Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Treasure, ghosts, and the legacy of Blackbeard in the Cape Fear

A portrait of Blackbeard. 300 years ago, the pirate was brought to justice on the Carolina Coast. (Port City Daily photo/COURTESY CHRIS RACKLEY)
A portrait of Blackbeard. 300 years ago, the pirate was brought to justice on the Carolina Coast. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY CHRIS RACKLEY)

WILMINGTON — Three-hundred years ago, Edward Thatch (or Teach), aka Blackbeard the pirate, was finally brought to justice on the Carolina Coast. In honor of this “tricentennial anniversary,” and to commemorate the state’s rich maritime history, the North Carolina Division of Cultural Resources is hosting a year-long celebration of the pirate.

Although once feared across the high seas from New York to the Caribbean, Blackbeard has become a sort of mascot for the Tar Heel State.

According to the NCDCR, Blackbeard resided for extended periods in the Town of Bath, spending much of his marauding years looting merchant ships along the coast.

According to the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project, a division of the DCR dedicated to recovering Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in 1718, after blockading the Port of Charleston for nearly a week, Blackbeard and his fleet of pirates attempted to return home to North Carolina.

For better or worse, Blackbeard’s fleet ran aground, on the shoals surrounding what is now Beaufort Inlet.

According to Chris Rackley, local history buff and President of Lewis Realty in Surf City, the pirate is thought to have gone undertaken a sort of “corporate restructuring.” In an effort to shrink his crew, and secure more of his treasure for himself, he intentionally ran his ship aground off the Carolina Coast.

According to the NCDCR, six months later, Blackbeard was killed in a battle with the Royal Navy’s Lt. Robert Maynard, who beheaded the pirate, hanging his severed head from his ships bowsprit.

After the discovery of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Beaufort Inlet 1996, the remains of the vessel became the property of the people of North Carolina. But one thing was never recovered: his treasure.

Blackbeard and the Cape Fear

According to Rackley, local legend tells that Blackbeard once frequented the area around the Cape Fear area, even taking pirate Stede Bonnet, aka “The Gentleman Pirate,” who had some knowledge of local waters, under his wing.

Rackley says that it is rumored the pirates would stop over in Topsail Island between their trips to the Caribbean, to pillage and plunder passing ships in the busy colonial trade routes.

The name Topsail, it is said, comes from the “top sails,” of pirate ships that merchant vessels would watch for when passing by the island.

“Legend says that merchant ships would come by, and look for the sails hidden behind the dunes,” Rackley said. “Then the pirates ships would cruise out, do their thing, pillage, plunder, and go home. That’s how the island got its name.”

Although Rackley says that the name actually comes from the area around Beaufort Inlet, which was historically called Topsail Inlet, it’s fitting for the history of pirate activity in the Cape Fear.

Many locals believe Blackbeard hid his remaining treasure somewhere on the south end of the island, in an area called, “the gold hole.” While it may just be rumors, plenty of artifacts have been located in the Cape Fear region dating to the time of Blackbeard, giving hope to North Carolina treasure hunters.

A Colonial-era cannon was discovered in the Cape Fear River during a dredging project. (Port City Daily photo / FILE PHOTO)

“As a child in the 80s, I would get spanked for going to the gold hole,” Rackley said laughing. “They’d tell me, ‘if you fall in there, you’ll never come back out!'”

The hole was rumored to be bottomless, making a “perfect hiding place” for a pirate, like Blackbeard, looking to stash his loot.

Could there be some truth to this Blackbeard legend? Rackley says that in the mid-1900s, a New York treasure hunting group came to the gold hole, in search of the lost loot.

“These treasure hunters came down, and identified the ‘gold hole’ as the site of Blackbeard’s treasure,” Rackley said. “They spent weeks digging, working late into the night. But then one day, they were gone. They randomly packed up and left without a trace.”

Rackley says that although no one knows if anything was found, and some say the gold hole is no more, many still believe the treasure to be somewhere on the island.

While Rackley says he can’t confirm the validity of these rumors, there is one legend he has seen with his own eyes.

The flag of Blackbeard the pirate. (Port City Daily photo/COURTESY CHRIS RACKLEY)
The flag of Blackbeard the pirate. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY CHRIS RACKLEY)

“There’s an old fisherman’s tale that speaks of ghost ships just south of Topsail, in Rich’s Inlet,” Rackley says. “My father was a fisherman, so I never really believed him. But when I was 12 or 13 I saw it with my own eyes.”

Rackley says that as you pass the inlet, keep a keen eye on your radar. You may pick up a mark that’s invisible to the naked eye.

“It was broad daylight, and there was nothing there, but the radar sure said there was,” he said.

Allegedly, the blip will slowly turn out of the inlet, falling behind your boat as you continue on, before suddenly disappearing off the radar. Could this be an anomaly, or could it be the ghost of one of Blackbeard’s ships, guarding his long lost treasure, ready to loot passing vessels?

Rackley says he isn’t sure, but he knows his history, and what he saw that day.

For more information on the Blackbeard’s tricentennial anniversary, visit ncdcr.gov. For more information on the QAR Project, and for more on Blackbeard, visit qaronline.org.


Get in touch with Reporter Cory Mannion: follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or send an email at cory@localvoicemedia.com.

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