By Connie Leinbach
Kevin Duffus wants Blackbeard Pirate Jamboree attendees to realize that the event is celebrating history, not criminals.
Duffus, an award-winning North Carolina historian, is the founder of the event, which will take place Oct. 29 and 30 (2021) on Ocracoke, the place where the famous Blackbeard met his demise at the hand of British Royal Navy Lt. Robert Maynard in 1718. All events are free.
Duffus’s whole purpose is to come as close to the truth as possible. He will attempt that in three talks during the festival, which will take place on the Berkley Manor grounds and the Berkley Barn.
“Everything I do is with the hope to inspire future historians,” he said in an interview.
Pirates and piracy aren’t his inspirations.
“What interests me is how history becomes so distorted,” he said.
Duffus will first talk about the difference between history and media embellishment following the showing Friday night at 7 of the 1968 Disney comedy “Blackbeard’s Ghost” in the Berkley Barn.
This was the film that inspired his quest — to see the place where Blackbeard was killed in the bay below his hotel perched upon a 100-foot cliff.
He saw the film when he was 14, and at the age of 17, he and two friends rode their bikes from Greenville to Ocracoke to see that location.
“We pulled up to the Community Store and asked three old timers in their rocking chairs where the cliff was,” he said. “After they wryly glanced at each other, one man, with his thick hoi toide brogue, answered, ‘Son, you done come to the wrong place. Hoighest point on this ‘ere oyland is about eight feet.’ They all laughed lustily and returned to their own conversation.
“It was on that day that I first learned that movie theaters were not the best place to learn history,” he said.
Thus finding out the true history of the fearsome pirate latched onto him and never let go, along with other aspects of Outer Banks history of which he has written: about “Torpedo Alley” during WWII, the Hatteras lighthouse and more.
“Seeing that movie when I was 14 years old changed my whole future,” he said. “My whole interest in history was forged by that very first experience of going to Ocracoke and wanting to find the hotel on the 100-foot high cliff.”
And Blackbeard is such an interesting historical figure because he’s been recreated and portrayed in so many different types of movies and by so many different actors, he said.
“Blackbeard’s Ghost” was so memorable because of Peter Ustinov, a classically trained actor who put his all into this Disney movie.
“When you watch it, he really did quite a terrific job,” Duffus said. “It’s hard not to watch it and fall in love with his Blackbeard, unlike some of the other portrayals.”
In a nod to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the audience will have a chance to shout out certain lines in the movie that Duffus will select and which will be projected onto a screen alongside the movie.
On Saturday, at 11:30, Duffus will present: “The Pamlico Pirates: Who were they and why did they stand with Blackbeard?”
Duffus said his research shows that those crew members were Blackbeard’s friends and neighbors from Bath. He will discuss why they were with Blackbeard and what prompted their life of piracy.
His talk at 1 p.m. “Who was William Howard – pirate or quartermaster or Ocracoke owner?” will present some new evidence about this question that he says will settle the matter.
Finally, Duffus will lead the memorial service at 5 p.m., which honors the fallen of both Blackbeard’s and Maynard’s crews.
It was on Nov. 22, 2007, when Duffus was at Springer’s Point taking photos for his book “The Last Days of Black Beard” that he landed on having a memorial service for those killed in the Battle of Ocracoke on Nov. 22, 1718.
He recruited some pirate living history re-enactors to join him in 2008 for a service amongst themselves and while they marched to Springer’s Point, numerous visitors and locals joined in.
“By the time we got to Springer’s point I estimated we had about 200 people,” he said.
For several years, the event was just the memorial service until about 2012 when Chip Stevens, co-owner of Blackbeard’s Lodge, got involved along with others in the community to create more of an event around the memorial service.
“If I’m able to inspire even one historian, then you know I think I’ve succeeded and that’s what the memorial service was all about,” he said. “There is a truth to history and oftentimes what I found is that the truth of history is more interesting than the fictional version of history.”
See schedule of events below and visit Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree on Facebook, for updates, especially in case of inclement weather.