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Discover your inner pirate at Tampa’s Gasparilla

Here’s how to live the life piratical without landing in jail.

Well over a century old, the Gasparilla is named for the infamous Spanish pirate José Gaspar,who ruled the bounding Spanish Main (the Gulf of Mexico) until 1821.
Photo courtesy of the City of Tampa

Head for Tampa for the Gasparilla next Saturday.

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.

That’s right, aspiring pirate kings and queens!

For the next month, the hearty townsfolk of Tampa revel – in costume – in the exploits Jose Gaspar, having elevated him as their pirate king in 1904.

You’ll get the idea immediately – invasion of the city of Tampa by live pirates marauding through the streets, a pirate street festival, carousing, dancing and so forth.

Who the hell is José Gaspar?

Well over a century old, the Gasparilla is named for the infamous Spanish pirate José Gaspar,who ruled the bounding Spanish Main (the Gulf of Mexico) until 1821.

Like most rogues, Gaspar was born an aristocrat.

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.

A 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.

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 captured.

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.

In short, Gaspar was a pirate extraordinaire.

How the Gasparilla started

Although Tampa’s civic leaders still haven’t found the massive treasure trove Gaspar said he buried somewhere 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.

The party sails in to Tampa Bay on the 'Jose Gasparilla,' the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship 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.

Only men.

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.

GR8RJax™ had pirates, too

You’d think that with all the northeast Florida pirate history that GR8RJax™ would also host some really big, really fancy pirate festival.

But where do we at the mouth of the mighty St. Johns sit on this issue?

Flat on our asses.

One hundred years is a long time to wait for a party.

Your Pirate Queen

Gasparilla Pirate Fest

  • Sat., Jan. 25, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Tampa Bay
  • Admission: FREE & open to the public, VIP tickets available
  • 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 and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact:

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