Dusk can be hauntingly beautiful. As the colors of the impending night descend through the Spanish moss-adorned trees, the shadows that across the swamp marshes below grow longer. With the day in its final act, the autumn breeze strums through the rustling leaves provides an ethereal soundtrack, as the soft and steady drumroll of the Bay’s tide crescendos in the background. The diminishing light makes the ancient forest seem, somehow, even older, eliciting the feeling of a grand old house whose walls have bared witness to the triumphs and tragedies of many lifetimes, equal parts magnificent and melancholy – each and with a story to tell. This is no ordinary tale, however. While the spectacle is a sight worth savoring, be warned; as the curtain closes and the lights go out, it would be wise to hurry on home as quickly as you can. This story is of the ghostly variety. Linger too long, and you might just find yourself right in the middle of it.
A walk along the Chesapeake Bay beach today, at what is now called First Landing State Park, is still very much the same as it would’ve been in the early 1700s. The windswept dunes sit pinned between the incoming tide and the bald cypress trees of the park, offering an unimpeded view of the bay. While today you can look out and see the massive silhouette of cargo ships, 300 years ago the view was of the mighty sails of heavily laden merchant ships heading out to sea or Navy vessels on the hunt for pirates, making it a particularly useful lookout for one Captain Edward J. Teach, or Blackbeard, himself. Teach stationed his men at Cape Henry while he enjoyed the benefits of being the boss a few miles inland at what is now aptly named Pleasure House Road. When his men would see a ship, they would signal their captain and notify him of the ship’s direction. A vessel coming from the East was typically a merchant ship ripe for the taking, while a vessel from the West was often the Royal Navy, for which the pirates would escape by setting sail through the narrow inland waterways back out to the ocean, before sailing to their stronghold in North Carolina.
One day, as the pirates were enjoying their down time at the Pleasure House (a gathering place for drinking), a signal came indicating that a merchant ship was approaching from the East. The pirates gave chase to the merchantmen and soon caught up to them, thanks to their boat being slowed by heavy boxes filled with valuable treasures. As the captain admired his winnings, cannon fire in the distance alerted him to two naval vessels quickly approaching. Without much time, Blackbeard buried his treasure in the sand dunes and made haste down to his North Carolina hideout, intending to return to reclaim his gold when they were clear of the warships. It was never to be, however, as the Navy’s ships caught up with Teach in the Outer Banks. A bloody battle ensued and ended when the pirate captain was beheaded at the hands of Lt. Robert Maynard.
Though many have tried, the lost treasure of Blackbeard remains unfound to this day. Legend has it that while his death occurred in North Carolina, his spirit has returned to protect that which he holds most dear. The beaches of First Landing are a beautiful place for a late afternoon stroll, but watch your step. Stray too close to where his treasure lies and you just might find yourself staring through the headless specter of the most infamous pirate to ever sail the high seas - back to claim what is rightfully his.