When thinking of pirates, most inevitably have visions of swashbuckling, flamboyantly dressed, buccaneers who bear resemblance to Jack, sorry – “Captain” Jack Sparrow or maybe Henry Morgan, from the Captain Morgan’s Rum bottle. It’s no shock, as that has been the portrayal of pirates by marketing and Hollywood since the days of Errol Flynn. The truth is a little closer to “Black Sails” than ol’ Jack Sparrow. Pirates were not as romantic as we have been shown our whole lives. They were usually folks who wanted a quick payday and would sacrifice things like pride, hygiene, and their moral compass (see what I did there?) to quickly attain status, money, and vice. Think of pirates as desperate gamblers walking into a casino, looking to hit it big on the slots. Very few gained riches and fame, but yearned to pull the lever, in search of instant gratification. The South Carolina low country is full of rich pirate history and here’s some great information and tips for you pirate lovers out there on your next beach vacation!
South Carolina Origins
Back in 1521 (99 years before Plymouth Rock!), Spanish slavers Pedro de Quexo and Francisco Gordillo embarked on an expedition from the Caribbean to the little-explored mainland of what is now South Carolina. They landed at the mouth of the Santee River, which is just south of Pawley’s Island, Georgetown, and Winyah Bay. For 22 days they explored the area and talked to the local people who said the land was called “Chicora” (a word you see today on several local businesses). De Quexo and Gordillo coaxed 60 of the locals onto their ship and without warning, set sail for Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti). Amongst those captives, was a man they named “Francisco de Chicora”. He quickly picked up Spanish and educated the slavers about the area. De Quexo and Gordillo saw a great opportunity to gain power and fame, so they told a little fib about the riches of “The Land Called Chicora”. They petitioned the Spanish Real Audiencia (Spanish Appellate Court, “Royal Audience”) for the right to settle Chicora, claiming a bounty that rivals Cortez’s Aztec gold or even El Dorado! Long story short, they were never able to colonize the area. Why do you need to know this? Because tales of these (false) riches began to spread throughout Europe and the Caribbean, bringing plunder-hungry pirates looking to patrol the Carolina waters in search of ships full of New World Gold!
Here there be Pirates!
As settlements grew throughout the New World over the centuries, major cities with great resources and accessible harbors (Charleston, Savannah) became greatly successful in shipping goods throughout the Caribbean and back to Europe. This, of course was like ringing the dinner bell to eager pirates. Not only were pirates able to find success in ambushing trade ships, they were treated as welcomed saviors in many settlements and cities. This is because when they came to port, they would provide discounted items with no East India TC taxes and help put much needed currency into their economy. Charleston, particularly became a hot bed for pirates and could provide goods, services (of all types), and potential prizes. One of the most famous pirate stories comes from Charleston Harbor. In 1718, Edward Teach, also known as “Blackbeard” blockaded the entire harbor, demanding that he receive boxes of Syphilis medication. Blackbeard threatened to sink any ship entering or leaving the harbor for 3 days until his demands were met. Also, “The Gentleman Pirate”, Stede Bonnet was hanged in Charleston that very year. Anne Bonney, the most famous lady pirate hails from Charleston and grew up on a nearby plantation. Charleston is under a 2-hour drive from NMB and is a great way to fill a day during a weekly stay….yay!
If you are looking to walk (or sail) in the footsteps of pirates closer to North Myrtle Beach, then look no further than Little River! Little River was the perfect hiding place for pirates looking to evade pirate hunters or the royal navy. It is thought that Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet used Little River as a sanctuary and possibly did some trading. When you visit the Little River waterfront, stop by The Pirate’s Treasure House. This unique gift shop has amazing wood carvings, jewelry, and art. You’ll also find a plethora of nautical and pirate items.
You can also choose from two pirate-themed cruises in Myrtle Beach. They feature fun for all ages including pirate history, sword fights, water cannon battles, dress-up, free treasure and map, and more. Check them out here:
If you google “Myrtle Beach” and “Pirates”, you’ll certainly find “Pirates Voyage”, one of the best and most famous attractions here at the beach. Pirates Voyage was founded by Dolly Parton and is formerly “The Dixie Stampede” and is the top dinner theater in the state. It features a family friendly pirate story, crowd interaction, animal acts, and AMAZING acrobatics. Seriously – you have to see how great these are on your next trip! If you’ve never been, be sure to get tickets from our front desk and you’ll save a little!
Pirates certainly left their mark on South Carolina and it is extremely interesting to research and to imagine what our area would have looked like during the golden age of piracy. The next time you visit The Grand Strand, be sure to take in some of our rich history and Yarrrgh going to have a great time!
Jason Coker is originally from the metropolis of Burlington, NC and is passionate about vacation experiences. Being able to indulge in the many great pancake houses here in NMB, makes him a lucky guy! An aficionado of music, sports, and all things geeky, Jason spends his free time performing music, grilling out, and relaxing with his son, daughter, and lovely wife, Amy.