Florida is famous for pirates. Places such as St. Augustine, Tampa and Amelia Island all have long, rich histories full of swashbuckling, thievery and buried treasure. Port Charlotte has its fair share of pirate history, too.
Before we look into Port Charlotte’s pirate history, let’s look at why Florida was such a haven for pirates in the first place.
Famous Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513. Because of its access to the Gulf of Mexico, Spain decided to use Florida as a safe haven to store its riches there. But where there’s money, there are pirates. Because of all the ships loaded with Spanish gold, pirates discovered a literal treasure trove in the vessels docked along Florida’s coasts and the towns the Spaniards established throughout the state. Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Spain’s greatest admiral, became the Spanish governor of Florida and was tasked with driving out all of the pirates that were invading the area.
One of the most popular pirates in Florida folklore is Jose’ Gaspar. He’s rumored to have had a secret base in Charlotte Harbor and would sail back and forth to Spain as well as roam around the Gulf of Mexico until his death in 1821, at the hands of the U.S. Navy. The first written account of Gaspar was written in 1900 when the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railway published a piece about him for a promotional brochure for its Boca Grande Hotel on Gasparilla Island. Though there’s no known evidence that Gaspar has ever existed, he’s an integral part of Florida’s past and a great way to drum up tourism.
Another famous pirate said to have roamed the water of Charlotte Harbor is Brewster Baker, though again, there’s no known evidence he ever existed. However, it’s worth mentioning that the harbor was his refuge and there are supposedly several shipwrecked vessels containing millions of dollars of Spanish gold resting at the bottom. None has ever been found.
If you choose not to believe in these pirate legends, that’s okay. There once was a man who did. His name was Rick Vaughan and he’s become something of a legend himself. A commercial salvor, he spent the latter part of the 1980s and early 1990s searching for the shipwrecks that supposedly lined Charlotte Harbor’s seafloors. His goal was to prove that these pirates did exist and that their legends are true. He spent so much of his time and money in his quest that it almost broke him in more ways than one. After an Orlando Sentinel piece was published in ‘92 about Vaughan, he became a local celebrity. But almost 30 years later, not much has been heard about him. If Vaughan is still alive, it’s safe to assume he never found what he was looking for. And so, the pirates of Charlotte Harbor remain only a legend.
If you’re planning a trip to the Port Charlotte area to hunt for treasure, or just want to learn more about the area’s rich pirate history, make sure you book a beautiful vacation home with Global!