Lowcountry Pastimes: The Tale of Stede Bonnet and the Spirits of White Point Garden
With a chill in the air and a full moon on the horizon, the month of October is certainly the most bewitching time of the year, when friends and family can gather around the campfire under the starry, Lowcountry sky and tell their most frightening tales. But is it all just a bunch of hocus pocus? We’ll let you decide.
One of our favorite ghost stories is the tale of Stede Bonnet, a pirate who pillaged the streets of Charleston in the 1700s before he was killed for his crimes at one of the city’s most prominent landmarks, White Point Garden in the Battery.
Today, unassuming tourists flock to White Point Garden to enjoy views of Fort Sumter and the Charleston Harbor from the shade of the park’s grand oak trees. However, like many of Charleston’s landmarks, White Point has a spooky past that is not for the faint of heart.
Long before the park opened to the public in 1837, it was the execution site for the city’s outlaws and pirates. And it is believed that many of the criminals, including some 50 pirates who met their fate at White Point, still haunt the grounds today.
Among the pirates executed at White Point Garden was Stede Bonnet, an early 18th century Barbadian pirate who abandoned his status as a wealthy landowner for a life of crime. Bonnet’s high-class upbringing and peculiar antics, including financing his own ship and paying crewmembers, earned him the nickname the “Gentleman Pirate.”
After joining forces with the infamous Blackbeard, the pair sailed to Charleston and commandeered the city after plundering the harbor’s ships and robbing local merchants.
Bonnet and his crew were captured by a group led by William Rhett, a local merchant who was determined to extinguish the city’s pirate problem. After being found guilty at trial, Bonnet and approximately 30 of his crewmembers were executed at the site of White Point Garden and their bodies were thrown into the marsh, which is now the site of many historic Charleston homes.
Throughout five weeks in 1718, 49 pirates, including Bonnet, met their end at White Point, and it is said their souls continue to haunt the park and surrounding area to this day. Reports include floating apparitions and terrifying screams echoing through the night. Legend has it that when you stand near Water Street and glance down, you can still spot the faces of the executed pirates staring back at them from the water’s surface.
If you do not see his spirit haunting the park grounds, make sure to check out Bonnet’s epitaph which can be found amongst the cannons and statues that line the park.
But be warned – the Battery and White Point Garden are not the only haunted areas of the peninsula. As one of the oldest and most beautifully preserved cities in the country, Charleston has a rich history of restless spirits that, unlike hidden treasures, refuse to stay buried.