Ashley Oliphant, an English professor at Pfeiffer University, has written several books over the years, from shark tooth hunting on the N.C. coast to Ernest Hemingway’s fishing exploits in Bimini and a woman’s search for Jimmy Buffett in Key West.
“Many of my books have been about things that you wouldn’t think an English professor would be writing about,” said Oliphant, who has taught at Pfeiffer since 2007.
Her most recent book, which she co-wrote with her mother and fellow author Beth Yarbrough, involves a lifelong fascination of hers — pirates — and one in particular: the buccaneer Jean Laffite.
While Laffite, who was born near the end of the 18th century, is probably not as familiar to the average person as Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard, people like Oliphant and her mother who grew up in Lincolnton have a special connection with the man.
According to local folklore, the grave of an old Frenchman, bearing the name Lorenzo Ferrer, located at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the city, is actually an alias for Laffite, who supposedly arrived in the state in 1839.
“The stories were there from the day he arrived,” Yarbrough said, noting that the birth date for Ferrer lines up with the commonly accepted birth date for Laffite.
Visiting the gravesite is a sort of rite of passage for people in the area, according to Oliphant.
“All the kids in Lincolnton go to the pirate grave,” she said.
But just how did Laffite, who spent much of his life in New Orleans and the Caribbean and was suspected to have died in the 1820s, arrive in North Carolina and why was he using an assumed name?
These are just some of the questions in the book “Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling One of America’s Longest-Running Mysteries,” which was published in mid-March. After about two years of research, which took them across seven states, the duo wrote the book in about four months.
“We decided to base our entire project, not on hearsay or old newspapers, but on primary archival documents,” Oliphant said.
She is set to speak about Laffite (and sign books) at the Albemarle Neighborhood Theatre at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. The event is organized by the Stanly County Historical Society and the city’s Parks and Recreation.
The event is free but people have to register in advance. To register, call the Historical Society at 704-986-3777. People must include their name, which presentation they will attend, telephone number and number of people in their group.
People can also register by going to the Historical Society website historicstanly.org and selecting the Event Registration tab.
Social distancing will be observed and people are encouraged to wear masks.