Sometimes, it's not enough to just visit a place for the weekend. Sometimes, you want to go back in time, too. There's no better place to do that than Charleston with its cobblestone streets and distinctive, centuries-old buildings. And there's perhaps no time more fascinating and fun to imagine than the Golden Age of Piracy.
If you have children, you're really in luck. Their infectious enthusiasm and wild imaginations can make you really believe you've entered another world. So get ready to spend a weekend imagining living in the first two decades of the 18th century, surrounded by Charleston's pirates!
There would be no Charleston pirate history without Charleston Harbor, so start your weekend where it all began. In Charleston's early days, the harbor was like the town's front door; the steady stream of ships that came and went was its connection to the world. Some of those ships were the pirate kind.
It was in Charleston Harbor that the famous Blackbeard set up a blockade and held the entire city hostage in 1718. Nothing could get in or out of the harbor until Blackbeard's demands were met. It wasn't money or gold or power he demanded; it was mercury he wanted, and an enormous quantity of it. In those days, mercury was the only known treatment for syphilis. After six days, the medicine was delivered, and Blackbeard freed the city and sailed away.
Not all pirates made a clean getaway like Blackbeard. In fact, many a pirate was hanged at a place of public execution located at nearby White Point. Among the pirates hanged at White Point was Stede Bonnet, the "Gentleman Pirate." You'll learn more about him later.
Today, White Point Garden is a gorgeous park located on the tip of the Charleston peninsula where the Ashley and Cooper rivers drain into the harbor. It is filled with sun-dappled lawns and giant live oaks. Kids can run on the grass, swing from the trees, and discover ancient cannons and piles of cannon balls that are still poised for action, looking out over the water. Parents can soak in the beauty and history. Everyone can begin to think like a pirate while you shake off that travel weariness.
Rise and shine, matey! You have a very full day ahead.
Start your day with Charleston Pirate Tours. Your tour guide will be hard to miss: a swashbuckling pirate with a tricorn hat, long cutlass and macaw perched on his arm.Charleston Pirate Tours offers visitors a chance to see Charleston through the eyes of an 18th-century pirate. You'll be led on a walking tour to pirate hotspots, and the storytelling is captivating.
As you walk, you'll learn not just about Blackbeard, but also other less famous yet more fascinating pirates. There's the aforementioned "Gentleman Pirate" Stede Bonnet, who was just having a midlife crisis, and Mary Read, who will make your teenage daughter's rebellion seem charming by comparison. You'll learn pirate lingo and lore and have quite a few pirate myths debunked.
All that walking will build up an appetite, so it's a good thing that you're surrounded by some of the best restaurants in the world. Pick a spot for lunch [link to the "Where to eat in Charleston piece] and rebuild your strength for the afternoon. Lucky for you, you'll have far more options than the typical pirate diet of hardtack, salted meat, limes and gin.
Life on the high seas wasn't all adventure and treasure; sometimes, pirates got caught. And jail was not a place you'd want to be in the early 18th century.Head over to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon to see just how bad it was.
The main floor and upstairs of this historic building are lovely and light-filled, echoing with important history and great ideas. The basement is, well, a dungeon.
A costumed tour guide will take you through the low-ceilinged and musty bowels of the building and explain what life was like for a prisoner at the time. Life-sized dioramas make the history seem real.
After filling your head full of history, take time to do a little imaginative play. Head over to the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, where kids can pretend to be pirates. They can climb aboard the museum's own pirate ship, dress up in pirate gear and even walk the plank. You can do a little much-needed relaxing.
Once you're up to speed on all things pirate, you'll be ready to prowl the streets of historic Charleston for your own treasure. The Brass Pirate sells scavenger hunt kits, complete with treasure map and compass, at its store on Market Street. According to The Brass Pirate, the scavenger hunt should take about an hour and a half, but you're welcome to take longer. There are plenty of interesting shops and little parks as well as an ice cream parlor to provide you with entertaining distractions.
Get ready for a joyful, laughter-filled morning. "Scavenging" the streets of Charleston just might be the highlight of your trip.