Viva Florida 500 GreaterJax™ is a series of occasional pieces about Florida history and this year’s celebrations of 500 years of same in and around northeast Florida.
That’s right, aspiring pirate kings and queens – just in time to kick off the Mardi Gras season, Tampa is gearing up for this year’s Gasparilla on Sat., Jan. 26.
While the festival proper lasts only for most of a week, the party isn’t over officially until February 25, when the pirates give the Key to the City back to the Mayor.
Well over a century old, the Gasparilla happens because of the reign of terror of infamous Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar who ruled the bounding Spanish Main (the Gulf of Mexico) until 1821.
The hearty townsfolk and (mostly) businessmen of Tampa revel in the tales of his exploits and first elevated him as their pirate king in 1904.
The Gasparilla is a stellar models of such festivals – invasion of city of Tampa by live pirates parading through the streets, a pirate street festival, carousing, dancing, etc.
There’s still time to get to the alcohol-free kiddy version, which is today, before it closes at 7:30 p.m.
And be forewarned – your kids may get an early education at the parade, what with the rum a-flowin’ and the saucy pirate wenches and what have you.
Who the hell is José Gaspar?
Like most rogues, José Gaspar the notorious pirate was born an aristocrat. “Gasparilla” is coined from his last name.
An lieutenant in the Spanish Navy, Gaspar was educated at the Spanish Naval Academy, and so knew well the trade routes in the Spanish Main as well as the Spanish strategies for protecting their shipments of tributes back and forth to European.
This helped make him a pirate extraordinaire.
Billed as the “last of the buccaneers” and one of the rankest pirates ever to ply the seas, Gaspar terrorized the west coast of Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
In 1783, he mutinied, seized a Spanish warship and took his new crew into the Florida Straits.
In his first 12 years as a pirate, he took 36 vessels. No one knows how many more he took.
What is known is that he retired in December 1821, when his vessel was taken by the captain and crew of the first USS Enterprise on the Spanish Main.
Rather than be captured alive, Gaspar wrapped himself in his anchor-chain and leapt overboard.
How The Gasparilla Started
Although Tampa’s civic leaders still haven’t found the massive treasure trove he alleged to have buried some along Florida’s coast, they’ve managed to turn his name into mountains of pirate gold anyway.
In 1904, “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla,” forty members strong, staged a mock (in costume on horseback and, one presumes, drunken) attack on Tampa and re-captured the city during the first parade.
There’s been a Gasparilla ever since.
For over 100 years now.
It sails in to Tampa Bay on the ‘Jose Gasparilla’, the world’s only full-rigged pirate to be commissioned in modern times.
At 165′ long by 35′ across the beam with 3 steel masts standing 100′ tall, the ship itself is a good enough excuse to head for Tampa.
Today, Ye Mystic Krewe numbers over 700 of the city’s most prominent men.
Note that. Men only.
In addition the Mystic Krewe, there are now over 50 newer krewes in the Parade of the Pirates, with, one hopes, some saucy pirate wenches.
Yep, GR8RJax™ could have this much fun at the end of January
You’d think that with all the northeast Florida pirate history that GR8RJax™ would host some really big, really fancy pirate festival.
Maybe even run concurrently with the Gasparilla with a way to navigate back and forth across the state for a combined Pirate mega-fest.
What excuse has St. Augustine?
Where are we at the mouth of the mighty St. Johns on this issue?
Flat on our asses.
Shiver me timbers!
Your Pirate Queen
Gasparilla Pirate Fest
- Sat., Jan. 26, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Tampa Bay
- Admission: FREE & open to the public
- Bayshore Blvd. at Platt St. and Curtis Hixon Park
- Tampa, Fla.
- Contact: City of Tampa Customer Service
- Phone: 813-274-8211
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years, most recently in Texas, is a successful grant writer, knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design and wants to work in the public sector. Contact: email@example.com