On a sweltering June afternoon on the Hampton, Virginia, waterfront, a crowd gathers around a makeshift surgery where a hapless sailor dressed in 18th-century rags is about to get his leg sawed off. Held down by four brawny mates, he screams and squirms to the onlookers' delight until the offending limb is gone and a neat wooden peg is strapped in its place. Suddenly all eyes turn to a big man with a blood-red sash and wild black beard boldly sauntering across the lawn. His bulging eyes lock on a young mother with a stroller, and one bushy eyebrow rises to the sky. "Arrrhh, what a cute one!" he bellows in a voice like a cannon shot. "And the kid ain't bad, either!"
Once again, Blackbeard is the man of the hour at the annual festival in his honor, a celebration of pirate life and times with mock battles, swordplay, and the odd removal of limbs. Thought to be the inspiration for the fictional Captain Hook and Long John Silver, the great bearded one's image is as popular today as ever, from Johnny Depp's dashing plaits in Pirates of the Caribbean, to Ben Cherry's swaggering impersonation at the Hampton festival.