A swashbuckling history lesson at Prentis House

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 22, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Ahoy, there, landlubbers! &uot;Blackbeard’s Crew,&uot; otherwise known as his lot of cutthroat pirates and brigands, literally took over the Prentis House Wednesday, as they visited Suffolk’s Tourism office in search of directions to the Great Dismal Swamp.

While the five didn’t come to Suffolk with torture, thievery and kidnapping on their minds, they came to re-enact the times when the real Blackbeard plied the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and the Caribbean.

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Appearing at the Prentis House, the five drew upon their best English accents, scowling faces and authentic looking costuming to present their program to guests who came to swoon over the swashbuckling bunch. The pirates came to demonstrate the historical connection between Suffolk, the Great Dismal Swamp and Blackbeard, the most famous of all pirates.

Based out of Hampton, Blackbeard’s Crew appears across Hampton Roads in many events including the Blackbeard Festival held annually in their home city. Just as they do at the festival, the pirates perform their sea chanties, or songs to you landlubbers, and they give an up close and personal demonstration in seamanship, navigation, sail making, cooking, and they even relate the Pirate’s Code of Ethics.

When it comes to their exhibition of weapons, the five buccaneers show off some of their muskets, swords and other paraphernalia any good sea bandit would have.

While the close quarters of the Prentis House precluded a cannon drill, they do those upon occasion and their sword drills are not for the faint of heart.

As they sang ’round a table laden with a bounty of pastries fit for a king, the pirates of Prentis House presented their program, &uot;Piracy 101&uot; to the delight of the guests attending the event.

Blackbeard’s Crew is actually a group of re-enactors organized in the Spring of 200 to support the first Hampton Blackbeard Festival. There are about 20 members who are committed to portraying the brigands and their victims. They have appeared at Norfolk’s Harborfest, Nauticus, the Mariner’s Museum, Hampton Bay Days, the Hampton History Museum, the Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race and many private events.

&uot;Mr. Steele,&uot; master gunner, came to visit the tourism office in search of ill gotten booty left, they believe, in the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Robin Welch, the musician of great fame and deck hand of Blackbeard’s Crew, was there simply to provide some of his lyrical music for the occasion. T.J. Savage said his goal as a pirate is to be the best brigand in Blackbeard’s band. In reality, he is a historical interpreter with the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation.

John Glass, alias &uot;William Howard,&uot; is the quartermaster of the crew and he’s got the scowl that other pirates only dream of. He is also an environmental engineer with Remsa in Hampton.

Billy Flint, alias John Sandhofer, is the portside master gunner with an incredible accent that, coupled with his appearance, takes you straight to the Jolly Roger and the pirate’s den. He is actually the Director for Hampton Event Makers, who produces the Blackbeard Festival.

&uot;We do a lot of studying for authenticity and the accents,&uot; said Glass. &uot;We are a group that’s dedicated to as much accuracy as we can discover in interpreting the life and times of Blackbeard and that period in the early 1800’s, when piracy was in its golden age.&uot;

As for their day jobs, Steele is the project manager for Kitchen & Bath Ideas of Virginia Beach. Welch, of course is a musician extraordinaire playing with the York River Symphony Orchestra and teaching at Hampton University. He’s also played many times at the Suffolk Museum.

As the crew enjoyed a brief repast with those attending the pirate bash, the gentlemen departed the Prentis House headed for… well, they may be out at the Great Dismal…