So many wonderful characters are found in American folklore. You have Rip Van Winkle, Harriet Tubman, Calamity Jane, John Henry . . . Cocaine Bear. Their fame is deserved, and our culture rightfully honors them. But, sadly, fame is fickle and not all of our heroes are still treasured. Some have been forgotten. One icon’s fate has been particularly cruel and unjust.
I speak, of course, about Tug the Wicked Pirate. He wasn’t wicked at all. He was a happy-go-lucky stiff who loved to dance – usually by himself. And he was only called a pirate because he had one eye (having shot the other one out when he was 13). Tug was famous for sailing his sloop, The Charmed Snake, all over Pungent Sound where he seeded the clam beds around Block Island. Scholars say he spread more seed than Johnny Appleseed, and his left hand was more calloused than Paul Bunyan’s. He single-handedly saved Block Island’s clam industry. It is long past time for him to take his place in the pantheon of American folk heroes.
So the next time you eat a clam, think Tug the Wicked Pirate. And, if this post has inspired you, join us on Block Island on August 16th (his birthday) for Tug the Wicked Pirate Day. There’ll be fireworks.
Saffron Crow, American Folklore Scholar