The Scariest Stories Of Pirate Ghosts

Pirates have captured the collective public imagination for generations. First, their exploits were detailed in the newspapers of the day. Then they were memorialized in books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. More recently, they’ve appeared in everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to SpongeBob SquarePants. It’s no surprise that they’re still the stuff of legends — who wouldn’t be fascinated by stories of maritime battles and buried treasure? 

Most people would say that the days of ferocious figures like Blackbeard, Captain William Kidd, and “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet are long gone. Others, however, believe that these men — and other swashbucklers like them — live on as spirits, guarding the islands and waters where they once roamed. Sightings of ghost pirates have been recorded all over the world, from Boston Harbor to Australia. 

Ready to have your timbers shivered? Read on for 12 tales of terror on the high seas. 

Blackbeard's ghost haunts the shores of North Carolina

Blackbeard, also known as Edward Teach, has gone down in history as one of the most notorious pirates ever to set sail. According to North Carolina Ghosts, he died in 1718 — but many residents of North Carolina will tell you that his spirit still lives on around Ocracoke Island, where he often anchored his ship in a channel known as Teach’s Hole.

Blackbeard was known for his menacing visage. He terrified foes by tying fuses to his long, black beard and lighting them before he stepped into battle, giving himself a demonic glow. It is said that ships surrendered as soon as he confronted them, based upon his frightening appearance and violent reputation alone. (In fact, according to Outer Banks Blue, there is no record of Blackbeard ever having killed anyone during a raid — those he encountered simply complied with him.)

Blackbeard pillaged ships from the Caribbean to the Carolinas until November 22, 1718, when Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia, sent Lieutenant John Maynard to assassinate him. Maynard couldn’t be intimidated — he captured Blackbeard’s entire crew and had the pirate captain’s head chopped off. Blackbeard’s head was hung from Maynard’s ship as a grisly token of victory, while his body was tossed overboard.

Legend has it that Blackbeard’s ghost, appearing as an eerie moving light, can be seen moving underwater at Teach’s Hole. Some even say that when it rains, you can hear Blackbeard’s voice in the din, crying, “Where’s my head?”

Strange activity has been recorded at Topsail Inlet

According to the Port City Daily, North Carolina’s Topsail Inlet has a long history of pirate activity. The legendary Stede Bonnet, known as “The Gentleman Pirate,” was captured nearby. Blackbeard, too, has ties to the region: Topsail was one of his favorite stopover points for long voyages. Therefore, it makes sense that some consider the region to be haunted by ghost ships.

Chris Rackley is one of many Topsail locals who believe in the legend of the Topsail pirates. He dismissed the story as “an old fisherman’s tale” in the early days of his youth. However, he says, he changed his mind when he witnessed an anomaly on the water. Rackley recounts that one day when he was 12 or 13, his father took him fishing. As they passed by the inlet, his father pointed to a radar image indicating the presence of a low-hanging cloud or ship. Yet the coast was completely clear. “It was broad daylight, and there was nothing there, but the radar sure said there was,” he remembers.

The radar showed the ghost ship “pursuing” his boat for a while. Eventually, the mark faded. One can only presume that the ghost ship returned to the spectral realm from whence it came.

The Flying Dutchman is an apparition known around the world

The legend of the Flying Dutchman is one of the most popular maritime myths. As the old story goes, while the ship’s crew was alive, it was never able to reach a port due to stormy weather. Now, the ghostly vessel is doomed to wander the globe forever, bringing bad luck to all unfortunate souls who encounter it.

Marine Insight states that the Flying Dutchman was first referenced in the 1600s, when several sailors encountered it around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. According to their records, the schooner thrashed about the waters and nearly crashed into the rocks before dissolving into thin air. Since then, the famous fright has been spotted all around the world.

One of the most notable encounters with the Flying Dutchman occurred in 1881, when Prince George V was sailing the seas as a midshipman for the British Royal Navy. His ship, the H.M.S. Bacchante, was coasting along the Australian waters when a sailor spotted the Dutchman on the horizon. Shortly after announcing this sighting, the sailor fell from his perch in the top-mast and died.

Davy Jones is one of the most menacing figures to sail the seven seas

Fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will recognize Davy Jones as a frightening foe with a beard made out of tentacles. The character wasn’t just a product of the films — he really did exist in pirate lore. Yet historians are uncertain as to the origin of this legend.

According to Marine Insight, some stories recognize Davy Jones as the ghostly captain of the Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the Seven Seas forever. Others associate him with a pirate named David Jones, who could be found navigating the waters of the Indian Ocean in the 1630s. Many scholars, however, believe that this connection is unlikely, given that David Jones was not very well-known during his lifetime.

One of the most colorful theories posits that Davy Jones was the secretly nefarious owner of a British pub. Jones would make sure that his customers imbibed until they were drunk. He would then kidnap them and sell them to pirate ships. When his pub went bankrupt, he stole a ship and became a pirate himself. He was particularly violent when killing the crews of the ships he captured. If he was feeling merciful, he would decapitate his victims. If he wasn’t, he would lock them up and sink their vessel while they were still imprisoned on it. 

Amanda Large Teague claims she's married to a pirate's ghost

Amanda Large Teague is a modern woman from Belfast, Ireland — but she claims that she recently divorced the ghost of a 300-year-old Haitian pirate named Jack Teague. According to The Washington Post, Amanda began to engage with New Age spirituality around 2010. The first time she sensed Jack’s spectral presence, she was in the middle of a meditation. Annoyed at the interruption, she asked him to go away, and he did. Yet it was only a matter of time before he showed up again. Eventually, Amanda decided to engage him in conversation. Over the course of several months, she was able to deduce his identity as a swashbuckler. 

Amanda claims that her relationship with Jack was like any other. Throughout their engagement, they “would go to Dublin for romantic getaways, argue and have sex.” In 2016, they were wedded in a special marriage ceremony on a boat, with Jack consenting to the marriage through a medium. They also confirmed their marriage through a pagan “handfasting” ceremony, in which cords were wrapped around their joined hands to represent the binding of their fates.

The marriage went south after only two weeks, when Amanda fell ill and believed that Jack was to blame. She confronted him, and he reportedly threatened to murder her if she abandoned him. Recognizing that she was dealing with a dangerous spirit, she asked a shaman to perform a de-possession ceremony, severing her from Jack forevermore.

White Point Garden is home to the ghosts of executed pirates

White Point Garden is one of Charleston, South Carolina’s, most beautiful spaces. Nestled by Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor, it’s a popular attraction for tourists who want to admire lovely foliage and engage with Civil War history. In the 18th century, however — long before the Union and the Confederacy went head-to-head — it was a place where dozens of pirates were executed, including the infamous Stede Bonnet. 

Lowcountry Weekend reports that Bonnet’s ship was captured by Colonel William Rhett in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River in 1718. He and some 30 members of his crew were sentenced to hang at White Point in a mass execution that took the lives of 49 pirates in total. Legend has it that these men’s spirits still haunt the park today. Multiple visitors have allegedly spotted eerie faces amid the park’s foliage. Some have even reported sightings of spectral bodies hanging from the tree branches there.

Browne Bushell lingers about Bagdale Hall

Bagdale Hall is a beautiful hotel located in Whitby, an English seaside town. It is also home to the ghost of a convicted pirate. 

The hotel’s official website states that it was built for the Conyers, a prominent Whitby family, in 1516. It was passed on to several owners before being handed down to Captain Browne Bushell. Bushell had a comfortable life in the spacious house with his wife, a daughter of Oliver Cromwell’s chief of staff. He lost it all in 1651, however, when he was executed on the basis of a piracy-related treason charge. 

According to Haunted Rooms, Bushell is still very present at Bagdale Hall today. Several guests at the hotel have allegedly heard him walking up and down the stairs of the building. Some even claim to have seen him floating about. Poltergeist activity, lights switching on in empty rooms, and disembodied voices whispering have all been reported at the hotel, as well. 

Captain William Kidd guards his treasure from beyond the grave

Captain William Kidd is one of the most legendary pirates of the 17th century. He is best known for the story of his buried treasure, which has fascinated and puzzled historians for generations.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! explains that Kidd was originally beloved by the Crown as a privateer — essentially a pirate authorized by the British government to defend its ships. His reputation was irreversibly altered, however, when he plundered a 500-ton Armenian ship called the Quedah Merchant off the coast of India. The ship’s owner, a powerful minister, was outraged and demanded justice. Fearing that he would soon be subject to a trial, Kidd took initiative by hiding parts of his treasure on Gardiner’s Island in New York. It was suspected that he also hid bounty on Block Island and Liberty Island, although these suspicions were not confirmed before Kidd’s execution in 1701. 

According to Ghosts of New York, there might be some validity to the Liberty Island rumors after all. Allegedly, in 1825, two soldiers who had heard whispers about the buried treasure were assigned to the island — and they were determined to find it. After a great deal of searching, they found Captain Kidd’s chest — but before they could open it, the captain’s ghost arose in a demonic form, furious that they would dare to steal his most prized possession. The men were so terrified that they fainted instantly.

The ghost at 37 Meeting Street is known for petty theft

The mansion at 37 Meeting Street may well be one of the most haunted buildings in Charleston, South Carolina. According to the Historical Marker Database, the beautiful Georgian home was built in 1760 by local architect James Simmons. Hence, it is often known as the James Simmons House. Today, it’s in the middle of the city. In the 18th century, however, it was situated along the bank of a creek. Given its location by the water in pirate hotspot South Carolina, it’s been attached to various legends about pirates throughout the ages.

Charleston Magazine reports that 37 Meeting Street has long been rumored to be the site of buried pirate treasure. While said booty has never been found, the ghost of a formidable pirate — most likely the treasure’s owner — has allegedly been spotted on the grounds. Some have seen this lost soul in the home’s backyard as an ambiguous form with his arms folded across his chest. Others have heard him calling out for water in the middle of the night. One account even paints him as a petty thief. An eyewitness who grew up in the building in the 1970s said that he caught a glimpse of the ghost and heard a mysterious creaking coming from the stairwell one day. Shortly after, some valuable jewelry disappeared from his mother’s powder room. The collective consensus was that the ghost was to blame.

The Spy House is home to frightening pirate spirits

New Jersey’s Spy House, also known as the Seabrook-Wilson House, is said to be one of the most haunted buildings in the state. According to Ghosts of Ohio, the building is home to nearly 20 ghosts, including the spirits of some fearsome pirates.

The Spy House got its name in the 18th century, while it was owned by a man named Daniel Seabrook. When the Revolutionary War began, Daniel Seabrook sided with the Colonists, but he worried that his home would be burned down if he was seen as disloyal to the British. Therefore, he chose to convert the house into an inn for British soldiers, with a key twist: Colonist spies were planted upstairs to eavesdrop on the Loyalists’ conversations. 

The inn was not a home to pirates until the 1800s, when it became the headquarters of the brutal Captain Morgan (distinct from the better-known Captain Henry Morgan of the 1600s). It is said that, looking to increase his wealth, the captain kidnapped a prominent French family and held them hostage for a large ransom. Eventually, he got tired of waiting for the money and killed them. Legend has it that the ghosts of Captain Morgan, his first mate, and the family are all present in the house today. The first mate and family members are supposedly quiet presences, whereas Captain Morgan is known to spew profanity. 

A headless skeleton roams Mississippi's Deer Island

Mississippi’s Deer Island is seen by some as a hotbed of supernatural activity. Rumors of hauntings have swirled for generations: In 1922, a columnist named Anthony Ragusin wrote an article for the Sun Herald called “Headless Ghost Haunted Deer Island in Olden Times.” The “Olden Times” he was alluding to were the early 1800s.

According to Ragusin, back in the heyday of pirate activity, a captain and his crew sailed to Deer Island with a ship full of stolen loot. After burying the treasure, the captain asked if anyone wanted to help him guard it, and an inexperienced pirate eagerly volunteered. Little did he know, the question was a test. One of the lieutenants, believing the pirate secretly wanted the treasure for himself, chopped off the pirate’s head. The pirate’s body wasted away, and his headless skeleton was doomed to roam the island forevermore.

Not only did Ragusin record the legend of this headless specter, but he also wrote about a reported sighting. Allegedly, in the 19th century, two fishermen were sitting by a campfire when they heard a rustling in the bushes behind them. They initially ignored the sound, suspecting it to be wild hogs — so they were shocked when they finally turned around and found the headless skeleton looming over them. When they staggered back in horror, the skeleton began to approach. Then they started to sprint toward the boat, and the skeleton pursued them. They escaped in the nick of time.

Nix's Mate Island has an eerie backstory

Today, Nix’s Mate Island is small and unassuming. Yet in the 17th century, Maine Lobster Now reports, it was 12 acres large and one of the most formidable locales on Boston Harbor. The government used the site to display the corpses of pirates who had been executed, sending a warning to all who sailed past. 

According to local lore, the island gets its name from a ghastly incident involving a captain named Nix. The details of this incident vary depending on whom you ask.

One version of the story begins with Captain Nix and his crew mooring in Boston Harbor for a night of rest. All seemed well until Nix was found dead in the morning. His crew notified the authorities, and the ship’s first mate was found guilty. He claimed that he was innocent. His crew, however, didn’t believe him. They brought him to the island and tied a noose around his neck — and in his last breath, he asked God to let the island sink into the sea if he were innocent. Surely enough, it did. 

In another version of the legend, Nix was a pirate who brought his first mate with him to bury treasure on the island. After the task was accomplished, Nix shot the man so that the treasure’s location could remain a secret. It is said that the ghost of Nix’s mate still roams the island today, restless since his brutal death.

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