History of Gasparilla


Sienna Harrison

The legend of Gaspar started circulating in the early-1900s south of Tampa, in the Charlotte Harbor area. George Hardee, a customs agent for Florida who traveled between Charlotte Harbor and Tampa, played a role in bringing the story to the bay area. “He happened to be talking to a woman at the Tampa Tribune called Louise Frances dodge, and she was talking to him about how the May Day Parade needed some livening up,” said Kite-Powell. “He said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve heard about this legend of this pirate. What if you got some prominent young men in Tampa to dress up as pirates and invade the parade? She thought that was a great idea.” So, in 1904, the young men invaded the May Day Parade on horseback and disappeared.

Sienna Harrison, Staffer

The history of Gasparilla starts with the name. The name Gasparilla was born from Joe Gaspar, a pirate who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. Fond of him calling himself “Gasparilla”, Gaspar and his band of pirates lived a life of seizing and robbing merchant ships off the Gulf Coast until 1851.

Ready to live off the riches they stole, Gaspar and his crew decided to seize one last ship. They didn’t know this ship was a United States Navy warship in disguise. A bloody battle occurred before the U.S. Navy ship crew reigned victoriously and finally ended the long, thieving career of Jose Gaspar.

The story of Gaspar circulated in the Tampa area. In 1904, city officials and civic leaders decided to finally celebrate this victory over evil by adopting Gaspar as the patron of this new, city-wide celebration. But the history of Gasparilla doesn’t end there.

Secret meetings led to the development of the first Gasparilla Krewe, which would make Gasparilla history by surprising Tampa residents with a mock pirate attack on the city now known as the Pirate Invasion today. The pirate invasion was very different back then. In Gasparilla’s first few years, the invasion was composed of masked krewe members on horseback instead of the classic pirate ship we see today. The mock invasion was so successful that city officials decided to turn Gasparilla into the huge, annual event it’s now.

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