Here's a little controversial mystery nearly in my backyard. Check out these old grave stones, circa 1750, with carved skull and bones near Salisbury, NC.
And the story/mystery behind them...
First off, a few facts. Yes, many early grave markers had skull/cross bones, also hour glass, angels, etc. Indeed, it was the pirates who 'stole' these images for their Jolly Roger flag to tell others that to resist them spelled death. The problem with this explanation are two-fold.
First off, the 'lateness' of the graves. Skull/bones seemed to fall out of favor in the 17th. I've seen early examples in Salem, Mass and Boston Common. Also, none of the other old graves at the church are so marked.
Secondly, why no names? If they were stillborn or infants, religious communities always named the child in order for the soul to pass peacefully. Even visitors or travelers passing through the area who died would have been properly identified.
Masons often used skulls and crossbones in their fraternal order. However, there are none of the more important and identifiable symbols of masonry (stylus, ruler, mortar/pestal). Also, again, why no names? Surely, they would have listed the honored dead?
Could these graves be for executed criminals? Men who were buried but not given the honor of their listing? I could accept this explanation, although I'd be surprised that they would be buried with the church congregation unless they had some connection with the church.
To Gary Freeze, the professor at Catawba College, I say "Bah, Humbug!" The Golden Age of Piracy did end in 1717, which only meant that the period where there were over 4,000 pirates in the Indies (larger than any navy at the time) was coming to an end. Piracy was and still is alive and well and I could list numerous accounts if requested.
Also, to Freeze's argument,"Where is the ocean?" In answer, it is a few hundred miles east, with the Cape Fear river basin running from the sound directly to the region being discussed. Mr. Freeze doesn't realize that pirates that 'gave up the life' often ran far. Robert Kennedy, Bartholomew Roberts' Quartermaster, first hid in the Highlands before settling in London under an assumed name. Pirates often went inland on business, so again not a good argument.
To follow up on poo-pooing piracy so quickly, you do supposedly have an old church record, something that would not be seeking attention or sensationalism, but quite the opposite. Records of burials/deaths were usually surprisingly accurate. North Carolina has a long pirate history even apart from good ole' Blackbeard. The Lost Colony of Roanoak was directed by 2 Elizabethan sea dogs (Raleigh/Hernandez), Teach owned property in Bath, Bonnett sailed and was captured off our coast, our coast was attacked by Span pirates in 1740's, we had privateers during the Amer Revolution and War of 1812 (Otway Burns from NC was the most successful privateer of the era, later a senator), and blockade runners during the CW. For Freeze not to address all of these connections leaves room for doubt...
To the individual who said 'it is not a Jolly Roger' if the cross bones aren't behind the skull I call BS. First off, every pirate flag differed to their taste. Do a google search and you'll see. Secondly, these possibly executed men didn't carve their own stones!
So, my tirade finished, I mostly suspect that they were the graves of executed murderers. Pirates? There is still a slim possibility of such, but more proof would need to be forthcoming.
So what do you think?
P.S. Check out my novels 'Pirate Staits: Oath of Blood" and "Rise of the Snake King", my novels (pen M.H.Healy) bring up a lot of the above local exciting pirate history.