Few layers of Charleston's history are as colorful as the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the "golden age of piracy", when the Jolly Roger was often seen snapping in the harbor breezes. We spent some time recently learning about this tumultuous period, when Charleston (or Charles Towne, as it was known then) was known for its tavern brawls, street fights, gambling and houses of ill repute patronized by buccaneers and privateers from all over the Caribbean.
Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, actually held the city hostage in 1718 by blockading the harbor for six days, bringing vital commercial traffic to a halt until the city met his demand for medical supplies for his crew - mainly mercury, which at the time was thought to cure the venereal diseases his men had contracted in brothels clustered around the harbor docks. Once supplied, Teach sailed away and never troubled Charleston again.
One of Blackbeard's former allies, Stede Bonnet, wasn't so lucky. Known as the "gentleman pirate" because of his privileged upbringing as the son of wealthy plantation owners, he went rogue for unknown reasons but was swindled out of his own ship, the Revenge, by none other than Blackbeard, who promised to return the ship if Bonnet helped with the 1718 harbor blockade. While Teach sailed away with his mercury, Bonnet was arrested and hung at what is today Charleston's White Point Gardens, then the favored spot for executions.
More famous still is Anne Bonny who, while a teenager growing up in Charleston, met and married the pirate James Bonny and embarked on an adventurous and violent career - first with her husband, later with her lover, "Calico Jack" Rackham, and later still with Mary Read, another female renegade. Read later died in jail, but Anne Bonny's fate remains a mystery. There's no record of her death and she disappears from history, although one theory has it that Bonny left the Lowcountry to live quietly in the Caribbean.
Stricter and more direct British control of the colonies brought an end to Charleston's pirate era by the 1720's. A marker at White Point Gardens is the only reminder today of those uproarious years; but you can relive them this fall, on September 19th, during the annual "Talk Like A Pirate" day. Read about it here.