Fur trading? Nah, they do that everywhere.
Ferry boat transport? Historically important perhaps, but not terribly exciting.
The search for a compelling new museum program led history aficionados in Havre de Grace to a swashbuckling conclusion with a strong local tie: pirates.
"Pirates are becoming as big as Civil War re-enactors," said Rebecca Fitzgerald, executive director of the Susquehanna Museum. "There has been a resurgence and awareness of modern-day piracy, and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have made it popular to be a pirate."
But it's not just the current popularity of the buccaneer persona that caught the attention of Fitzgerald and other history buffs in the community. The first recorded act of piracy in Maryland took place on Garrett Island, just offshore from the Havre de Grace museum.
The result of the brainstorming is Pirate Encampment, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday on the museum lawn. The event will feature a re-enactment and an encampment where visitors can interact with pirates dressed in authentic garb.
"We wanted to do something that related more to the area," Fitzgerald said of the encampment, which has been held twice a year since 2005.
The event depicts the attempt by William Claiborne, a counselor to the governor of Virginia, to take Garrett Island, Fitzgerald said.
"The law said that any land that was not included on a map was fair game, and it could be claimed," Fitzgerald said. "Garrett Island wasn't on a map, so Claiborne came up and tried to claim it."
Fitzgerald and Jeff Miller, a Havre de Grace resident and history buff, spread the news about the event when it began two years ago, and familiar faces volunteered to participate.
"People who help us with our Civil War re-enactments volunteered," Miller said. "It makes sense. Re-enactors look for a reason to return to another era."
Events like the encampment provide a chance to experience local life 300 years ago, said Cliff Long, the managing editor of Pirates Magazine, a Baltimore-based publication started about a year ago.
"When you deal with people who live on the edge, you have to learn about their lives and how they survived in order to portray them accurately," Long said. "And you learn through doing."
Portraying a pirate character is hard to beat, said George Lampe, a Riverside, Calif., resident who appeared in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. He participated in a past installment of the Havre de Grace encampment.
"Playing a rogue is a lot of fun," said Lampe, 54, who helped form the Port Royal Privateers, a pirate group based in California. "I like the swashbuckling figures and the swordplay."
At the encampment, some popular misconceptions about pirates might meet their demise, said Miller, who works with the Army's Intelligence Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Recent portrayals of pirates in popular culture tend to present them as OK guys who are a little rough. Not so, Miller said.
"Pirates were the violent gangs of the time, only they were in boats," he said.
The event also will feature presentations on pirate garb by costume experts, including a discussion of what constitutes authentic clothing.
Sometimes having fun is more important than the authenticity of costumes, said pirate re-enactor and costume designer Christine Lampe, a former schoolteacher and the wife of George Lampe.
"People who portray pirates rarely wear completely authentic costumes because most people probably wouldn't recognize them as pirates," she said. "People come to festivals wearing things that are not authentic at all, but they look really cool."
In two years, the event has grown from 20 pirates and 300 spectators in the inaugural staging to 60 pirates from five states and about 1,000 spectators at last fall's version, Fitzgerald said.
For many of the re-enactors, being a pirate is all about history, said John Macek, 42, who portrays a pirate named Capt. John Day.
The widespread preoccupation with pirates appears to be a matter of people simply seeking a little zest.
"In these desperate times, people look up to people who are willing to buck the system," said Macek, a nautical mapmaker for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.