The Legendary (and Non-existent) Captain Longbeard
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
If you live in Bay St. Louis, a pirate’s costume has turned out to be a wardrobe essential. You’ll want to pull yours out for the upcoming Pirate Day in the Bay, on May 19th and 20th - a two-day extravaganza of buccaneer bliss (for complete details, click here).
During the weekend, Old Town takes on the looks of a Pirates of the Caribbean set, while locals and visitors from across the Gulf Coast swagger through this fun family-festival.
The event is sponsored by the Mystik Krewe of the Seahorse (KOTMS). The group originally formed in 2014 to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of a maritime battle that took place right off the shore of Bay St. Louis.
Captain Longbeard is now taking on legendary status. John Rosetti, 2017 president of the KOTMS, says he found it hilarious last year when one television station talked about Longbeard as if he were a real historical figure.
“He was just something I drew up on a napkin,” says Rosetti, laughing as he recalls how the character was created.
The actual historical event at the center of all this merriment happened in 1814 as a precursor to the more famous “Battle of New Orleans.” The Sea Horse was an American schooner that single-handedly took on the British fleet in a “David versus Goliath” encounter, right in front of the Bay St. Louis shoreline.
While the little ship was hopelessly out-manned, it managed to delay British forces, giving Andrew Jackson (who was commanding American forces in New Orleans) more desperately needed time to organize that city’s defense and keep control of the Mississippi River out of British hands.
Since the event occurred two centuries ago, accounts of the battle vary, but as local historian Charles Gray often says, “history is lies agreed upon.” The most riveting part of Gray’s version occurred when an older woman on crutches shouted to shore-side onlookers of the battle “Will no one fire a shot in the defense of our country?”
She then grabbed a lit cigar being smoked by Bay St. Louis Mayor Toulme and lighted the fuse to a cannon, which fired into the midst of the British attackers. Mayhem ensued.
And historians do agree that a few weeks after the Bay St. Louis battle, Lafitte and his band of ruffians fought alongside Andrew Jackson in New Orleans to repel the British invaders – a battle that probably would have been lost without the pirates’ help.
But don’t let the facts stop the fun. Captain Longbeard – this year played by MKOTS king Al Copeland – will be storming the town on the weekend of May 19th and 20th.
If you’d like to read more, details of the actual battle can be found here on the Krewe of Seahorse’s website.
Also, Charles Gray suggests reading Paul La Violette’s 2003 book, Sink or Be Sunk! The Naval Battle in the Mississippi Sound That Preceded the Battle of New Orleans. It’s available at Bay Books on Main Street.