Shared History - May 2017
The Legendary (and Non-existent) Captain Longbeard
Pirate Day is the Bay is centered around a pirate named Captain Longbeard, but it turns out that he's a shipmate of the fictional Jack Sparrow.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
The Krewe has created a mock-history based on the real deal, a story that’s much more colorful that the rather dry history and features a fictional character called Captain Longbeard (each year played by the current king of the Krewe).
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.
The battle’s connection to pirates is very tenuous, but the Battle of the Bay did take place in 1814 when buccaneer types abounded in the area. In fact, legend has it that the real legendary pirate, Jean Lafitte, had a house on the beach near the BSL/Waveland line.
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.
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