Gasparilla Pirate Invasion

Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, Gasparilla Pirate Portraits

Gasparilla Pirate Invasion is a yearly tradition of Tampa, Florida where many women and men dressed in pirate costumes storm the city of Tampa. Allie Serrano Portraits loves capturing portraits of Tampa Gasparilla Pirates.

Jose Gaspar pirate ship

Jose Gaspar

Gasparilla Pirate Invasion in Tampa bay

Gasparilla comes from the legendary pirate Jose Gaspar, “last of the Buccaneers,” who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. As an aristocrat by birth and officer in the Spanish Navy, Gaspar was well educated, possessed courtly manners and had all the appearances of a fine gentleman.

In 1783, he allegedly mutinied, stole a ship and went to the Gulf of Mexico, becoming a pirate and raiding the West Florida coast until the 1820s. There are two origin stories for why Gaspar went from Spanish Navy bootlicker to full-on bootlegger, according to d’Ans.

According to legend, as told by André-Marcel d’Ans and translated by Marie-Joèle Ingalls, Gaspar was born in Spain in 1756, and served as a naval officer until the early 1780s. There are some details every version of Gaspar’s legend have, according to d’Ans and the translation by Ingalls.

“In 1783, having become a traitor and a pirate, the legend says that José Gaspar gave the name of “Gasparilla” to himself as well as to his ship and the island in Charlotte Harbor, on the west coast of Florida near Fort Myers, where he established his den,” according to d’Ans. For the next 38 years, from 1783 to 1821, the self-named Gasparilla wreaked havoc on merchant ships and sailors, executing “without mercy all the crews” aside from some sailors who they took in to replace their own losses.

Women on the ships were taken as “slaves and concubines” to serve until they failed to please the crew or were replaced by “fresher” captures, then beheaded. They were allegedly kept on “Captiva Island,” near Gasparilla’s base on Gasparilla Island.

About Jose Gaspar

It is interesting, however, to know that Tampa in a sense, created and stole Jose Gaspar. The Gaspar myth in the very beginning was tied to the Charlotte Harbor area. Tampa captured that myth and created the worst pirate that ever was. A story came from the Charlotte Harbor railroad about a pirate named Gaspar that the whole legend of Gasparilla and Jose Gaspar came about, but it was Ye Mystic Krewe that fleshed it out. They gave him a first name, Jose Gaspar, and they really gave him the full backstory to create that in 1904. And to this day, Jose Gaspar returns on board his pirate ship every year to capture the city.

Chasing Treasure the Myth of Jose Gaspar

The History of the Gasparilla Parade in Tampa, Florida

the first gasparilla parade

When Jose Gaspar died, he supposedly left an untold fortune in buried treasure somewhere along the Florida coast. The legend of Gaspar was not found in writing until the year 1900, in a brochure advertising the Boca Grande Hotel, according to d’Ans. The brochures were reportedly handed out by Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad Company. The leaflet sets up the legend of Gaspar, saying he chose Gasparilla Island as “the best of the islands in Charlotte Harbor,” to make his base. Regardless, the legend took hold in the community up and down the west coast of Florida, all the way up to Tampa Bay.

Though that treasure has never been discovered, the story of the swashbuckling Gaspar was unearthed and his memory was revived in 1904 when Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla was formed and adopted the pirate as patron rogue of their city-wide celebration.

Tampa held its first Gasparilla festival, beginning a tradition that continues to this day, over 100 years later. “Since 1905, pirates have invaded Tampa Bay. Every year, the unruly plunderers take over the city in honor of the mythical legendary pirate Jose Gaspar,” according to event history published by the City of Tampa

The celebration was done a bit differently than what Tampa residents see now. In a lot of ways, the modern celebration is similar to Mardi Gras, but with some dramatic, unique differences. Just like Mardi Gras, there are “krewes” that put the celebration on, in partnership with the city and community.

Unlike Mardi Gras, while there are beads to be thrown and beers to be drank, there are also pirates. Today there are also over 60 different Krewes of Pirates and floties that participate in the parade.

Gasparilla Pirate Portraits

Are you a pirate or a member of a krewe? Let's memorialize your portrait

Members of krewes spend a lot of time creating and updating their pirate outfits every year. It does not go unnoticed. Allie Serrano Portraits love capturing portraits of each of their outfits, hats, skirts, and all various details that are handmade and prepared for each Gasparilla season. Below is Allie herself dressed as a pirate.

See our portrait gallery here.