Drunken Jack Island
A pair of jacks on Drunken Jack Island
Drunken Jack Island, a unique component of South Carolina’s Grand Strand, has a debated origin that has become nothing short of legendary.
We have two possible sources of the intriguing name of a small island in Murrells Inlet, one of them maybe just a shade more likely than the other. Have a look at these two tales and, if you can’t decide between them, go have yourself a tankard of ale and then look again.
One of the Drunken Jacks sailed to the island aboard Blackbeard’s pirate ship, after a full slate of robbing and pillaging. According to one of various versions of this colorful pirate yarn, Blackbeard dropped off several casks of rum and a shipmate to guard them. When he returned much later, he found the empty casks strewn all about, along with the bleached bones of Jack the pirate.
A local eatery known as Drunken Jack’s gives an equally improbable account of the event. This retelling places the Blackbeard visit in the early 1600s, whereas historians put the pirate’s birth sometime around 1680. In this version, the pirates buried 32 casks of rum during a night of revelry and sailed off in the morning, accidentally leaving behind one passed-out shipmate.
There are all kinds of problems with both versions of this story. The biggest issue is the absence of any official record that Blackbeard ever came to this island. Nothing specifically indicates his presence in this area, and typically the complaints poured in when Blackbeard was in the neighborhood.
In version one of the tale, you have to question the concept of leaving a pirate in charge of the guarding of the rum. In version two, you have to accept that the pirate who was mistakenly left behind was too drunk to get on the ship but not so drunk he couldn’t remember where the casks were buried.
Another small glitch is the island’s proximity to the mainland. At low tide you can pretty much walk to Huntington Beach State Park, and it would take a pretty pathetic pirate to get marooned on an island within a stone’s throw of safety.
The next Drunken Jack saga was connected with the legendary Hot and Hot Fish Club, originally headquartered on Drunken Jack Island. Over the years the club moved around a few times – a moving target that was tough for some of the alcoholic members to pursue – and eventually it wound up on Pawley’s Island.
The Hot and Hot Fish Club was comprised of a group of pre-1812 wealthy and prominent plantation owners who were utterly devoted to over-eating and over-imbibing after a day of fishing. Their hedonistic feasts included the catch of the day along with whatever else members brought along for their servants to prepare, and the club name came from the passing of one hot dish after another hot dish, as multiple courses were served in seemingly endless succession. Of course something was needed to wash down such prodigious quantities of food.
It must have been difficult to distinguish oneself among such colorful company, but the Drunken Jack who achieved notoriety was Jack Green, a former Revolutionary War soldier. South Carolina Governor Robert F. W. Allston described him as an immense man who stood six foot four inches tall and weighed somewhere in the range of 300 pounds. Further, Allston noted that Jack consumed massive quantities of fish in an amazingly efficient manner, taking in a whole fish at one side of his mouth and “ginning the bones out at the other.”
Brandy was Drunken Jack’s beverage of choice and his intake was similarly remarkable. By most accounts he could down at least a quart per club meeting. A lesser man would have passed out with his face in the plate after such a meal, but Jack was known to heave his considerable weight up from the table. He lumbered like a big bear out through the clubhouse door and across the island, in a heavy, clumsy and apparently loud stumble, crashing through the island’s underbrush. Club members could hear his retreating footsteps long after his departure.
One might expect more to this story, some after-dinner mishap, but the only addendum to this tale concludes Drunken Jack’s illustrious career with the swearing off of the sauce forever. No actual testimonials survive as to whether or not he actually achieved this objective.
Any latter day Drunken Jacks who might have stumbled onto the island have no doubt come in search of the elusive Fort Ward. Private boats come to beach, swim, picnic, and explore the island in search of what might be the alleged remains of a Civil War fort. Fort Ward was named in honor of planter Joshua Ward, but nobody knows a whole lot for sure about that either, if it’s here or elsewhere, so there’s another story they have to make up as they go along.