Researching Pirate Ancestry

by | Nov 16, 2010 | 3 comments

Are you the descendant of one of North Carolina’s notorious pirates?

By Sara Whitford
©2007 All Rights Reserved.

Maybe one of Blackbeard’s crewmembers is in your family tree! If you have roots that go back to coastal North Carolina, it’s more likely than you might think.

A number of surnames associated with communities along the Carolina coast can be found in records of 18th century pirates.

Some folks would be thrilled to know they have “pirate blood” running through their veins, others would shudder at the thought. After all, notorious buccaneers such as Blackbeard are amongst the most famous, or infamous figures in history!

Not that pirating is an honorable profession, by any means, but maybe you shouldn’t wince so much at the possibility of a piratical progenitor. It’s important to remember the era of piracy in context, particularly in colonial North Carolina.

The Tuscarora War, which spanned from 1710 through 1713, had a devastating effect on the fledgling province of North Carolina. Coincedentally, 1713 marked the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, which put many of Queen Anne’s Privateers out of business. Naturally, they turned their Queen-condoned Privateering skills to illegal acts of Piracy. (The primary distinction between Privateers and Pirates was that Privateers stole with the Queen’s approval, for the Queen’s benefit, whilst Pirates did the same thing for their own personal benefit, and without the blessing of the Queen.)

Families along the Pamlico and Neuse Rivers had been hit the hardest during the Tuscarora war. Supplies of the most basic commodities were hard to come by, and Carolina was financially strapped for having to invest so much into raising troops to fight the war against the Indians (which actually included not only the Tuscarora, but men from several coastal tribes such as the Matchapungo, the Neusioc, the Coree and others.)

Desperate times often call for desperate measures. It wouldn’t be long before otherwise law-abiding men with sailing skills would take advantage of opportunities to provide things for their families that they might not be able to otherwise. Some might have even gone so far as to think of someone like Blackbeard as a rascally Robin Hood of his day. He stole items that he wanted for himself, but also that his home colony of North Carolina needed. He was then able to bring those items into the port at Bath and provide them at discounts for the locals. If Bath truly was his home, and evidence indicates that it probably was, then it would seem logical that he’d recruit crewmembers from amongst the fellows he called his mates around town.

The Beaufort County Genealogical Society published a wonderful book by Allen Hart Norris entitled Beaufort County Deed Book I, 1696-1729 (including Blackbeard papers). You can purchase this book for only $25 from the Beaufort County Genealogical Society. In it, Norris lays out a wonderful series of facts and evidence that demonstrates just how many of Bath’s hometown boys were part of Blackbeard’s crew. Many are the progenitors of great families that still live in coastal North Carolina to this very day!

The book easily makes itself an essential part of any eastern North Carolina genealogy researcher’s library, as so many families have roots that go back to Bath and the surrounding area.

Another wonderful resource for researching potential pirates in the family tree is The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina by Hugh F. Rankin. (Click here to order the book from N.C. Archives.) In the back of his book, he provides a detailed listing of all of the pirates known to sail the coast of North Carolina in the colonial era. If you find a surname or name that is similar to one in your own family tree, it’s worth your while to do more research to see if there’s a family connection.

East Carolina Roots has pulled some key information from Norris’ book, so check it now if you’d like to see if any names are familiar to you. If so, you’ll want to contact the BCGS about obtaining a copy of the book so you can see if this is your line!

Blackbeard’s Crew Database


  1. Anonymous

    My 9 greats grandfather was a quartermaster on blackbeards ship, my great uncle told me. My family has lived on Ocracoke Island since like the 1700s(although my great grandfather moved away, so we don’t live there anymore), so we knew it was very likely that we were descended from pirates. My great uncle has been looking back in our familial line and found out that.

  2. Donna Cunningham

    Fo you have a list of gateway ancestors?

  3. Stephanie

    I think I am related to John Carnes but I haven’t figured out how. Any tips?


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