SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah tourist destinations often boast a history of piracy within the city, but is it true?
WSAV NOW spoke with Solomon Smith from Georgia Southern University about the topic. Smith has a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in history and teaches a class on pirate history at Georgia Southern.
Here’s what you need to know about Savannah’s pirate history.
“Is it possible that, say, Blackbeard was up here before he blockades the Port of Charleston in 1718? Possibly,” Smith said.
Likely? According to Smith, the answer is complicated.
“If you know when Georgia was founded as a colony, it was 1732 and Savannah isn’t founded until 1733. There’s a huge problem with these stories because the Golden Age of Piracy ends in the mid-1720s,” Smith explained.
What does this mean?
The Golden Age of Piracy was a period of time when maritime piracy in the Caribbean and near the colonies hit an all-time high, prior to when the authorities bared down on the laws outlawing piracy.
However, there would be some potential pros to Blackbeard stopping by Savannah before he went elsewhere.
“Those ships need constant maintenance, and if you’re a pirate, you can’t just pull into any port and get it fixed,” he said. “So, you have to fix it yourself.”
This would lead pirates to search for isolated places where they could stay for a period of time in order to fix their ships.
“It’s possible that there were pirates in this area, but we don’t have any record of them,” Smith concluded.
Now, this is where things get interesting. Smith explained that if there were pirates in Savannah prior to the European colonization of the area, they would not have wanted people to know they were there.
In order for them to refit their ship and make repairs, they would have to run it ashore. After doing so they would turn it on its side.
“While it’s landlocked like that, it’s very vulnerable,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, there’s something important to contend with:
What exactly is a pirate?
Smith stressed that piracy was more common than others might believe.
“Piracy actually includes lots of crimes,” Smith said. “It’s not just having the black flag and chasing after a merchant ship.”
These crimes included things like illegal trade- that weren’t accepted by the government, that would be considered piracy.
“Anything that happens around the water, if it was a crime it was piracy,” Smith said. “It’s kind of that thing they throw on top of anything just to get a conviction.”
With that in mind, the idea of piracy in Savannah becomes a lot more plausible.
So were there pirates? While the fictional book “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson mentions Savannah, Smith said that it’s highly unlikely.
However, there’s always the slim chance that there were, in fact, pirates that visited Savannah, and that chance might be enough to keep the tale alive.