As soon as the first season of Outer Banks arrived on Netflix in spring 2020, Kooks and Pogues alike were enchanted by the sun-kissed hookups, nonstop drama, and endless action. After Season 1 ended on a major cliffhanger, viewers were waiting with bated breath to see where Season 2 would take them. And after the 10-episode second season dropped on July 30, it’s pretty clear there’s one integral figure at the heart of this treasure hunt. So, who *is* Denmark Tanney on Outer Banks? It’s time to do a deep dive on the mythical hero.
The end of Season 1 saw star-crossed lovers John B. (Chase Stokes) and Sarah (Madelyn Cline) getting rescued after sailing head-first into a major storm to evade the cops — the cops who, I should mention, were after them due to Sarah's father Ward Cameron (Charles Esten), pinning the death of Sheriff Peterkin on John B., even though it was his own son Rafe (Drew Starkey) who shot the sheriff. Yeah, if you thought that was wild, Season 2 really turned things up...
Warning: Major spoilers for Season 2 of Outer Banks follow. But it’s not the expeditions through sewers or alligator attacks at the heart of this season’s adventure; it’s actually a story of slavery and racism that propelled the Pogues’ adventures along. If you recall from Season 1, Denmark Tanney was a free Black man who once owned the current Cameron house, Tanneyhill. (In fact, Tanney's portrait hangs in Ward's office.)
After John B. learned Tanney purchased the plantation using gold, he realized Tanney was a survivor of the Royal Merchant (the ship that sunk near the Outer Banks in the late 1800s with $400 million in British gold on it), and thus was the owned of all the gold that was onboard. It was through John B.’s search for said gold that he found a letter Tanney wrote to his son the same day he was lynched. Tanney left coded instructions indicating where the gold was hidden so his family could find it after his execution. This means Tanney was the key — almost literally — to finding not only the gold, but an even bigger treasure that was unveiled in Season 2: The Cross of Santo Domingo.
The cross in question came into play in Season 2, when Pope (Jonathan Daviss) was invited to meet privately with an affluent woman, Carla Limbrey, ostensibly to talk about his potential scholarship. Instead, Limbrey asked him for a key from his ancestors (which he didn’t have and had no idea about it). After talking with his father, however, Pope learned the key really did belong to his family, and he was actually a descendant of the Tanneys. Soooo, Pope’s family is literally the owners of the gold and the cross, thanks to their relation to Denmark Tanney (which yes, was a major fan theory from Season 1).
While the history of Tanney is obviously pivotal in the show, fans are undoubtedly wondering if it’s based in any real history. The answer? No, but sort of. Denmark Tanney is fictional, but the character does have a lot in common with Denmark Vesey, a former enslaved person from Charleston who purchased his freedom after winning a lottery. Vesey became a highly respected and valued member of the community and helped found the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which went on to be the second-largest African Methodist Episcopal congregation in the nation. Despite everything, Vesey was excused by hanging on July 2, 1822, after he was convicted of planning to lead a potentially major revolt of enslaved people.
So, even though Tanney is fictitious, Vesey — who may have provided inspiration for the character — was clearly a man as worthy of the treasure. Here’s hoping Pope’s family finally gets the gold they deserve.
Outer Banks Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.