Virginia BBQ Pirates
Competition Barbeque Team

The "Real" History of BBQ

So much has been written about the history of BBQ by so many that the true origins of this Virginia staple are often lost. Even the origins of the word barbeque and the meaning are often fodder for debate. Let's set the record straight once and for all.

In 1607 the first English settlement was established in the new world. That was Jamestown - right here in Virginia. Under the direction of Captain John Smith several hogs were brought from the Old World for a self sustaining food source. As was common at the time the hogs were set loose on island where they could bread freely and be hunted as needed. This island is still known as Hog Island.

While the colony was as prepared as they could have been things weren't all good. Even though this was a Virginia settlement the colonists were English. The one truism that has remained unchanged is that the English can't cook. It was a chance meeting between Captain John Smith and a 14 year old Indian girl named Pocahontas that really got BBQ rolling. The relationship between these two will always be shrouded in mystery. But it was at dinner with her folks that sparked the beginnings of the Virginia staple that would later be known world wide as Barbeque.

While the women gathered in one corner of the teepee Captain Smith and Pocahontas' father, who was the Chief of the Powhatan Indians, and her brothers went outside to check on dinner. To Captain Smith's surprise a whole deer was roasting over a smoldering fire. Over a couple beers (brought by Smith) the men discussed the fire pit, stoked the fire and sampled the roasting deer. Men haven't changed much!

John Smith was so impressed with the meal that he couldn't stop talking about it. Finally he gathered a group of friends and began building his own fire pit. Since they didn't have time to go off deer hunting a group was sent to Hog Island to bring back a pig. They cooked it all day basting with seawater every few hours. Even as good as the deer was, the pig was even better. The whole colony ate well from then on.

With their stomachs full the colonies where able to grow. As the colonies spread along the coast so did trade with Europe and pig roasts. By the late 1600's groups of sailors began to prey on the trade ships. Most of them had bases of operations in the Caribbean where they often cooked over open fires built on sticks. These where called "Boucans" The main source of food was fish and iguanas. It was a chance encounter between a group of these sailors and a group of Virginia girls washing in the bay that would play a huge roll in the spread of BBQ. So impressed with the tales of the seas (and the sailor's stamina) they invited them to the pig roast. These sailors later traveled the coast often stopping to set up their Boucans to slow roast wild pigs on shore. As word traveled about the pig roasts they became known as Buccaneers. And later as Pirates! Cooking on a boucan was call Barbicoa. Soon that became Barbeque.

Most don't realize the pirates spent a lot of time ashore. Often the weather or tides would have them ashore. These times ashore is where we get today's BBQs. As they stoked the fires the aroma would spread through the surrounding communities. People would come from miles around for one of these pirate barbeques. (Including the young women who's modern counterparts are known as BBQ Groupies).

As piracy spread they began to have a real impact on trade between the colonies and the old world. Governor Spotswood of Virginia was among the most serious in eliminating pirates from his shores. Another reason for his desire to get rid of the pirates may have been their BBQs. As you would imagine a pirate BBQ was bound to be much more lively than one held at the governor's mansion. Which would you go too?

Because of this the more lenient Carolinas became home to many pirates. The most famous of which was Edward Teach - Blackbeard. He often set up base on Ocracoke Island. When he was in town there was always a barbeque. These were very popular events and the reason that the Carolina's are often mistaken for the birthplace of BBQ. One of the most famous of these barbeques occurred in 1718.

Blackbeard thew a huge BBQ on Ocracoke Island. Many other pirates where there. Among those in attendance where "Calico" Jack Rackham and the most famous women pirates: Anne Bonny and Mary Read. It was at this party that the Oyster Shooter was popularized. As Blackbeard and Calico Jack competed to impress a young local girl, Blackbeard set his beard on fire; much to the delight of the local lass. Not to be out done, Jack reached into a nearby tidal pool and pulled out an oyster. He smashed it with the butt of his flintlock pistol, dropped it into his rum and swallowed the whole thing. (This was a trick he had learned while relaxing in Chincoteague, Virginia). Blackbeard was in awe and the girl was Rackham's. The "celebration" between Rackham and the young local was so rambunctious that, as word spread of his accomplishment, oysters became endowed with "special" properties. Sadly, both Blackbeard and Rackham would both have to face the ultimate punishment for their piratical ways and the golden age of pirates would come to an end in 1720.

The popularity of pig roasts continued to grow and people continued to BBQ, especially in Virginia, but the colonists had another bone to pick. This one was not a pig bone. It was England's King George. Much debate over our freedoms occurred in taverns and at BBQs. It was a discussion at one of these BBQ's in Charlottesville that Thomas Jefferson developed the bases of what would become the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson wasn't the only patriot to enjoy a good BBQ. George Washington had a huge smokehouse at Mount Vernon for smoking and curing meat, most notably hams and bacon. Not since the pirates had barbeque had a better emissary. Washington hosted many a BBQ on the property. Also on his property Washington grew apples and tomatoes. It was during his presidency that the mistaken belief that tomatoes were poisonous began to be overcome. Most of the apples produced on the property were sold but many were used on the property. Of those used some where juiced and used to make vinegar. Often a sauce made with vinegar would be searved with the slow roasted barbequed pig. Sometimes when a sweeter sauce was asked for the juice from the tomatoes would be added. One visitor from North Carolina was able the wrestle the recipes of both sauces from Washington's staff and take them back to North Carolina. This is just another in a series of events that have clouded the position of Virginia in the history of BBQ.

Legend has it the visitor was North Carolina Governor Richard Dobbs Spaight. If this is true, he ended up "getting his". A lengthy series of public arguments with fellow North Carolina politician John Stanly led Stanly to describe Spaight to be "malicious, low and unmanly in spirit". A duel followed and Spaight died of his wounds the following day. Stanly was unharmed. Proof of BBQ Karma.

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