Cultivating authenticity at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum

Pirate impersonator Matt Frick leads a tour at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. Photo: Abby Bittner

By Abby Bittner |

It may be 2019, but some pirates still exist in St. Augustine – or at least pirate impersonators do.

At the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, pirate impersonator Matt Frick seems to enjoy every bit of his job, which is partially due to the authenticity of the exhibits shown inside.

“We have over 800 authentic artifacts, so that is what really drives my desire to work here,” said Frick, who’s worked at the museum for almost two years. “But also when people do come here, they might expect a tourist trap, and that’s the treasure shop. But when you come in [the museum] and then you see all this real stuff, with the exception of the people and the skeletons, everything else is authentic from the time period.”

As a pirate impersonator, a normal day for Frick includes giving about four tours per day, each lasting 45 minutes. 

He sought out this particular museum largely because pirates actually came to St. Augustine, more specifically to San Sebastián.

“They had an effect on this city, and in Northeast Florida,” he said.  “Some of the pirates that were some of the creators of the pirate republic down in the Bahamas, particularly Henry Jennings, who came on land and attacked Spanish that had a bunch of gold that they had taken off the shipwrecks in 1715.”

With the Castillo de San Marcos getting finished in 1565, Frick revealed the original reason for its presence.

“The fort was really built because pirates kept attacking – and by pirates, I mean privateers – so they were allowed to be pirates for their country fighting in a war against their country’s enemies. But to the enemy – in this case Spain – these English privateers were just pirates,” he said.  “So that’s why there’s a mix sometimes in people’s mind between a privateer and a pirate, so that’s one thing we get to tell people here. So having the fort there really helps bring that home to everyone.”

Frick, who was a naval officer for 20 years, admitted his acting skills were not up to par when he first got the job.

“There was really no acting involved there, but when I got here I had to learn it,” Frick said. “Luckily a couple of our tour guides had been doing it for a while, I learned from them, so I watched what worked for them, what didn’t, and tried to incorporate some things that would work for me.”

As for depicting the lives of pirates accurately, the impersonator elaborated that only some television shows and movies get it right.

“The films like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ some of the settings of where they are, the costumes and things like that, that is pretty good. Like on the ship, when they’re sailing around is good. But the overall life of a pirate, it’s not good at all. But some shows, like ‘Black Sails’ on Starz, is about as close as you can get to Hollywood depicting the life of the pirates,” Frick said.

Frick, who is also a self-published author, is researching more about pirate Thomas Tew, who remains mostly a mystery in the pirate world.

“We even have a flintlock pistol and a compass that belonged to a specific pirate, Thomas Tew, so I have learned a lot about him because we’ve also got his treasure chest, and that’s the only surviving pirate treasure chest in the world,” Frick said.

The pirate impersonator’s next steps include more intensive research on Thomas Tew, and the possible publication of a journal about him. He also looks forward to sharing his discoveries with the museum in order to strengthen the background regarding the famed pirate.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment on "Cultivating authenticity at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum"

Leave a comment