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Captiva Island and the Legend of Jose’ Gaspar

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The coastline around Captiva and Sanibel Island have a past shrouded in history and mystery. Legend has it that so many pirates used the chain of Islands in the area as a playground hideout that the coast has been coined the nickname The Buccaneer Coast.

One such Pirate and perhaps the west coast of Florida’s most infamous was Jose’ Gaspar, who was also known as Gasparilla.

Over Gaspar’s 38 year rampage, he and his dastardly crew attacked and plundered over 400 ships. But gold and silver were not the only possessions that Gasparilla sought to steal.

Legend has it that Jose’ Gaspar abducted many women and held them captive on his Island hideout, Captiva Island. And yes, according to legend, that is how Captiva Island got its name.

Gaspar is said to have built a prison on the Island. Holding his captives there in the hope of earning a ransom.

Gaspar did not limit himself to just women prisoners; it is said that he often took men captive too, giving them the choice of a life of piracy or death. Of course, many of the men captives chose to become pirates, but some did not.

Gasparilla was not victorious in his last battle, being outsmarted by the American Pirate Hunting Vessel, the USS Enterprise. Gaspar vowed not to be taken alive as he would surely face the hangman’s noose, so he wound the chain of the ship’s anchor around his body and threw himself overboard. As legend has it, as Gaspar went plunging into the sea, he cried out “Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!”

Thus was born the old Florida legend that has been passed down to Florida sailors over the years and to this very day.

For if no one is with you and no one is watching, the ghost of Jose Gaspar will rise from the depths, still wrapped in the anchor chain.  His hair is filled with seaweed, his eyes are gone, and his pale face drips with water — and he’ll grab you and drag you down!”

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