Help!!! We are being invaded by pirates!!!
HISTORY OF GASPARILLA – Past & Present
Gasparilla sounds like an exotic drink…or perhaps even a rare, tropical flower. But, as any Tampa resident can attest, "Gasparilla" means boats, pirates, parades, merriment and more. It means February is here, and the city’s illustrious festival celebration is, once again, about to begin.
Gasparilla…the pirate. The name and foundation of Tampa‘s traditional Gasparilla Carnival come from legendary pirate Jose Gaspar, "last of the Buccaneers," who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. Gaspar, given to calling himself "Gasparilla," served as a lieutenant in the Royal Spanish Navy for five years until 1783 when, upon seizing command of a Spanish sloop-of-war, he with his fellow mutineers set sail for the Florida straits. And so the young Spanish aristocrat-turned-pirate began an adventurous life as outlaw of the sea.
Though few facts are known of the life and death of the famed Gasparilla, accounts from his own personal diary boast the capture and burning of 36 ships during his first 12 years as a pirate. Crews of captured ships were given the option of joining Gaspar’s ranks or walking the plank; fates of captive ladies were determined largely by his moment’s fancy.
The number of ships that fell prey to Gasparilla and his buccaneers during later years is not known, but he continued to ravage Florida waters until December 1821. Deciding it was time to retire from pirate life, Gaspar had just convinced his crew to split up their accumulated fortune, disband and live out their lives in peace and luxury. But the sight of a merchant ship sailing northwestwardly toward Orleans was all too inviting for the greedy adventure-seekers. One last thrill, and they would end their careers in grand style–Gaspar and company could not resist, and so set out to pillage the seemingly unassuming merchantman. Closing in on their prey, the pirates realized, to their chagrin, they had chosen a United States Navy warship in disguise for their final folly. And final it was. A bloody battle ensued, leaving Gasparilla’s flagship burning to ruin. As the story goes, just as the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise was boarding the defeated ship, Gasparilla seized a heavy chain, wrapped it around his waist and neck and leaped into the water, brandishing his sword in a final gesture of defiance as he sank into the sea.