José Gaspar, known by his nickname Gasparilla (supposedly lived c. 1756 – 1821), was a purported Spanish pirate, the “last of the Buccaneers,” who is claimed to have raided the west coast of Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Though he is a popular figure in Florida folklore, no evidence of his existence appears in writing before the early 20th century. His legend is celebrated every year in Tampa with the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. You can see the rest of his life Here.
In 1821, the year Spain sold the Florida Territory to the United States, Gasparilla decided to retire. But while the men were going about dividing up the treasure, they spotted a fat British merchant ship, an opportunity too good to pass up. But when they approached, the intended victims lowered the Union Jack and raised an American flag, revealing that this was no merchant vessel, but the pirate hunting schooner USS Enterprise. In the battle that followed, Gasparilla’s ship was riddled by cannon balls. Rather than surrender, Gaspar chained the anchor around his waist and leapt from the bow, shouting “Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!” Most of the remaining pirates were killed or captured and subsequently hanged, but a few escaped, one of them being Juan Gómez, who would tell the tale to subsequent generations.
Sources of the legend
This Juan Gómez, or John Gómez, was a real person who lived in Southwest Florida in the late 19th and very early 20th century. The old man was well known locally for his tall tales of his supposed life as a pirate, and was said to have been the oldest man in the US at the time he died (though this is very unlikely). Gómez is widely speculated to have been the foremost contributor to the development of the Gasparilla legend, although no pre-20th century account of him specifically associate his piratical exploits with José Gaspar, whose story, real or fictitious, does not appear in writing until about 1900, when it was included in an advertising brochure for the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad company.
This brochure was given to the guests of the Boca Grande Hotel situated in Boca Grande, Florida, the largest town on Gasparilla Island. It refers to Old John Gómez’s death in 1900 and mentions that Gaspar’s massive treasure, hidden somewhere on the island, had never been found. The version of the Gasparilla story told in the pamphlet influenced all later accounts, and served as the inspiration for Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival, first held in 1904.
In 1923, a Boston historian named Francis B. C. Bradlee received a copy of the brochure from the president of Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad, and included the story of Gasparilla in a book he was writing about piracy. His book, Piracy In The West Indes And Its Suppression, was used as a source for works such as Philip Gosse’s Pirates’ Who’s Who and Frederick W. Dau’s Florida Old and New, the authors of which took Gaspar’s historicity for granted. From this point on, historical works about pirates routinely included Gasparilla. At the same time, Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival grew more and more elaborate every year; today it attracts thousands of people to the city. In 1980, French anthropologist Andre-Marcel d’Ans exhaustively chronicled the development of the Gasparilla story and the history of the festival in an article for Tampa Bay History. Credit Wikipedia
Fact or Fiction, You Decide.