There is a rich history of pirates and pirate stories that come from all over Florida.
“It isn’t that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” - Sir Francis Drake
There are tales of Sir Francis Drake sacking the Spanish Armada on behalf of the Queen of England, stories about Calico Jack cruising the Caribbean with the famous female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read. And of course, the legend of “Blackbeard” Edward Teach, who serves as the foundation for most every fictional pirate story ever written.
The actual lives of pirates were probably not anywhere near as glamorous as the legends portray them to be, but those pirates are still a rich part of our Florida history that we celebrate every year!
The Gulf Coast Pirate
While most of the legitimate pirate stories take place along the Atlantic Coast or through the Keys and down into the Caribbean, there are quite a few tales that are reserved for the Gulf Coast of Florida as well. One of the most famous Gulf Coast pirates was Jose Gaspar, who was better known as Gasparilla.
Legend has it that Gaspar served in the Spanish navy before deserting his post to become a pirate either after a mutiny on his ship or to avoid false charges of theft, depending on which version you hear. He then took revenge on his country by targeting Spanish ships and even kidnapping a Spanish princess.
Unfortunately for Gasparilla, it appears that most of the stories about his career as a pirate were more likely created to attract tourists to the Gulf Coast. There is no actual evidence that he ever existed, much less tormented the Gulf of Mexico the way these stories suggest.
The Kings Bay Pirate Fest
Whether or not you believe the legend of Gasparilla, there is no doubt that legitimate pirates played a large role in the history of Florida. There is a huge festival that bears his name in Tampa every year.
Here in Citrus County, we celebrate that history every year at the Kings Bay Pirate Fest in Crystal River.
This year, that celebration will take place on Saturday, May 21st from 10 am to 10 pm along Citrus Avenue in downtown Crystal River. Just about everyone in attendance will be dressed as a pirate, so make sure you don’t forget your eye patch and your skull and crossbones hat! There will be cash and prizes awarded to the best-dressed pirates.
Everyone in attendance will have the chance to meet Captain Jack Sparrow and some of his live mermaids. There will also be a historic Pirate encampment, fire performers, live music from the Caribbean Chillers, and a collection of handmade boats from the Crystal River Boat Builders at Kings Bay Park.
Kids will be able to participate in a treasure hunt, and adults can spend a few gold coins of their own with all of the craft vendors that will be in attendance. Of course, even landlubbers have to eat, so there will be plenty of food vendors, as well as beer and wine for sale.
When you find yourself looking for something to do on Saturday, May 21st, don’t hesitate to grab your best pirate garb and head over to Crystal River for The Kings Bay Pirate Fest.
Just make sure you don’t end up walking the plank or visiting Davey Jones’ locker!
What kind of socks did Pirates like to wear? Why Argh - iles of course!