Before the pirate tours came along, the legacy of pirates in the Lowcountry had been reduced to caricatures on mini-golf courses and restaurant menus. But were there ever real pirates in the Lowcountry?
The area is full of vibrant lore, the most well-known of which is the legend of Gorez Goz. A bloodthirsty Spanish plunderer, Goz chased a local Indian maiden into a tree but got stuck, with his beard hopelessly ensnared in the tree branches. After he died, his grey beard continued to grow and spread, creating what we now call Spanish Moss.
History points to some real-world tales of piracy too. But, with traditional Lowcountry hospitality, the pirates were embraced at first, according to Beaufort County Public Library documents. For a quarter century after Charleston was founded in 1690, the city mingled eagerly with its pirate visitors, allowing them to booze and spend freely while at port as locals purchased stolen goods from the boats at low prices. Charlestonians saw the trade as good for the economy, but the royal government eventually began a crackdown.
Local historian Walter Edgar wrote in his 1998 book “South Carolina: A History" that the South Carolina colony during the early 18th century was at the mercy of pirates, who were being driven from their Caribbean hideaways by the royal navy. The buccaneers took haven in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and plundered ships sailing into and out of Charleston. The most notorious of the pirates at the time was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Teach captured a ship with prominent South Carolinians aboard, held them hostage and threatened to kill them all and then attack the town if the governor did not provide the ship with medical supplies. Blackbeard, Edgar writes, got his wish and sailed away with the supplies.
But the tide soon turned as colonists grew frustrated with the menace: while Blackbeard was being hunted off Virginia, local fleets caught the pirate Strede Bonnet, who was hanged in Charleston in 1718 along with 48 others.
By the time of the onset of the French and Indian War in 1756, the British were preparing to defend against he pirate fest: they commissioned a galley in Port Royal Sound to defend against pirates.