5 National Parks with Notorious Pirate Stories

The rocky shoreline of Cinnamon Bay with the green mountainous islands in the horizon at the Virgin Islands National Park
— Anne Finney/NPS

From myths and legends to real-life adventures, pirate stories abound  at our national parks. Tales of famous pirates like Blackbeard and Sir Francis Drake are part of the fabric of many coastal parks, and while separating true history from tall tales isn't always easy, one thing’s for sure – visiting these parks is like stepping back in time. 

Jean Lafitte – Pirate or Patriot?

A wooden boardwalk through the green and treed wetlands the Barataria Preserve at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Hallie Borstel, Share the Experience

No one knows exactly when or where Jean Lafitte was born, but by the early 1800s, his reputation was well known along the Gulf Coast. Lafitte and his men made their living from piracy and smuggling slaves and goods into South Louisiana through New Orleans. When the War of 1812 began, Lafitte was instrumental in defending the coast from British attacks, offering his services in exchange for a full pardon of himself and his men, which he received from President James Madison after the war's end. Lafitte's story is an integral part of Louisiana's Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve.

The Legend of Blackbeard

Stormy clouds over the black and white lighthouse on Bodie Island at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Laurie Sea, Share the Experience

Perhaps the most infamous pirate of all time, Blackbeard terrorized vessels in the Caribbean and along the East Coast during the early 1700s, earning a reputation as one of the most feared men on the seas. But although his career was legendary, it was also short-lived. Blackbeard met a gruesome end, suffering 25 stab wounds and five gunshots during a doomed battle at Ocracoke Inlet, located near Cape Hatteras National Seashore in present-day North Carolina. 

The Wreck of the Whydah

The yellow sandy beach with a wooden fence and some green grass next to the blue ocean under a blue sky at Cape Cod National Seashore
Melissa Machonis, Share the Experience

A former slave vessel turned pirate ship, the Whydah was under the command of the notorious Captain Samuel Bellamy (also known as "Black Sam" Bellamy) when it ran into a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The ship capsized on April 26, 1717, taking its captain down with it – along with, as legend has it, a fortune in treasure. Stories of Captain Bellamy and the Whydah's treasure continue to haunt the coastline of Cape Cod National Seashore to this day.

Sir Francis Drake, Pirate to the Rescue!

Softly lit wooden Waterside Theatre with the Roanoke Sound in the back at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
National Park Service

Pirate, privateer, adventurer, war hero, navigator, and expert sailor — Sir Francis Drake was a man who wore many hats. In 1585, he became known as the rescuer of the struggling Roanoke colony which was on the brink of starvation and under constant threat of attack from the Algonquians. Thankfully, Drake arrived just in time to rescue the colony's 115-man military detachment and transport them back to England. His story and many others are told today at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in North Carolina. 

Pirates of the Caribbean

Overlooking Cruz Bay on St. John at the Virgin Islands National Park
National Park Service

Few places are more steeped in pirate lore than the islands of the Caribbean, in particular the Virgin Islands. As several European powers vied for control of the islands in the 1600s, piracy was rampant. Many of the islands and waterways that make up present-day Virgin Islands National Park were once the domain of pirates and privateers. During the 17th and 18th centuries, nearly all of history's most infamous pirates seem to have spent time pillaging in and around the area, including Captain Kidd, Bartholomew Sharp, Tempest Rogers, and "Black Sam" Bellamy.

Whether you still appreciate Johnny Depp’s eyeliner and mannerisms from the films, or you get a thrill out of spooky tales of piracy, it’s always fascinating to hear legendary pirate stories firsthand. #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque at these pirate-laden parks to learn more!

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