One hundred years gets shorter and shorter the older I get.
So it was one short century following America’s first English settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 that a man named Farnival Green (no, that’s not Carnival Green) from Bath, North Carolina, got an investor’s look in his eye and purchased 780 acres between the respective mouths of the Core (today’s Newport) and North Rivers at one of the best spots for ships to harbor all up and down the Atlantic coastline. Green lost his life in the Indian massacres seven years later, but the beautiful little Beaufort that sprang up on his acreage has enjoyed three hundred years as one of the nicest places on the continent.
Beaufort made its first big splash in history (more literally than you might think) when Blackbeard, “prince of pirates,” not only showed up in town but scuttled his 200-ton flagship the Queen Anne’s Revenge on a sandbar in Topsail Inlet (now Beaufort Inlet). Some legends have him building the Hammock House that still stands in town, tying his dingy to the front porch, hanging a poor girl on a live oak out back, and, of course, burying a bit of treasure in the yard for two or three hundred years’ worth of treasure-hunters to have fun with (nobody’s found anything to date, but treasure-seekers are a stubborn bunch).
Pirates returned thirty years later, but this time they were Spaniards from St. Augustine, Florida, prowling up and down the coastline, seeking whom they may devour. After stealing several small ships from Beaufort’s harbor mid-June, 1747, they returned August 26 to take the town. Major Enoch Ward and fifty-eight militiamen were not enough to keep the marauders at bay, and townspeople were forced to run for their lives, abandoning their homes, possessions, and businesses to ransack and pillage. When, however, Major Ward and Colonel Thomas Lovick gathered up every farmer and fisherman in the surrounding area to add to their numbers, the Spanish were overwhelmed in a counterattack three days later, and the town was recovered. Those were tough times, but Beaufort has had a lot of fun every year for at least the past fifty retelling the story of the great Pirate Invasion in a big weekend celebration (August 7, 8, in 2015), complete with sword fights, cannon fire, some wild song and dance, and of course plenty to quench a sailor’s thirst and satisfy his hunger.
Another thirty years passed, and a revolutionary United States was at war with the British. You guessed it: Beaufort was targeted for “plunder and destroy.” Even when the war was for all practical purposes over in 1782 (following the defeat of Cornwallis), vengeful British soldiers landed at Beaufort, fought with townsmen, looted liberally, burned down the schoolhouse, and took citizens prisoner. When war with the British broke out again in 1812, Beaufort was at the center of action again, providing a crucial port when both Charleston and Baltimore were blockaded. Local Captain Otway Burns, who is buried at the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, was one of the chief privateers harassing British ships up and down the coast with his invincible Snap Dragon.
The years following the War of 1812 saw the construction of pentagonal Fort Macon on Bogue Island with its four-and-a-half-feet thick walls, a moat-like ditch, and a “covertway,” a second earthwork-wall completely encircling the fort and ditch. Awesome fort, but . . . when it was finally completed in 1834, all was a little too quiet on the eastern front, and the fort immediately began to gather dust as the government had little money for its upkeep and only one lonely sergeant kept watch. One young army captain did make a visit to Fort Macon in the 1840’s, however, surveyed the island, and designed the jetties that still protect the fort-end of the island today 175 years later. Young captain’s name?
Robert E. Lee.
A couple of decades later Fort Macon was in fact wrested from the federal government by North Carolina’s “Old Topsail Riflemen,” a group of Beaufort secessionists led by Captain Josiah Pender, and served the Confederacy for about a year before being taken back and remaining in the hands of the United States government until the turn of the century. Today Fort Macon is a state park and one of the main attractions in this very attractive Beaufort area.