Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival
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The annual Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival is held in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The festival honors the local pirate legend, and is unrelated to the Seminole chief Billy Bowlegs. Similar to Mardi Gras, the festival consists of a parade, fireworks, and associated celebrations.
The festival originated in the 1950s as a boat and water skiing show. Contrary to popular belief, there is no period documentation supporting claims that William Augustus Bowles was named "Billy Bowlegs" (nor is there any evidence Bowles even set foot near what is today Fort Walton). The confusion over the names seems to stem from the similarity of the name "William Bowles" and "Billy Bowlegs", the Seminole Chief who warred with the United States during the Seminole Wars. Billy Bowlegs was born five years after Bowles' death, though both did live and fight in Florida. Coupled with that is the fact that William Bowles bore the British Army rank of Ensign as a young man, which confuses many modern Americans as the rank is also a modern, naval rank.
The festival has a Mardi Gras flair rather than a historical focus, with locals dressing up in cocked hats (such headgear was not in fashion when Bowles was active in the late 1790s to early 19th century from his base near Apalachicola).
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