The Last American Pirate is a hoax perpetrated by students in History 389 at George Mason University in the Fall 2008 semester. History 389 is a course called Lying About the Past taught by Professor Mills Kelly in the Department of History and Art History. You can read a copy of the syllabus of the course to learn more about both the course and the motivation behind creating the Last American Pirate website. The syllabus downloads as a .pdf file.
Jane Browning does not exist. There was a person named Edward Owens who lived in Virginia in the late 19th century, but as far as we know, he never engaged in piracy. Professor Ted McCord is a real professor at George Mason, but it’s worth remembering that his contribution to the hoax was to point out that it couldn’t be true and was almost certainly a hoax. Professor Lorraine Smith does not exist. The person in the YouTube video is a student in the course who did her best to be the most boring professor possible. The house featured in the YouTube video is a random abandoned home in Central Virginia and the cemetery used in the YouTube video is likewise a random cemetery in Northern Virginia. Neither has anything to do with pirates.
The purpose of this hoax was to spend time thinking about how easily information takes on a life of its own online, ethics in the historical profession, and the role of digital media in popular culture. Read the syllabus to see more about the learning goals for the course and the readings.
Some of the students in the class apologize in advance if you aren’t happy with us for creating this hoax. The rest of the students think it was a very good joke and you should laugh instead of being unhappy. Click on the team photo to see the class.
To find out more about Jane Browning’s search for the Last American Pirate, read on… And read the press.