hostage for a King’s ransom!
Thanks for the history lesson Al – I really enjoyed it. Hi to Patty!
You’re welcome, Jeri. Tomorrow we will be discussing land topography in this area. The test will be Friday.
P.S. Patty says hi back.
Warning: Jeri writes information on her hand to use during a test.
Yes, I seem to remember seeing that in 4th grade while you were busy flirting with the boys.