Pirates, magic a unique combination

Captain William Mayhem leads St. Augustine Swashbucklers


The First Coast of Florida has a rich pirate history, and ever since the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum was established in 2010, Bill McRea has been bringing the place to life as Capt. William Mayhem.

“St. Augustine is ripe to have pirates, and it’s a very fitting tie,” McRea said. “There are very few cities in the United States that can boast the same thing. Savannah, Charleston and the Keys. It just works well here.”

McRea is a native of St. Augustine and he and his wife returned to the area in the summer of 2007 after spending years in Las Vegas as a professional magician.

“When I came back home, I had a plan, but it didn’t work out, so I needed a way to make a little money and started dressing up in more colonial wear and hanging out in the pubs downtown doing card tricks and drinking way too much,” McRea chuckled. “I did that for three or four nights a week.”

After a while, people began to get to know McRea and he became known within the community.

“Things started to really progress from there, and I began getting offers to do other things,” McRea said.

His expertise with magic and the ability to introduce that as part of his act has helped transform his character beyond the pirate persona and create a unique combination.

As a magician he has performed in many ways and for a variety of crowds over the years, from comedy clubs to even having his own stage show in a theater in Arizona at one point.

“All I know is entertaining, because that has been my life,” McRea said. “I started combining the magic and the pirate and the idea for Capt. Mayhem was born.”

Before he knew it, he had become the pirate magician of St. Augustine.

“I’ve gotten away from the old Vegas-style stuff and gotten into more old-world style using ropes and anything else that looks like it would have come from the period from the 1680s to 1720s,” McRea said.

According to McRea, it is his love of entertaining and captivating people that continues to be a passion of his all these years later.

“I’ve done over 9,600 tours in the pirate museum in almost 12 years,” McRea said. “That’s a lot of tours. Almost everybody’s knowledge of pirates is from movies, books and cartoons. Most of that is way different from what real pirate history was, so when they come to the museum, they get a dose of what it was like to be a real pirate.”

He gets plenty of calls to do birthday parties for children and adults and has also done some festivals over the years, including the annual St. Augustine Celtic Festival since it began in 2011.

McRea was even invited to take part in a wedding ceremony of a woman who was fascinated by pirates as a child and remembered Captain Mayhem from a visit to the museum even years later.

“The most flattering thing is when someone asks to take a picture and then they show you all the previous you took photos with them,” Mayhem said. “If you ask any entertainer, you hope what you do makes an impact on those who are watching.”

He leads a pirate crew called the St. Augustine Swashbucklers, which he took over the reins of from the original founder and pirate historian Joe Osteen.

“All he (Osteen) was really doing with the crew was dressing up going downtown for dinner and socialize,” McRea said. “In 2009, he said ‘I’m thinking about turning it all over to, because you know so much more about what you can do with it.’”

Since McRea took over, the crew has grown with 53 members currently and had as much as 125 at one point.

Another aspect that McRea brought to the crew was the increase of charitable appearances they do now.

“Children’s charities, the homeless, or food banks,” McRea said. “It’s really about whatever we come up with for ourselves to do, and we make sure to spread ourselves out everywhere.”

The three charities the St. Augustine Swashbucklers give to the most are Investing in Kids (INK!), St. Augustine Youth Services and the St. Augustine Humane Society.

However, the crew’s reach goes beyond St. Johns County, as they have also taken part in events by Dreams Come True out of Jacksonville, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Give Kids the World out of Orlando.

In recent years, McRea has also begun a weekly podcast show called “Captain’s Quarters Podcast,” where the conversations are usually related to pirate history but can vary depending on the episode.