A Pirate's City for Me

The History of Gasparilla

Every town has its traditions, its history.  Boston played a major role during Colonial America, Chicago has its gangsters and blues, and Tampa Bay is known for its beaches, cigar industry, and, its pirates.

We pay homage to Tampa’s historic spirit under the banner of Gasaparilla. The term Gasparilla means “Little Gaspar” and was believed to be the self-appointed namesake of 18th century pirate, Jose Gaspar. Legend tells, while he was a man purportedly small in stature, he was grand in ambition, as well as ruthlessness – targeting hundreds of ships and ports throughout his decades-long career sailing the waters off Western Florida.

In 1821, after amassing impressive wealth, Gaspar and his shipmates decided to turn in their swords and retire, but only after one final heist. The ship they attacked however turned out to be a U.S. Navy ship that, needless to say, did not surrender quietly. At the end of a fierce fight, Gaspar and his crew were dead. A hundred years later, the City of Tampa chose to honor that victory with an official celebration that they named after the local rebel that terrorized the area for so long – Gasparilla.

Gasparilla Pirate Festival

That celebration has taken on a life of its own, spanning myriad events throughout the year honoring the area’s music, art, and most importantly, its sense of camaraderie and community. The pinnacle event – Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Over the years, a dedicated group dubbed Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla have organized the annual reenactment of the alleged invasion of Tampa. In late January every year, the world’s only fully rigged pirate galleon ship descends on Hillsborough Bay.

Dozens of ships head out to the bay with the express intent of standing up to the pirates and protecting their city. It doesn’t take long though for them to realize that it’s a losing battle and they quickly correct course and align themselves with the pirates, joining the flotilla, and heading toward the port. Once docked, the pirates kidnap the mayor and hold him captive until he turns over the key to the city. Once victorious, they take to the streets, celebrating the takeover of Tampa with a huge, pirate parade. The pirate ship docks for several weeks at the Tampa Convention Center, until the mayor and the Krewe come to an agreement, the pirates return the key to the City and set sail out of Hillsborough Bay.

SERC in Tampa Bay

The theme of SMPS’s 2020 Southeastern Regional Conference (SERC) is “Chart your Course.” As we honor Tampa Bay’s traditions, we will be encouraging all SERC attendees to tap into the spirit of its boldness, courage, and sense of adventure.

While the Gasparilla Pirate Festival will have passed before SERC 2020, you’ll be happy to know that there are several other ways to get involved with the Gasparilla tradition while you’re in town. Check out Gaspar’s Grotto Pirate Bar in Ybor City or Pirate Water Taxi [] which docks right across the street from the Marriott Waterside Hotel, the conference’s host site.

We hope that by understanding a bit more about Tampa’s history, you will feel inspired to get out and explore the area during your visit to the conference.



Gasparilla Pirate Festival - Saturday, January 25, 2020:

Gasparilla Distance Classic – Sat, Feb 22 – Sun, February 23, 2020:

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts – Sat, Feb 29- Sun, March 1, 2020:

Gasparilla Music Festival – Sat, March 9 – Sun, March 9, 2020:

Gasparilla Film Festival – March 17-22, 2020:

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