Pirates roam the streets and waterways of Tampa today – providing unique fun, adventure and attractions for families on Florida Gulf Coast.
From the city NFL Franchise, the Buccaneers, at its traditional Gasparilla festivities — named after colonial-era marauder legend Jose Gaspar — pirates are a big part of Tampa lore.
“Pirate culture is a way of life here,” T. Truett Gardner, captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which has held the city’s annual pirate-themed festival since 1904, told Fox News Digital.
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“The revelry and the tradition of swashbuckling has become a signature of our community,” he said.
The Gasparilla Invasion and Parade, held on the fourth Saturday of every January, is the centerpiece of the city’s marauder-themed party.
Think Mardi Gras with friends.
Ye Mystic Krewe, following over a century of tradition, “kidnaps” the mayor of Tampa and demands the keys to the city.
“The Pirate Invasion” begins when the gloriously flag-decorated Jose Gasparilla II, a 137-foot-long, three-masted pirate ship sails through downtown Tampa, followed by a flotilla of hundreds of boats.
“Pirate culture is a way of life here.” —Captain Truett Gardner, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla
The procession by sea is followed by a massive parade of over 100 floats on land.
Organizers say it’s the third-largest one-day parade in America, behind Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California.
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“To celebrate their capture of the city of Tampa, the Captain and his Krewe are sharing their wealth – glittering pearls, treasures and doubloons – with a lively and cheering crowd along the 4.5-mile parade route,” Ye Mystic Krewe announces. of Gasparilla on its website.
It’s preceded a week earlier each year by a non-alcoholic children’s Gasparilla that kicks off pirate season in Tampa.
The children’s festival is highlighted by a firework of “pirate techniques”, as they are cleverly called in the local lingo.
The “Gasparilla season” ends each March, when Ye Mystic Krewe returns the keys to the city to the mayor before his annual outward journey – with the threat of returning and rejoicing the following year.
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The 2023 outbound trip takes place March 4, departing from Sparkman Wharf, a hotbed of waterfront activity on Tampa’s Garrison Channel.
Since pirates are so central to local lore, Tampa attractions featuring them can be found year-round.
The Pirate Water Taxi is a public ferry that transports passengers by sea and river from one location in Tampa to another.
The Bay Rocket is a thrill ride in the ocean aboard a menacing speedboat splashed with pirate logos.
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Families can visit area coves and sail the Royal Conquest pirate ship from nearby John’s Pass. The ship’s website (boattoursjohnpass.com) even offers tips for throwing a pirate-themed party.
Raymond James Stadium, home of Tampa Bay Buccaneersoffers year-round tours that include a chance to board its famous North End Zone Pirate Ship.
The ship’s crew is made up of pirates during Buccaneers games, who fire its cannons whenever the NFL football team scores.
“The Buccaneers’ skull pirate profile exploded in 2020 when the team acquired quarterback Tom Brady.”
When local businessman Hugh Culverhouse prepared to bring a professional football franchise to Tampa, he held a public contest to choose a name.
Many of the more than 400 submissions tied the idea to local pirate lore.
The franchise’s current skull-and-sword pirate image exploded in stature in 2020 when the Buccaneers acquired ‘Greatest of All Time’ quarterback Tom Brady and won the Super Bowl that same season.
The Tampa Bay History Center features a Treasure Seekers exhibit centered on pirate lore.
Children can take part in the “Pirate’s Fate” in an interactive exhibit, learn to tie nautical knots under the bowsprit of a wooden pirate ship – or learn about ancient aids to maritime navigation, such as the astrolabe or the butt.
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The presence of so many swordsmen in the area is attributed to a mythical Spanish thief who haunted Tampa Bay during colonial times and gave the city its treasured identity.
Legend says that José Gaspar was a Spanish captain wrongly accused of treason against King Charles III of Spain. His family was murdered while he was at sea.
“Naturally embittered, he swore ‘henceforth to be an enemy of Spain,’ writes the Florida History Network.
“He started attacking every ship he could find along the coast of Florida,” which was then under Spanish rule.
His disappearance came at the hands of the US Navy in 1821, after the Spanish colony became US territory.
Gaspar would have been a very small buccaneer. Gasparilla, the name of the local pirate festival, is a Spanish word for “little Gaspar”.
“The story of the Tampa Pirates, as it relates to Jose Gaspar, is probably much more myth than fact.” — Historian Rodney Kite-Powell
The legend of the marine bandit makes sense at first glance. Certainly, pirates roamed the Gulf of Mexico.
The “area offered extremely rich choices for private vessels”, BBC History Magazine reported in a cover story for its new January 2023 issue.
There is, however, a problem with Gaspar’s story.
It’s not true.
“The history of the Tampa pirates, as it relates to Jose Gaspar, is probably much more myth than fact,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, director of the Touchton Map Library at the Tampa Bay History Center and an authority on matter of local lore, at Fox News Digital. .
“As far as everyone’s best efforts have gone, including my own, there is no trace of a real pirate named Jose Gaspar.”
Tampa was nothing more than a small fishing town with no treasure to attract pirates back when Gaspar would have roamed the sea, the historian said.
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Someone apparently concocted the story to draw attention to Tampa in the early 1900s.
The Jose Gaspar legend was a very clever marketing plan.
Tampa is now one of America’s fastest growing cities – with a unique image of a swashbuckling beach town stolen by pirates to add some historical gravity to its relatively recent rise.
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Jose Gaspar’s suspect origins, Kite-Powell added, “doesn’t mean we in Tampa haven’t fully embraced the legend.”