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Pirates of the Carolina Coast

By Christine Vernon

In recent years, I have noticed many people moving to our sunny South Carolina coast, especially in the South Strand area which incorporates Surfside Beach, Garden City, Murrells Inlet, and Pawleys Island. Most come to relax on our sandy beaches while others enjoy dining at our famous seafood restaurants. One of these small towns is where I call home. Murrells Inlet is a small, fishing village known as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina” and we intend to keep this title for many years to come.

But most visitors who descend on our coast may not know the history that is buried beneath our sandy soil. Many tales have been handed down regarding some notorious figures who sailed our seas and took refuge in our small village. Yes, pirates visited our shores during the Golden Age of Piracy from 1650 to 1720. The Carolina shores were well-known hideouts for some infamous individuals such as Stede Bonnet and of course, Blackbeard.

According to one legend I tell on my ghost tour, there was a particular pirate who sailed with Blackbeard and met his ghastly fate on one of our islands. The legend states that Blackbeard and his men had just returned from the Caribbean. They had stolen 32 casks of rum and a huge treasure chest. The British were pursuing them, and they needed to find a location to bury their plunder. They located an island along the Murrells Inlet coast where they buried all their loot, except for a couple of casks of rum. The pirates spent the night singing sea shanties and drinking their grog. One pirate in particular loved rum and his name was Jack. On this occasion, Jack drank a little too much and passed out on the island. The next morning, Jack awoke from his drunken stupor and realized that his buccaneers were gone and had left him all alone on the island. All Jack had for companionship were the blue crabs, seagulls… and 32 casks of rum.

Hours passed and the pirates realized Jack was not on board the ship. They told their captain, and all vowed they would return for Jack soon. But their idea of soon turned into one and a half years later. When the pirates arrived back at the island, all that remained were the bleached bones of a man still clinging to an empty rum bottle with his bony fingers. But do you know what was worse than that? NO RUM! Of course, they didn’t go back for Jack; they were only interested in the rum. But, unfortunately for the pirate crew, the treasure chest was gone as well.

To this day, people still go to the island which is located near Huntington Beach State Park. Some say they have seen lights floating on the island insisting that a ghostly figure may still be looking for treasure. Others have gone to the island to search for the buried pirate loot, but no one has found it… yet. Today, the island is affectionately known as Drunken Jack’s Island.

That is the legend. Now, for the true story…

Before the outbreak of the Civil War, plantation owners would meet on the same island and have themselves a feast of seafood and brandy. Their servants would fish for flounder and gather oysters for their dinner while the owners would drink copious amounts of peach brandy. Among these plantation owners was a man named Jack Green. Jack devoured all the fish, drank bottles of brandy, and eventually passed out on the island. Sometimes his fellow plantation owners would carry the intoxicated Jack Green home. But, on other occasions, they left him there to sleep it off as it was not always easy to take Jack home. You see, Jack was 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed over 300 lbs. Even his dear friend, the Governor of South Carolina, R. W. Allston, would leave his mate behind on the island to be bitten by blood-sucking mosquitoes. And it was Governor R.W. Allston who decided to name the island Drunken Jack’s after his inebriated comrade.  

So, be careful how many libations you consume while you stay on our sunny shores, or you might end up with an island named after you.

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