St. John Virgin Islands Stories: The Pirate Birthday Party

Romanticized tales of pirates and buried treasures have become an important part of West Indian lore, capturing the imaginations of both young and old. Former St. John residents, John and Jennifer Campbell and their children, were no exceptions. They loved to read and listen to stories about the pirates that haunted the Caribbean in the old colonial days.

Some years ago when Ross, one of the Campbell children, was about to celebrate his birthday, John and Jennifer organized a party at the public beach at Hawksnest Bay. The theme of the party was pirates.

The “adult” Campbells hatched up an elaborate scheme. An authentic-looking treasure chest was made out of an old wooden box and filled with “silver and gold” (pennies and nickels) and rare spices (candies and cookies) garnered from the four corners of the globe. The pirate chest was then buried just under the surface of the sand alongside a sea grape tree at Hawksnest Beach.

Next a treasure map was drawn using paper which had been burned on the edges to make it look old and mysterious. The map contained easy and explicit instructions as to the whereabouts of the fabulous pirate treasure.

The pirates were recruited from among John’s friends and colleagues. They wore eye patches and bandanas and carried pirate swords (machetes). A black 19-foot Zodiac served as “the pirate ship” which flew a large Jolly Roger so everyone would know that those on board were genuine buccaneers.

When the children arrived at the beach for the birthday party, they were informed that pirates had been seen in the vicinity. If any pirates should come even near the beach, the children were instructed to run and hide as quickly as possible because pirates were, after all, dangerous fellows.

Just about an hour after the start of the party, while the children were playing on the beach, a strange craft was seen approaching Hawksnest from the north. As it came closer one of the children recognized the skull and cross bones of the Jolly Roger flag and correctly identified the vessel. “Pirates!” he shouted, “Hide!”

The children ran for cover under the sea grape and maho trees.

The ominous pirate boat landed on the beach and the motley crew stepped ashore. A mean and nasty looking swashbuckler gazed up and down the beach. “Do you see kids around?” he growled, staring at the sea grape tree under which four or five children were hiding (and spying). This was obviously too much for one little boy who darted out from under the branches and ran, screaming at the top of his lungs, to his mother who did her best to calm the young lad.

“No, no sign of kids around here”, replied another pirate, ignoring the sobs of the frightened child.

“Who has the map?” queried a one-eyed buccaneer. “It’s right here”, answered the pirate captain, who looked a little like John Campbell, but more fierce. “Let’s bury it where no one will EVER find it”, he said, as he hid the map under a few inches of sand, seeming to be unaware that the eyes of more than a dozen children were following his every move.

With the map and treasure well hidden and the day’s mission accomplished, the brigands boarded their craft and headed out to the blue Caribbean.

As the pirates sped off they could a hear a tourist kid, who had been watching the drama unfold from down the beach, ask his mother “Were those real pirates, mom?” Meanwhile, with the buccaneers only a short distance offshore, one of the braver birthday party kids came out of hiding and ran to the sandy area where he had seen the pirates stash their secret treasure map.

The pirates returned to Cruz Bay, washed off their pirate makeup, removed their eye patches and put away their swords. They secured the pirate launch, boarded a Nissan pickup and drove back to Hawksnest to join the birthday party.

Upon their arrival at the beach, a gaggle of excited kids surrounded the newcomers and told them all about their recent encounter with real Caribbean pirates, their narrow escape and their recovery of a fabulous buried treasure.

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