Ethnographic Arms & Armour

Go Back   Ethnographic Arms & Armour > Discussion Forums > Ethnographic Miscellania
User Name
FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read

Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Old 7th October 2017, 08:49 AM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: NC, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,496
Default Pirate graves in NC?

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.

Last edited by M ELEY : 8th October 2017 at 01:03 AM.
M ELEY is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 7th October 2017, 08:01 PM   #2
Keris forum moderator
David's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: The Great Midwest
Posts: 5,606

A mystery indeed, especially with the lack of names.
I am not convinced of pirate graves however and the skull and bones found there way onto tombstones well into the 18th century. Here are 3 examples dated 1720, 1774 and 1783. I found these rather quickly in my search and could probably turn up quite a few more if i put the effort in.
Attached Images
David is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 7th October 2017, 11:53 PM   #3
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: NC, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,496

Hello David and nice pics. I stand corrected on that one! Still, no names or dates. I've been to the site long ago and can attest that they haven't simply 'worn off'. A mystery and interesting story, anyway...
M ELEY is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th October 2017, 01:06 AM   #4
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: NC, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,496

There were a preponderance of Scots living in NC to the point that we have an entire region called the Highlands. During the Amer Revolution, Scot marched against Scot as sides divided. Noted is that many Scots used the skull and bones on their grave markers, just odd to see no names.
M ELEY is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th October 2017, 01:26 PM   #5
Pukka Bundook
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 743

Any chance of these unknowns being plague victims or some such?

Just a thought,...based on ignorance!
I have the notion that murderers were buried in unmarked graves, and that those who committed suicide were buried on unconsecrated ground...

Pukka Bundook is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 8th October 2017, 06:42 PM   #6
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Scotland
Posts: 201

Spooky and interesting post Mark.

Hey, I believe they are pirate graves for sure. Sailors home from the sea.
CutlassCollector is offline   Reply With Quote

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

All times are GMT. The time now is 11:06 AM.

Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.0.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Posts are regarded as being copyrighted by their authors and the act of posting material is deemed to be a granting of an irrevocable nonexclusive license for display here.