About the Festival

The History:

Travel back in time to a period where The Customs House of the bustling seaport of Hampton regulated the export of tobacco to England and the import of manufactured commodities to the colonies. The wealth of the colonies floating around Hampton's waterfront made our city an inviting target for one of the fearsome and successful pirates of the Caribbean, Blackbeard. Blackbeard moved his operation north and with a pardon from the governor of North Carolina assumed the life of a gentleman with his fourteenth wife. Unable to give up the adventurous and notorious lifestyle, he cruised and began relieving ships of their cargos. Blackbeard defended his actions saying he was simply salvaging the abandoned cargo. North Carolina officials accept the dubious explanation in exchange for a portion of the cargo.

Blackbeard resumes his life of terrorizing ships and citizens along the east coast and Chesapeake Bay and in 1718, the most notorious pirate festival is hosted by Blackbeard on the beach at Ocracoke Inlet. Attended by the most notorious pirates and their crews, including Hampton's own William Howard, one of Blackbeard's captains, they feast and drink rum punch spiked with gun powder. Convinced that Blackbeard and other pirates are operating under the protection of North Carolina, Governor Spotswood of Virginia resolves to send an expedition to capture or kill Blackbeard and his crew. Lt. Robert Maynard is picked by Spotswood to lead this expedition.

The two small ships crewed by the Royal Navy and Hamptonians sail from Hampton to find Blackbeard. Lt. Maynard and his crew find Blackbeard and engage in a bloody sea battle. Maynard leads the hand to hand fighting after boarding Blackbeard's ship. During the fight to the death, Blackbeard sustains some twenty five mortal wounds and is slain when his head is severed by Maynard. With losses on both sides, 15 of Blackbeard's crew are taken prisoner. Upon return to Hampton, Lt. Maynard is said to have presented Governor Spotswood with Blackbeard's head, flag and treasure. Governor Spotswood decrees Blackbeard's head be placed on a stake at the entrance to the Hampton River as a warning to all other pirates.

The Festival:

Once a year visitors from all over the country enjoy the sights and sounds of 18th century Hampton overrun by pirates. Hampton's waterfront comes alive with dozens of pirate re-enactors, costumed in historically accurate garb, who transform today's Hampton into the busy seaport of yesterday. Led by Blackbeard the Pirate himself, re-enactors help visitors step back in time and re-live the history and legends of 1718 Hampton. Last year the festival was honored by being named the 3rd best pirate festival in North America by USA Today. The Festival offers a variety of children's activities, live musical entertainment, fireworks, period vendors, arts and crafts, and much more!

This year's activities include a number of reenactments from impromptu street skirmishes between pirates and the militia, to full-scale sea battles in the Hampton Harbor, featuring the popular re-enactment of Blackbeard's final battle. Onlookers can also enjoy the waterfront view where tall ships tower over more than 50 private sail and powerboats all decked out in their own pirate gear.

A presentation ceremony follows the sea battle, where Lt. Maynard presents Blackbeard's head and defeated crew to Virginia's Governor Spotswood. Visitors can participate in the festivities when they join Blackbeard's funeral parade, Hampton's version of Mardi Gras, and share in the booty from his treasure chest.