1747 Spanish Intrusions and 1960-61 Reenactments

July 9, 1960

In the 1740s, Spanish privateers began roaming the coastal waters of North Carolina. Beaufort's normal maritime activity was interrupted or threatened on several occasions by the presence of these privateers, whose vessels rendezvoused in the large natural harbor provided by Cape Lookout Bight. On at least three occasions between June and September of 1747, it was necessary to muster local troops to resist the intruders. On June 14, 1747, the Spanish entered Beaufort harbor and made off with several small vessels; at the time a militia of only thirteen men was posted in Beaufort.


Click above image to view other 1747 militia groups posted by Joel S. Russell
Led by Major Enoch Ward, the militia held them off until August 26 when the Spanish put a landing party ashore and took possession of the town. In early September Colonel Thomas Lovick and Captain Charles Cogdell gathered more men to finally rid the town of these invaders. It has been said that without the help of close to 100 farmers and locals, the militia may not have prevailed. Local folklore suggests that several Spaniards died and were buried in the Old Burying Ground.

On July 9, 1960, town firemen participated in Beaufort's first reenactment 
of the Spanish invasion--implemented from an idea by Grayden Paul.

Pirates who participated in the 1960 reenactment
 First row: L to R - Norwood Gaskill, Bud Taylor, Gerald Woolard, Freddy Snooks, Bobby Hudgins, Elmond Rhue. 
Second row: L to R - Bud Smith, Jackie Chaplain (Jesse's father), Neal Willis (Linda Sadler's father), Allen Willis, Bryan Loftin, Joe Long and Frank Langdale. 
Photos taken by Roy Eubanks; photo IDs from Jesse Chaplain. 
Photos courtesy Linda Willis Sadler. 
Click images to enlarge.

In his book, Beaufort by the Sea - Memories of a Lifetime, Neal Willis wrote, 

In June 1960, there was a re-enactment of the 1700s invasion of Beaufort by Spanish sailors (who had run out of food and supplies). It was staged on Front Street near the Post Office. A fort was erected on the island across from Branch Bank.

The pirates were members of the Fire Department and were dressed as pirates were thought to have looked. We wore bandannas, nautical outfits and carried plastic cutlasses and guns. The town defenders were mostly merchants dressed in overalls and straw hats and carrying guns. 

We pirates were brought in on a large boat and were transferred to a lifeboat used as the pirate boat. The pirates rowed the boat over to the island and attacked the fort. It was set on fire. Then we rowed across to the shore and charged over the breakwater with blood curdling screams, waving cutlasses and firing guns. 

We had been practicing the landing for a week, mostly when the tide was high. When the real landing came, the tide was low. The boat ran aground about six feet from the shore. The bow was on land but the rest of the boat was over water about ten feet deep. We didn't know the water was that deep until we went over the side and went over our heads. Our pirate costumes were wet and coming apart. Our guns were wet and some didn't fire. Our cutlasses were floating away. But we still charged the defenders. We put up quite a fight. After the battle, the town defenders loaded us into horse drawn wooden carts and carried us to the jail...
Some of the same pirates participated again in 1961.
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A Documented Account of Spanish Privateers in Beaufort
transcribed from Colonial Beaufort
by historian Charles L. Paul 

The activities of Spanish privateers on the North Carolina coast during the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1744) and King George’s War (1744-1748) involved Beaufort and the surrounding area directly in England’s epic struggle for empire. The harbor at Cape Lookout provided an excellent base from which these privateers could attack passing ships, and, as Governor Arthur Dobbs later pointed out, they did not fail to use it. Here the privateers could hide in relative safety; obtain wood and water; take on fresh provisions provided by the cattle, sheep and hogs that used the Outer Banks as an open range; and “from their mast head could see every Vessel that passed along the Coast and could in an hour’s time be at sea after them…” In 1741 Spanish privateers were frequenting these waters, and on October 17 of that year a Spanish privateer with eighty men in its crew captured a schooner from Boston off Bogue Inlet about twenty-five miles west of Beaufort.

As a means of defense against such activities, the colonial government passed an act in 1743 which ordered that magazines of ammunition be provided for each county. The Carteret County Court acted promptly on this measure and levied a tax of eight pence proclamation money on each taxable to pay for this ammunition. It also made an agreement with Arthur Mabson, one of Beaufort’s merchants, to furnish this magazine with “Thirty pounds of Gun powder at Twenty shillings p. pound, & lead bullets or Swan Shott in proportion at five Shillings p. pound & two hundred flints.” Arthur Mabson was appointed keeper of this magazine. By June 1744, forty-six pound and ten shillings had been collected for this purpose.

The climax of the Spanish privateers’ activities occurred in the summer of 1747. On June 4 of that year a band of Spanish privateers sailed boldly into Beaufort harbor and captured the “Several Vessels” that were anchored there. Only thirteen of the local militia responded to this alarm, and with the Spanish in control of the harbor, they could do little. After having met with only enough resistance to encourage bolder action at a later date, the enemy sailed away, taking their prizes with them.

The bolder action was not long in coming. On August 26, 1747, Spanish privateers sailed into the harbor, landed and invaded the town itself. After the previous attack, Colonel Thomas Lovick had placed the Carteret regiment of the militia, which he commanded, on the alert; but before they could assemble at Beaufort, the enemy succeeded in taking the town. However, as the militia arrived, the tide of the battle turned. Before the day was over, fifty-three men of the Carteret militia had entered battle under the direction of Major Enoch Ward. Though details are lacking, it seems that the enemy was soon repulsed. The fifty-three militiamen remained on constant duty; three days before they were divided into groups which rotated until late in September. The enemy, however, did not return.