Preservacation is a series of essays by Brad Hatch about the preservation related adventures, issues, and sites that he and Lauren have encountered on their travels. This is #5 in the series.
By Brad Hatch
Bahamian architecture, Blackbeard, a maritime museum, and a painting of Doug Sanford. When Lauren and I went to Beaufort, NC a few months ago we definitely weren’t expecting to find all of these things. The main reason we were drawn to this little seaside town was Blackbeard. Yes, Blackbeard the pirate. Now, I know there are people out there who think pirates are awesome, but I’ve never really given them a second thought. Actually, I think the revived interest in pirates has come from the fact that Johnny Depp played one, and, after all, he is a beautiful man. Back to my story. Blackbeard drew us to Beaufort not only because he had a house there, but because many of the artifacts from his ship reside in the North Carolina Maritime Museum in town.
For the past two semesters Lauren has been working with the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project, which excavates and conserves the artifacts from Blackbeard’s flagship, which sunk right off the coast at Beaufort Inlet. Needless to say, they have some cool stuff in the museum. In addition to some of the cannon from the ship, there are pewter plates, a brass bell, and a urethral syringe (which was used to administer mercury to the men aboard the ship in order to treat venereal diseases). The Blackbeard exhibit is only a small part of the museum, however. It covers most of North Carolina’s maritime heritage from Native American dugout canoes to modern vessels. The exhibits pay close attention to the economic impact that the sea and its resources have had on the state, including whaling, oystering, fishing, and waterfowling. One of the most interesting parts of the museum is actually in another building. Across the street from the main museum building is the watercraft center which is staffed by volunteers that demonstrate model ship building and boatbuilding. They even offer classes on boatbuilding to the public that range from constructing sailing vessels to maintaining diesel boat engines.
Beaufort isn’t just a museum though. It’s an interesting little historic town. The town was founded in 1709 and quickly became an important port for ships due to its protected inlet, making it a hub of international trade. This international influence is reflected in the architecture of the town, particularly the eighteenth century buildings. The majority of the early structures along the waterfront are built in the Bahamian style. This is what the brochures from Beaufort call it, but I couldn’t find Bahamian architecture in the little bit of research I did, so if no such style exists feel free to let me know. Anyway, the main feature that sets these houses apart from others of the same time period is the porch on the first and second story of the houses. They are pretty unusual features and seem particularly suited to hot climates such as the Caribbean or North Carolina in August. This style likely found its way to Beaufort as a result of the trading vessels and sailors that passed through the town. Building in this fashion allowed the more cosmopolitan residents of the small port of Beaufort to adopt and modify the fashions that their counterparts in the big port cities of the islands indulged in. This style actually became a part of Beaufort and continued for years as houses dating from the eighteenth through late nineteenth centuries have porches on both stories, in the Bahamian fashion.
There are several things that you don’t want to miss in Beaufort, including a really cool cemetery with lots of vaulted burials and interesting stories (this will be addressed in an upcoming post). The one thing that really made an impression on me though was in the maritime museum. They have an entire exhibit devoted to piracy, because of Blackbeard’s tie to the area, located in a little room off of the main hall. The exhibit includes pirate smells, clothing, typical meals, and paintings. One of these paintings stands out above the rest because it features Doug Sanford, our beloved professor from UMW.
The painting is titled “Forty Thieves” and shows a pirate ship with all sorts of riff raff aboard and Doug (actually his doppelganger) in the center of it all sporting a pair of yellow and purple tights. As of right now, you can see this painting and other portions of the same exhibit at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. It is on loan for an exhibit on piracy. However, this shouldn’t deter you from taking a trip to Beaufort, there’s still a ton of cool stuff to see and do. Just make sure to stop by that pirate exhibit in Raleigh on the way back.