January 11, 2012.

PIRATES on Knotts Island and Wash Woods

From Tales of Knotts Island, History of Currituck Co., NC Vol II by Henry Ansell pages 38-42 provided by Melinda Lukei.

Governor Charles Eden died Monday, March 26th, 1722, leaving a reputation tarnished with being a protector and partner of pirates. Tobias Knight was accused with Eden of being associated with the pirate known as :Edward Teach, the pirate” or “Blackbeard” also known as “Bluebeard”. It was this scandal that Col. Edward Moseley referred to when he told Governor Eden he could find men to arrest, but he couldn’t find any one to arrest the pirates. Tobias Knight had been a Councilman and its Secretary, and was a collector of Customs for Currituck. He had represented Currituck on the Council Board and sat at the side of Governor Eden. Knight was often a Justice in the General Court. So you can see, he was a famous man, and a friend of Governor Eden. He was also smart enough to save both of their necks. Edward Teach, the pirate had many favors granted him by the Governor and the Secretary/Collector. Knight had private correspondence with Teach concealing robberies committed in the waters off the coast. He received a considerable part of the cargo of a Frence ship, that Teach had robbed at sea. There were boatloads carried to the home on Knight’s Point on Knotts Island.

Knight had orders from Virginia to apprehend any southern Virginians who were carrying on illegal trade, in tobacco, with the New England traders. Their small vessel could come through Currituck Inlets. The citizens of Currituck and Princess Anne, VA would load these vessels with cargoes. Knight as the custom official for North Carolina would not charge the custom fee. Knight’s job was to seize these ships and collect customs from them.

Knight’s home was on a point jutting out on the eastern side of Knotts Island called Knight’s Point. The point was just opposite the nose where the North Currituck Inlet was dug. There he could observe the New England ships coming into the inlet. But he also saw the pirates ships loaded with bounty. There couldn’t have been a better hiding place. It was a narrow channel about six miles that connected with North Currituck Sound. The Governor, at the other end of the channel was part of the pirates team. It was not a dangerous pursuit. The Governor, people of North Carolina and pirates sold the merchandise and split the profit. Teach would leave his “Man of War” at Ocracoke and take smaller vessels to carouse the sounds, rivers and creeks to dispose of the ill-gotten gains. Teach and other pirates had plenty of helpers in waters near the sea coast. It was extremely dangerous for a ship or vessel to run aground on the beach with cargo. The pirate robbers were alerted and waiting for the opportunity to seize the vessel.

Knight also had stopping places around Roanoke Island and Bath, where he could more easily communicate with the Governor and Teach. Teach got bold in his robberies and was protected by the officials of North Carolina. So Virginia decided to step in by assigning Capt Ellis Bran to arrest Teach. Capt Bran got a sloop of war and manned it with Virginians at Ocracoke. After a severe battle, Teach and those with him were killed. Teach’s head was cut off and nailed under the sloop’s bow as a figurehead and carried that way to Virginia. While seaching the pirate’s ship, they found a letter from Knight to Teach. Capt Bran took the letter to court and apprehended Knight for his part in the piracy. In court, Capt Bran declared he had proof that Teach had left 20 barrels of sugar, 2 bags of cotton at Tobias Knight’s house. He said it was part of the cargo taken from a French ship robbed by Teach. Knight denied that the goods were on his plantation. The next day Capt Bran testified, he had proof from the persons that loaded the goods and carried it to Knight’s place on Knotts Island. The goods were found in Knight’s barn covered over with fodder.

In court the 13th of May 1718 Tobias Knight, the secretary of North Carolina was charged with being an accessory in piracy, committed by Edward Teach and his crew. The court information was sent to Governor Eden. Knight testified that the evidence against him was contradictory and the evidence was from pirate negroes condemned to death and shouldn’t be allowed. Edward Chamberlayne told the court that he had observed Knight’s place and he never saw Teach deliver anything, day or night to Knight’s house. He also heard William Bell say that Knight was a civil gentleman. Knight was found not guilty by Governor Eden.

The killing of Teach by Capt Bran and his soldiers of Virginia appears to have put a good many of the high officials of North Carolina in an alarming predicament from the Governor down.

There was also Captain Kidd about 1699. Kidd was one of the most daring successful and celebrated pirates that ever infested the seas. After a bloody career of three years, he had the audacity to appear in public in Boston in 1699 where he was seized, sent to London, England tried and executed.

Kidd’s piracy was conducted and carried on in a large vessel that couldn’t sail very well in the shallows, but would have stopping places on our coast. So Kidd would stop at the mouth of the Inlet, where the State line now is and bring ashore those chest of gold bars and Spanish mill dollars and bury them on Sheep House Hill, near the margin of the Inlet, on it’s North side in Wash Woods. This place was a very secure place for Kidd to bury his chest, as there were only a few inhabitants, and the inlet was very shallow. The people of Knotts Island, soon after Kidd’s execution dug all along the beaches hoping to find Kidd’s money. They often got to the boxes containing Kidd’s treasures and just as they were ready to grab hold of them, there would be swiftly whirling, hanging by a small thread strand, a mill stone just over their heads about 6 feet in diameter, the squalls and yells would follow and these haunted boxes with their treasures would sink lower and out of sight. These diggings were often repeated. They must be now below the level of the sea. Sheep House Hill was once covered with timber, but now it’s a sand hill. Kidd was hanged in London May 1701. He was not able to recover his treasure.

From Junior Historian Assoc. Artist unknown.

January 11, 2012. Henry Beasley Ansell History of Currituck continued.
These pirates being in league with the Devil and his majesty having been described to the young, by the old people, as an unsightly black monster, his agents therefore were dubbed Bluebeard, Blackbeard &c. There, among the many pirates on the Seas, was one Charles Gibbs, and I believe he was hanged in New York. Blackbeard Kidd was sung in song when the writer was a boy. The ditty ran something like this:

My name was Robert Kidd, as I sailed, as I sailed,
My name was Robert Kidd, as I sailed,
My name was Robert Kidd, most wickedly I did,
God's laws I did forbid, as I sailed.

I cursed my father dear and she that did me bear;
And so wickedly did swear, as I sailed, as I sailed,
And so wickedly did swear, as I sailed.

I had a Bible in my hand at my mother's great command,
And I sunk it in the sand, as I sailed, as I sailed,
And I sunk it in the sand as I sailed.

And being cruel still, I did my gunner kill,
And his precious blood did spill, as I sailed, as I sailed,
And his precious blood did spill as I sailed.

I had ninety bards of gold, and dollars many folds,
and by them I lost my soul, as I sailed, as I sailed,
and by them I lost my soul, as I sailed.

Comment - Melinda Lukei: The Fentress family say they are descendants of a pirate that lived on Knotts Island, but I have not been able to document the story. The orginal spelling of the Fentress family name located in the early records is Ventres. One day maybe we will be able to find records on this pirate to add to our stories.