Ghost Ship of the Everglades - Florida
Ghost Ship of the Everglades - Florida
Ghost Ship in the Everglades?
An old Florida legend holds that a crew of pirates,
cursed for their evil, sails for eternity in the winding
waterways and grasslands of the Everglades.
Domain of Cursed Pirates
Legend holds that a helpless
prisoner prayed for God to
punish her captors, a
shipload of pirates.
Ghost Ship of the Everglades - Florida
Pirates lost in a Sea of Grass
Copyright 2013 & 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Updated: October 22, 2014
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Ghosts & Monsters of Florida
Passage for a Ghost Ship?
The story tells of a pirate ship
picked up by a tidal wave and
thrown deep into the Florida
Everglades. Its ghost crew is
said to sail there, lost forever.
Domain of the Lost Pirates
The grasslands and twisting
channels of the Everglades
are so extensive that the
pirates never found a way out.
The legend of the Ghost Ship of the Florida
Everglades is an old seafaring tale told by
sailors during the 19th century.

It centers around a crew of phantom pirates.
Much like the crew of the infamous
, the cutthroats were cursed to sail
the grasslands and twisting channels of the
Everglades as part of an eternal punishment
for their sins.

No one really knows the age of the story, but
it is very old. Told in various ports of the Gulf
and East Coast, it was said to have already
been more than 300 years old by the time it
was published in newspapers across the
country in 1901.

A moral tale that originated in the days of the
real pirates of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of
Mexico, the story likely has its roots in days
when crews of pirates lurked in the bays and
rivers of the Florida coast to wait and watch
for prey.

These ships sailed for centuries under the
names of captains like William Augustus
Bowles ("Billy Bowlegs"), Jose Gaspar
(Gasparilla), Jean Lafitte and others. In the
16th and 17th centuries they raided Spanish
treasure and merchant ships. Pirate raiders
attacked the Spanish ports of St. Augustine
and San Marcos de Apalache (St. Marks).

By the 18th and early 19th century, their
targets evolved to slave, merchant and even
fishing vessels. Smuggling and filibustering
became a new way of life for the marauders.

The story of the Ghost Ship of the Everglades
began with a chase on the high seas near
the Florida Keys.

Spotting a merchant vessel in the distance,
the crew of a pirate ship gave chase. The
captain and sailors of the merchant ship,
however, were not easy prey.  Experienced at
their trade, they led the pirates on a long
chase that continued for hours.

Both ships were near Cape Florida when the
pirates finally managed to close on their prey
and force the merchantmen to surrender:

Furious at the length of the chase and the
brave resistance of the gallant crew of the
merchantman the pirate captain cruelly
forced every one of the crew to walk the
plank, with fiendish ingenuity keeping the
skipper’s wife to watch their fate and that of
her brave husband. -
(New York Daily People, August 11,

When the last of the crew had been put to
death, the captain's terrified wife found
herself filled with righteous anger. Falling to
her knees and raising her hands above her
head, she called upon God to judge and
punish her captors for their deeds:

...At that moment a curling line of foam came
sweeping down over the calm expanse, and,
lifting both vessels in its embrace, carried
them away.

The ships were carried inland atop a giant
tidal wave. The fate of the merchant vessel
was not recalled by the tale, but the voyage of
the pirate ship was far from over:
On, on, the tidal wave bore the pirate ship on
its snowy crest. Across the sandy shallows,
high over the beach above the tallest trees
for miles the great wave carried the pirate
until it finally set it down in the center of the
great pitiless solitude....

The wave finally expended its strength and
faded back to the sea from which it had
come. The pirates, however, were left behind,
stranded deep in the twisting channels and
grasslands of the Florida Everglades.

According to the story, they remain there to
this day. Unable to find their way out of the
labyrinth of water and grass, they died one by
one from fever and starvation. Their suffering,
however, was far from over.

Even after death, the pirates were left to sail
the Everglades as ghosts, searching forever
for a way out of their prison of grass:

Now the Indians and hunters in the
Everglades tell of seeing the pirate ship with
rotting masts and hull and with sales – trying
to find a channel out of the sawgrass pools
into the deep blue waters of the sea.

The legend reminds us not only of the days
when pirate ships sailed the Florida waters,
but of a time when the Everglades were all
but unknown to the American public at large.

The best place to learn more about and
explore the vast subtropical wilderness today
is Everglades National Park.  Covering more
than 1.5 million acres in the southern end of
Florida, the park is a World Heritage Site.
Entrances are located in Homestead, Miami
and Everglades City.

Please click here to learn more.
Grass and Gators
The pirates died, doomed
forever to sail the Everglades
in search of a way to escape.
Photos by Lauren Pitone