So, Sullivan’s Island, where I’m from, is supposedly the home of Blackbeard’s treasures. It’s like an actual written document, Blackbeard at one point visited Charleston and held the city hostage for a few days in exchange of medical support on his crew. Charleston also was like a famous port hub for a whole lotta pirates, privateers, and whatnot during the Golden Age of Piracy, all this is factual. But supposedly, Blackbeard, before he died, he buried a good amount of his gold somewhere around the island during his visit to Charleston. The legend is that him seeking medical attention was just a distraction, and he just needed to securely hide his treasures in a remote enough location where no one else could find it. There have been actual treasure hunters who tried to find this, but I don’t think anyone has actually been able to. What’s crazy is that once in a while they fish up old Spanish gold or wreckage or something from that era neat Charleston in the ocean, because there have been a lot of ships that sunk near the city I guess. So these things keep adding validity to the supposed hidden treasure, it’s like teasing everyone for the actual, unbelievable fortune that’s hidden.
My informant is a 21 year old student, currently going to Duke University in North Carolina. She was born and raised in South Carolina, and is well versed with the local history of the city. Charleston is famously known for being a hub of trade during the Age of Discovery, and there have been famous pirates who made appearance at the city regularly, including Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach. My informant has stated that she learned about this legend through her friends when she was 10 years old.
The conversation took place over the phone, 3:30 pm for myself (PST) and 3:30pm for my informant (EST). My informant was alone in her room during the conversation.
The myth behind pirate’s gold is so common and often seen as a complete hoax. Realistically, hiding one’s treasures underground doesn’t sound like the safest or smartest way to keep your valuables for anyone. But the reason why I think this story is so commonly told because of people’s built fantasy around pirates as story archetypes. Pirates have been romanticized through popular culture for decades, and I think by trying to find the hidden treasures people are actively trying to insert themselves into this mythos, becoming part of the fantasy pirates by obtaining what was left behind by them.
Context: The informant told this joke in passing, and I asked to hear it again because of the play on words.
Informant: “What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?”
Collector: “I don’t know… what is it? Is it R?”
Informant: “Arr you’d think so but me first love be the C”
Background: The informant, a 20 year old college student at Harvard, says is one of his favorite jokes and he tells it often to entertain his friends. He says that he found this joke on Reddit.
Analysis: In order to understand this joke, you have to have the preconceived notion that pirates a stereotypically shown to say “arr.” Therefore, this joke shows how as a society there is a unified understanding of the pirate stereotype and that there can be these jokes on it. This joke catches on because of its spin on the more obvious stereotypical saying by pirates. It demonstrates also how phonetic similarity can function as a joke when recited with another meaning/spelling.
Here my informant recounts a tradition among the local youth he knew in Point Loma to visit a place they called the “Pirate Cave” he describes the historical basis for the tradition, and the reasons people are still drawn there.
“Alright, well I grew up in Point Loma San Diego, and there’s this thing called sunset cliffs, and it’s a bunch of like 40 or 60 foot cliffs, big and really pretty, and, um, in the 1920’s during prohibition, it was like a major smuggling destination for alcohol, and there’s a really cool cave that’s connected to where boats could land at the cliffs, and has like access at low tide only, and then it goes up to the top of the cliff like through and under and um its really cool cause like you can go in and explore and um people have like found bones in there, and there’s like notches in the wall where they used to put candles to light the passage ways, and what’s really sketchy is like, its been known about for a while by locals, and they [the smugglers] tried to catch them, so they have like pitfalls in the path like inside the cliffs like, that were traps for police forces which were set up, um, yeah, pretty awesome. We just call it pirate’s cave because of people who pirated the alcohol brought it in that way and, now they stopped using it. And there’s like carved steps, yeah it’s really cool.”
The informant enumerates undeniable draws to explore this former bootlegging hideout. From rotting bones to booby traps, many of these rumors are so adventurous they seem likely to be fabricated. However, regardless of their accuracy, there must be some foundation for rumors, and my informants’ description of “Pirate Cave” shows how tradition can develop from a desire for adventure.
The informant for this piece of folklore was my friend’s grandfather. As a boy, he would tell me stories and I would listen intently as they were like adventures I could later relive as I played with my friends in the backyard. One story I remember in particular was how a North Carolina beach came to be called Nag’s Head. My friend’s grandfather would go into great detail about how pirates would tie a lantern to a horse’s neck and walk it up and down the beach. Boats and ships out at sea would think there was a harbor there because of the light. Ships would then try to dock, only to find that it was a trick and the pirates would rob them clean.
When I asked my informant about the story, he said that the town was named Nag’s Head because “Nag” was a name for a horse. It could also be that wild horses still roam the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina so they were probably there when the town was founded as well. My informant also said that the term “Nag” could have to do with how the pirates tricked the people at sea to come to them and then they snagged their goods and gold. As I child, I appreciated the fun story and enjoyed hearing it over and over again. As an adult, I’m intrigued in the piece of local history and folklore.