Pirates tend to get a bad rap – what with the robbing and attacking of unsuspecting seafarers and all. But as our city recreates nautical events of yesteryear, these raiders have been given a makeover of sorts. The “pirates” of today are known to support the less fortunate and provide laughter and entertainment by way of their shenanigans. Walk down any Ancient City street long enough, and odds are you’ll catch a glimpse of an in-character performer donning full pirate apparel, accessories, gear, and makeup.
With community involvement and charitable works in mind, a local pirate historian named Joe Osteen founded a non-profit called St. Augustine Swashbucklers in 2001. The organization had modest beginnings that involved a small crew of friends who’d roam the historic district in full pirate regalia. Their mission? To serve the community through photo-ops, event appearances, pirate games, and the like.
Eight years after forming his non-profit, Joe approached St. Augustine native and world-class performer William McRea about becoming captain of the Swashbuckling crew in his stead. William accepted the role along with a new moniker – “William Mayhem.” William’s decades-long resumé could easily fill the pages of an anthology. You may know him as the face and voice of our Pirate & Treasure Museum, or if you were tuning into America’s Got Talent circa 2012, you know him as the sauntering pirate whose footage was repeatedly featured throughout that season. He is a highly sought-after speaker and entertainer with upwards of 7,000 experiences under his belt.
William’s crew of Swashbucklers has worked with a number of local causes including food pantries, the Betty Griffin House, St. Francis House, Dinner For Homeless, and the fire department. All event profits are given to the various causes served by the crew.
Their work doesn’t only benefit the St. Augustine community though. William recently ventured west to Panama City Beach via cargo van to provide practical assistance to victims of Hurricane Michael. Along with two crewmates, William delivered water, food, toiletries, flashlights, gasoline, and the like.
When asked about his most rewarding experiences, William readily reflects on his work with sick children and their families. “I have seen big burly pirates weep at the reactions of children when they receive a visit in a hospital room,” shares William. “I have watched grown adults cry hugging the mom or dad of a family who is going through hard times.” William and his crew are deeply touched by the meaningful impact they can make for those who are suffering – even if for a brief time.
With a new year on the horizon, St. Augustine Swashbucklers has its sights set on tackling new challenges that they’ll face with the leverage of existing relationships and successes spanning some 11 years. Stay tuned via their Facebook page for more details on upcoming changes because, in veritable pirate form, Mr. Mayhem prefers not to divulge all of his secrets too soon. He knows all too well that “loose lips sink ships and dead men tell no tales…”
Learn more about the St. Augustine Swashbucklers by visiting www.facebook.com/groups/theStAugustineSwashbucklers. Photography by Wayne Fusco.