“The Capture of Blackbeard” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
“Here was an end of that courageous brute, who might have passed in the world or a hero had he been employed in a good cause.”
—Charles Johnson on Blackbeard, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, 1724
BEAUFORT, NC—Mudbone’s wife encounters the same dilemma each August when she visits Beaufort.
“Back in Greensboro, at least I can pick him out of a crowd,” she says. “But this weekend? Forget about it.”
“Well, I don’t always wear it,” Mudbone adds quietly. “Not when I’m working on windows, for example. But otherwise, yes. All the time.”
Mudbone, for the permanent record, should be easy to pick out of any crowd. His default wardrobe is a many-layered 1740s pirate outfit, much of his own making or else his wife’s. His commitment to detail and historical fidelity is remarkable. One of his pistols, each of which he carved and welded himself, has a retractable mini-bayonet that looks like a grilling skewer. He has blades of varying sizes, a musket slung over his back, and a leather tricorn hat plumed with a three-foot feather. He has hewn several of his blade-handles out of elk antler. He is, to understate the case, a spectacle.
One weekend each August, however, Mudbone blends as though camouflaged into the hundred-plus temporally displaced privateers and scallywags who invade the two main strips in downtown Beaufort for the town’s annual Pirate Invasion. Two things strike you immediately as you enter Beaufort. The first is that anyone under twelve or over forty is dressed, quite convincingly, as a pirate. The other is that all the women insist that you call them “wenches,” an epithet they bestow with lip-smacking pleasure on one another, as often and publicly as possible.
Mudbone does not refer to his wife as a “wench.” In fact, he speaks very little, allowing his weathered face (as though baked by the sun and salt water!) to answer whatever questions his voluble wife does not.
“We got started at a Ron Paul convention, actually,” Mrs. Mudbone tells me. “Mudbone used to dress like Davey Crockett, head-to-toe, as a sort of statement, you know? And then I bought him that gorgeous leather tricorn—which isn’t a sailor’s hat really, or wasn’t at the time, in that century—and people would approach him on the street and ask, ‘Are you a pirate?’”
Mudbone laughs. “Eventually, it started to sound like a great idea.”
“He’s incredibly shy when he isn’t in costume,” his wife confides. “Good luck getting two words out of him. But in the costume, he just transforms. He becomes just a total ham.”