Privateer Festival: For history, revelry or both head to Fell’s

Written by on April 9, 2014 in Neighborhood News - No comments
Though the "Pride of Baltimore II" won't be at this year's Privateer Festival, the crew will be in attendance. This year, the festival will have a special historical focus, honoring the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. - Photo courtesy of Juliette Richter

Though the “Pride of Baltimore II” won’t be at this year’s Privateer Festival, the crew will be in attendance. This year, the festival will have a special historical focus, honoring the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. – Photo courtesy of Juliette Richter

The international wave of pirate mania that began in 2003 with the release of Disney’s first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film has apparently crested, but Fell’s Point’s love for the adventurers of the high-seas will never wane.

This weekend—Friday, noon-9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.—the waterfront neighborhood will be flooded with rogues in tricorner hats and wenches in low-cut, billowy blouses in town for the Privateer Festival, presented by Fell’s Point Main Street.

Though the British insisted on referring to our American privateers as pirates, it’s important to make the distinction between pirates who plunder indiscriminately for profit and the 1812-era American privateers who captured British ships to further the war effort (and didn’t mind making a profit at the same time).

As this is the final year of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, this year’s Privateer Festival will put a special emphasis on history.

Vince Vaise, ranger at Ft. McHenry, says that folks from the fort will be at the festival all three days.

“We’re going to be demonstrating about what it was really like to be enlisted in the ranks of a privateer, or to be an actual privateer,” Vaise said.

Members of the Ft. McHenry Junior Fife and Drums Corps will be playing their music and simulating a “recruitment rendezvous,” in which privateers appealed to patriotism, profit motive and romanticism to entice passers-by to sign on to their crews.

“A lot of times, they would play music and literally ‘drum’ up business,” said Vaise.

Though the ship itself won’t be there, crew members of the “Pride of Baltimore II,” a replica of an 1812-era privateer schooner, will be at the festival to explain and illustrate the differences between the nimble privateers’ schooners and the heavier, slower ships they captured. Push a model schooner hull through sand, and you’ll feel a clear difference.

The Maryland Historical Society will be displaying the actual enlistment and approval documents that the privateers’ had to complete before shipping out for action.

“Privateering wasn’t free for all piracy,” explained Vaise. “It was actually a regulated business.”

It’s a War of 1812-focused event, so you can bet that Ft. McHenry will have their huge American Flag there. Vaise notes that the flag had great War of 1812-significance beyond being the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Fell’s Point’s most famous privateer, Thomas Boyle, appealed to the flag to justify a particularly hard-won, costly and damaging sea battle. He had gone into the battle with the mistaken impression that he was engaging a merchant ship, but it turned out to be a British war vessell:

“When I found myself deceived, the honor of the flag entrusted to my charge, was not to be disgraced by flight.”

Not exactly the diction typically heard on National Talk Like a Pirate Day, eh?

Nevertheless, the Privateer Festival will offer plenty of activities for those just looking to have a grog and say “Arrr,” or spend some relaxing time with the family.

The festival’s marketplace opens at noon Friday, followed by a “Bicentennial Bash” from 6:30-8:30 p.m. with live music by House of Cadarn. The weekend includes more music, more market, a “grog garden,” battle reenactments, bar crawls, a nautical-themed pet costume contest, a children’s activity and entertainment pier (with a free inflatable pirate ship slide and crafts), and ship tours and cruises (including Urban Pirates excursions).

For more information and a full schedule, visit and check “News & Events.”

by Erik Zygmont

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