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Blackbeard and Piracy

Blackbeard and Piracy

The low-lying coastal areas of North Carolina made ideal hiding places for pirate ships. The most famous practitioner of that trade in the early 18th century was Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard for his long, braided black beard.He began his career as a privateer in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), preying upon enemy ships with the blessing of the English government. He and his crew terrorized the Atlantic coast and the West Indies; they gained a reputation for brutal treatment of captives.In 1718, Teach retired to the town of Bath, North Carolina and received a pardon from Governor Charles Eden. It was rumored that the governor shared in the pirate's treasure. Teach's presence was generally approved by the townspeople given that he sold his plunder to the public at reasonable prices. Teach quickly became a celebrity and was a frequent dinner guest at the finer homes in the area.In 1718, Teach and his crew returned to piracy and created havoc along the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. His head was severed and dangled from the bowsprit of one of the victorious ships.


THE "HAMMOCK HOUSE" c. 1700

Blackbeard headquartered out of what was shown on ancient maps as the "white house" which was located on what is now Taylor's creek, overlooking the inlet to the Atlantic Ocean at Beaufort. After nearly 300 years, things have changed. Today the house is known as the Hammock House, and the the house is over 500 feet from water due to build up and filling in over the centuries.

The Hammock House, oldest home in Beaufort dates back to approximately 1700 and has been used for a variety of purposes during its nearly 300 year history. It has had 31 owners who held it for periods varying from less than one year to over 21, the average possession being a little over 9 years. It is probable that it was originally built as an "ordinary", or inn - the owners hoping to profit from sea or land travelers overnight needs. But it's been used, also, as a home, a residence for Union soldiers, a summer house and a school.

The name comes from the fact that the house was built on a "hammock", a "fertile raised area." Because its' two stories made it visible from considerable distance and it occupied land at the entry to the inlet, it served as a shipping landmark until the late 18th century. Originally Taylor's Creek came up to the front lawn of the house and one could paddle up to the area in a small boat and dock.

There are many legends and stories connected with the house. Some people have believed it to be haunted and it is told that Blackbeard stayed here for a while with an 18 year old French common-law wife who was not a willing occupant. The pirate got so angry with her that he hanged her on an oak tree in the back yard when he departed. Some people say her screams can be heard to this day when conditions are just right. (A scale model of Blackbeard's sloop, "Adventurer", commissioned by the owners and created by Harkers Island boat builder and model makes, James Allen Rose, is on display in the Hammock House today.)

Another tale frequently told has to do with one Richard Russell, Jr., who, upon his return from a sea voyage decided to take a slave up into the Hammock House attic to punish him. The slave overpowered Russell and pushed him down the stairs, breaking his neck..

Another story has it that a British Navy Captain, engaged to a Beaufort women, upon arriving in town mistakenly thought that his fiancee has been untrue and killed her alleged lover in the upper area of the house traces of the victim's blood can be detected on the treads of the steps.

During the Civil War Union officers were quartered in the house. Three of them set out for the building and were never seen again. In 1915 workmen digging near the back porch found their remains. Recently, during renovations, a human scapula bone was uncovered.

So many tragic stories were associated with the house that many citizens became uneasy. Was it really haunted? Could it be that the voices of all these unfortunates can be heard from time to time? This may account for the years of neglect, abuse and vandalism to which the Hammock House fell victim.

The Hammock House before renovations about 1965

The late Maurice Davis is credited with rescuing the structure from destruction as well as doing considerable research culminating in his book, The History of the Hammock House.

Since so many years have passed, the use to which the house has been put has varied, necessitating changes. Originally, the kitchen and the eating area were in separate structures to reduce the possibility of fire. The double front porch, typical of Bahaman style architecture which clearly dominated the house, originally ran only half way across the front.

Sturdily built of Scottish Heart Pine and joined together by hand-hewn pegs, the house has withstood nearly three centuries of occupancy as well as neglect. An example of the strength of construction may be seen in the massive pine beam which runs the width of the house it consists of two pieces and measure 4 by 16 inches. The present owners have illuminated and left exposed some fine examples of early construction techniques.

Tall matching chimneys at each end of the house are free standing and made of English paving brick on ballast stone foundations. Undoubtedly built by men used to construction ships, it was crafted to endure - with secondary attention being paid to its appearance. Therefore, its exterior does not match many old plantations and large country homes.

The house is furnished in a beautiful style to match its history, wherever possible. Of course, certain additions have been necessary to make the home comfortable and habitable in accordance with our time. Look for the pine blanket chest dating from 1725' the two pre-Civil War pieces- a pine "sugar" chest and a deacon's bench. In addition, you will find a hundred year old primitive pine school desk from Quebec which complements the antique Windsor chair in the study. Hanging on one wall is a collection of commercially reproduced images of the Hammock House, including a Sears' advertisement, using the house to promote the company's exterior paint!


Early Life

Blackbeard was born Edward Thache Jr. (pronounced "Teach" and alternately spelled Teach, Thatch, Theach, or Thach) in about 1683, in Gloucestershire, England up the Severn River from the port city of Bristol. He was one of at least two children of Captain Edward Thache, Sr. (1659–1706) and his first wife Elizabeth Thache (d. 1699). Edward Sr. was a mariner who moved the family to a plantation in Jamaica, where the Thaches lived as a respectable family living not far from Port Royal in the old city of Spanish Town, also known as St. Jago de la Vega.

In 1699, Edward Sr.'s first wife Elizabeth died. He remarried six months later to Lucretia Ethell Axtell. They had three children, Cox (1700–1737), Rachel (born 1704), and Thomas (1705–1748). After his father died in 1706, Edward Jr. ("Blackbeard") turned over his inheritance from his father to his stepmother.

Edward Jr. ("Blackbeard") was a mariner based in Kingston, Jamaica, and was married to a woman who probably died before 1721—records were not kept in Kingston until then. The couple had at least one surviving daughter, named Elizabeth, who married Dr. Henry Barham in 1720. Blackbeard's sister, also named Elizabeth, married a man named John Valiscure, in Jamaica, in 1707.


Certifying the Discovery

In June 2011, Natural and Cultural Resources publicly stated that the shipwreck is the Queen Anne’s Revenge, based on the overwhelming body of evidence recovered at the wreck site.

A Treasure of Historical, Cultural, and Scientific Significance

The site is significant for its association with nationally important events, namely piracy in the Americas during the Proprietary period (1663-1729), and for its connection to Blackbeard, who epitomizes anti-authoritarian behavior during the period.

Relatively intact archaeological remains provide substantial insights into early 18th-century marine activities in the New World, including naval armament and warfare, ship construction and repair, colonial provisioning, shipboard life, and the West African slave trade.

An Exhaustive Archaeological Endeavor

Initial investigations of the site from 1996 to 2004 included remote sensing, exploratory trenches, and mapping of exposed remains, to better understand the extent and layout of the shipwreck. Site sampling conducted in fall 2005 and in 2006 accelerated to full recovery by the fall of 2006.

Current excavation methods towards full recovery have yielded hundreds of thousands of objects from large to small, such as specks of gold, lead shot, glass beads, and copper alloy pins. The goal is to raise all artifacts from the seabed, where storms and currents threaten their integrity, and move them to the safety of the conservation laboratory and eventually to the museum.


“In time of action, he… stuck lighted matches under his hat, which appearing on each side of his face, his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury, from hell, to look more frightful.”

Like many other privateers, lacking legitimate and legal employment after the war against France, Blackbeard returned to what he knew best – piracy. In 1716, he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, a notorious pirate operating out of the Bahamas. Soon Hornigold gave Teach the command of his own vessel, and together they plagued the Caribbean.


Blackbeard and other Pirates

The Southern Outer Banks, particularly Ocracoke Island, is notorious as the stomping grounds for some of history's most infamous pirates. Notable swashbucklers from Calico Jack to Anne Bonney and Mary Reed, arguably the most famous women pirates, have made a splash in this area, robbing privateers blind and making intricate, sneaky escapes in the inlets and soundside waters off of these barrier islands.

The reason why Ocracoke Island in particular was so attractive to pirates is the same reason why it's attractive to modern Outer Banks vacationers: location, location, location.

During the late 1600s and well into the 1700s and beyond, Ocracoke and neighboring Portsmouth Island were two of North Carolina's biggest ports. With deep inlets and access to river channels to mainland North Carolina, many of the area's goods arrived and departed from the Portsmouth and Ocracoke harbors.

Added to this was the fact that these particular barrier islands had ample hiding places. Consider the cluster of small islands that border both the ocean and soundsides of Ocracoke Island, protected and hidden by the tall oceanside dunes. These navigable channels allowed pirate ships to stalk their victims without notice and make quick getaways after an attack.

So a combination of access and quantity of goods attracted pirates from the West Indies to Boston to tiny Ocracoke Island, and their tenure of destruction was well documented and seemed to spiral out of control, until the government stepped in and sent privateers to put an end to North Carolina piracy.

The campaign to put an end to piracy was a long and tumultuous one, but it was greatly helped by the successful trapping and execution of the region's most notorious pirate, Blackbeard.

Blackbeard is one of history's most legendary pirates of all time, and the coast of North Carolina, from Ocracoke Island to the small inland town of Bath, has the rare distinction of being his favorite plundering grounds, his favorite hideout, and his home.

Blackbeard was born Edward Teach and came to America from Bristol, England. Teach started his life at sea as a privateer during the Queen Anne's War, where he was authorized by the British Government to attack and plunder enemy merchant ships. The spoils were then divided by the government and the captain of the attacking ship. After a long and successful run as a privateer, the war ended in 1714, and Teach realized his source of income was over. As a result, and like a handful of others who were former privateers, he turned to piracy.

For several years, Teach served as a crewmember on a pirate ship until 1717, when he commandeered a ship for himself and recruited a crew. He renamed the ship the "Queen Anne's Revenge" and began to plunder a number of ships off the Virginia and Carolina coastlines. His most notorious expedition occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, where he captured several prominent citizens and held them hostage until the city agreed to pay him in medical supplies for their safe return. This incident put Edward Teach on the map as one of the region's most dangerous and fearless pirates.

During this time, he also developed the name "Blackbeard" as a nod to his appearance and his notoriety as a cruel and violent pirate. A big believer in first impressions, upon approaching his prey, Blackbeard would dress all in black and twist his long wild beard into wisps secured with ribbons. Then he would stick long lighted matches under his hat and around his face, giving him a ghostly appearance that illuminated his wild eyes, and which many victims referred to as the face of the devil. This was an effective means of terror, as many ships would quickly surrender rather than fight this demon captain.

When he wasn't at sea, Blackbeard would often return to the coastal and inland communities of North Carolina. As aforementioned, the shallow waters of the Pamlico Sound which separates the Outer Banks and Ocracoke Island from the Atlantic provided a perfect hiding spot. As a result, Blackbeard spent a lot of time close to Ocracoke Island, his favorite hideout. In fact, there is still an inlet on Ocracoke Island today called "Teach's Hole," named in his honor.

Besides having the cover and protection of the barrier islands along the coast, North Carolina in particular attracted pirates because of its less than strict government policy on piracy. The state governor during the Golden Age of Piracy, Charles Eden, was widely thought to simply ignore the activities of pirates along the coast, in exchange for an under the table share of the spoils. In fact, during the summer of 1718, when Blackbeard lived in the town of Bath, it was rumored that he socialized regularly with the governor himself, who was also his neighbor.

Blackbeard apparently loved his life in Bath, but after a few months of living on shore, he would inevitably return to pirating to finance his lavish lifestyle. Meanwhile, the citizens of North Carolina who were tired of the hold that pirates had on their coast, turned to the governor of neighboring Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, for help.

Spotswood was far less tolerant of pirates, and commissioned a crew of Naval Officers, captained by Lt. Robert Maynard, to travel down to Ocracoke Island to find and capture Blackbeard.

They did indeed find him just off the waters of Ocracoke, and at dawn on November 22nd, 1718, a fierce battle broke out between Blackbeard and Lt. Maynard. So embedded is Blackbeard in Ocracoke folklore, that is a popular wives tale that Ocracoke got its name because Blackbeard, impatient for the sun to rise and fight to begin, started shouting "O Crow, Cock!" in an effort to coax the roosters to start crowing and signal the beginning of the day.

After suffering 25 wounds, including 5 gunshot wounds, Blackbeard was killed and his crew was defeated. As proof of the defeat and the end of Blackbeard's reign, Maynard cut off his head and hung it from the bow of his ship as he sailed home.

Blackbeard's pirating career was brief, and lasted just a couple short years, but his legacy is unmistakable. The world's most infamous pirate is considered one of North Carolina's historical treasures, as it was along the Outer Banks that Blackbeard lived, plundered, and eventually met his end.


Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Beaufort Inlet

Whilst at Charles Town, Teach learned that Woodes Rogers had left England with several men-of-war, with orders to purge the West Indies of pirates. Teach&rsquos flotilla sailed northward along the Atlantic coast and into Topsail Inlet (commonly known as Beaufort Inlet), off the coast of North Carolina. There they intended to careen their ships to scrape their hulls, but Queen Anne&rsquos Revenge ran aground on a sandbar, cracking her main-mast and severely damaging many of her timbers. Teach ordered several sloops to throw ropes across the flagship in an attempt to free her. A sloop commanded by Israel Hands of Adventure also ran aground, and both vessels appeared to be damaged beyond repair, leaving only Revenge and the captured Spanish sloop.

Teach had at some stage learned of the offer of a royal pardon and probably confided in Bonnet his willingness to accept it. The pardon was open to all pirates who surrendered on or before 5 September 1718 but contained a caveat stipulating that immunity was offered only against crimes committed before 5 January. Although in theory this left Bonnet and Teach at risk of being hanged for their actions at Charles Town Bar, most authorities could waive such conditions. Teach thought that Governor Charles Eden was a man he could trust, but to make sure, he waited to see what would happen to another captain. Bonnet left immediately on a small sailing boat for Bath Town, where he surrendered to Governor Eden, and received his pardon. He then traveled back to Beaufort Inlet to collect the Revenge and the remainder of his crew, intending to sail to Saint Thomas Island to receive a commission. Unfortunately for him, Teach had stripped the vessel of its valuables and provisions, and had marooned its crew Bonnet set out for revenge but was unable to find him. He and his crew returned to piracy and were captured on 27 September 1718 at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. All but four were tried and hanged in Charles Town.


Jean Leon Gerome Ferris/Public Domain

This painting depicts Blackbeard being captured in a 1718 battle. The famed pirate terrorized the Philadelphia region in 1717, when he captured six or seven merchant ships in the Delaware Bay.

Benjamin Franklin once described a scene that left the young printer quite bewildered.

Fueled by "a vain hope of growing suddenly rich," Franklin wrote in 1729, many early Philadelphia residents had taken to searching for buried treasure "almost to the ruining of themselves and families."

Laborers and crafters could be seen wandering through the woods by day and returning there at night – only to be spooked by fears of "malicious demons" guarding the treasures.

"This odd humor of digging for money, through a belief that much has been hid by pirates formerly frequenting the river, has for several years been mighty prevalent among us," Franklin wrote, "insomuch that you can hardly walk half a mile out of the town on any side, without observing several pits dug with that design, and perhaps some lately opened."

Franklin penned those words in 1729, as the so-called "Golden Age of Piracy" was drawing to a close.

But Philadelphia – founded by William Penn in 1682 – was a hotbed for pirates in its early years, when some of the most notorious pirates freely roamed city streets. And tales of buried treasure quickly became part of local legend.

"There were pirates on the Delaware River," said Craig Bruns, chief curator at the Independence Seaport Museum. "We're talking in the 1700s, before the creation of the country. . Because Philadelphia is the largest port in the colonies at the time, it attracts a lot of commerce."

As dozens of merchant ships headed toward the West Indies each year, that commerce caught the eyes of pirates. With Philadelphia lacking naval protection, pirates could intercept the merchant ships and steal commodities to resell elsewhere.

"Yes, they would get some gold here and there," Bruns said. "But it was more about basic commodities that they could resell."

It did not hurt that many city leaders, including Gov. William Markham, sympathized with the pirates who frequented the city's taverns and conducted business in its marketplaces. Though Markham publicly denied associations with pirates, his daughter was married to wanted pirate John Avery.

Even those who railed against piracy were not always practicing what they preached.

The Rev. Edward Portlock, the rector at Christ Church, agreed to hide some 600 pieces of gold handed to him by Robert Bradenham, a physician to the famed Capt. William Kidd. Portlock, who decried piracy from the pulpit, hid the pirate treasure beneath the church floor.

But Portlock's secret was uncovered, leading to Bradenham's arrest. And Bradenham flipped on Kidd, serving as the primary witness at the pirate's trial in London.

Kidd, once a privateer, denied the accusations of piracy. But he was found guilty of murder and piracy and was executed in 1701.

BLACKBEARD IN PHILLY

Nearly two decades later, another famed pirate had Philadelphia business leaders in a tizzy.

Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, appeared off the mid-Atlantic coast alongside Stede Bonnet in the summer of 1717, effectively scaring off commerce.

Blackbeard, who reportedly had visited Philadelphia two years prior as a mate and likely had family here, stationed his ship, dubbed "The Queen Anne's Revenge," in Delaware Bay.

The waterway provided ample places for him to ambush merchant ships, according to Arne Bialuschewski, who detailed Blackbeard's movements – and the campaign against him – in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography:

"During the peak years of pirate activity off the North American coast in the summer and fall of 1717 and 1718, several vessels from Philadelphia were captured by Blackbeard and Bonnet's marauding gang. However, the surviving evidence makes it easy to overestimate the losses. The number of vessels lost to pirate attacks, either through theft or destruction of a prize, appears rather small. More important was the fact that local shipowners were frightened by Blackbeard and his fellow pirates."

By October, Blackbeard had captured six or seven ships, prompting statesman James Logan to inform New York and New Jersey Gov. Robert Hunter of the problem, noting that many of the pirates were familiar with Philadelphia.

Blackbeard's Jolly Roger flag depicted a skeleton piercing a heart, whilst toasting the devil. This illustration is from an image in 'Blackbeard the Pirate' (2007) by Angus Konstam.

The news spread throughout the colonies. A newspaper account from Philadelphia, published in the Boston News-Letter, detailed the seizures, detailing the ship's weaponry and the pirates' treatment of passengers and cargo:

Seeking an end to the disruption in trade, the British government offered amnesty to any pirates who surrendered to colonial officials. Pennsylvania Gov. William Keith also offered an award to anyone who discovered pirates who chose not to surrender.

With winter approaching, Blackbeard steered his ship south, possibly pillaging ships in the Caribbean Sea before eventually accepting amnesty in South Carolina. It was short-lived.

By May 1718, Blackbeard had returned to sea, stationing his ship off the coasts of the Carolinas. Three months later, Keith issued a warrant for his arrest in Philadelphia.

An arrest was never made. A naval force killed Blackbeard in North Carolina, with the pirate's head famously being carried off to Virginia. A South Carolina militia captured Sted Bonnet, who was hanged.

Source/Library of Congress

“The Pirate's Ruse: Luring a Merchantman in the Olden Days” by is a 19th-century interpretation of pirates attempting to lure in a ship so they can board it.

A COMMON MOTIF

But the legend of Blackbeard and tales of buried pirate treasure continued to grow through the ensuing decades.

An 1846 book containing historical collections from New Jersey, tells of two haunted trees in Burlington County, including one large black walnut tree known as "Pirate Tree."

Blackbeard and his associates allegedly buried silver and gold there, doing so in silence on a stormy night. The legend claims a Spaniard, known for being a reckless outlaw, offered to guard the treasure by surrendering his life.

"He was shot through the brain by Blackbeard, with a charmed bullet, which penetrated without occasioning a wound, thus leaving him as well prepared as ever for mortal combat, except the trifling circumstance of his being stone dead," the historical collection states. "He was buried in an erect position and so well has he performed his trust, that, for any evidence we possess to the contrary, the treasure remains there to the present day."

There are countless tales of pirate treasure buried throughout the Jersey Shore, and even in Pennsylvania, said Dan Rolph, a historian at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The treasures often allegedly belong to the most famous pirates – Blackbeard or Kidd – and are protected by spirits. But such tales involve a motif that dates back well before Blackbeard terrorized the Atlantic, Rolph said.

"This belief of treasure and spirits goes way back into early medieval literature, belief and superstition," Rolph said. "So it's not just something that came around in the 18th century, or is a product of Hollywood. This is something that's been with us as a culture for centuries."

But that doesn't mean pirates – or other people – didn't bury treasure. In fact, plenty of people have found pots of gold or coins buried in the ground.

"We have actual, literal documentation that piracy was a big problem in this area," Rolph said. "To then also have local legend to support the burial of treasures, I don't think, is beyond the imagination.

"Now whether all the legends are true, of course, no. There's all kinds of . poetic license that's come in. But that doesn't in any way negate the story or negate examples of actual treasure that has been found."

So maybe Ben Franklin shouldn’t have been griping about those early Philadelphians after all.


Blackbeard: the Epitome of Piracy

Whenever pirates are mentioned, the first person to come to mind is usually Blackbeard. He was notorious for his use of violence and tyranny, making him the scourge of the Caribbean. The modern idea of historical pirates is usually linked to Blackbeard’s style of piracy. Whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation on pirates and highwaymen, I found that there were many pirates, particularly Captain Bartholomew Roberts, the creator of the pirate code, who didn’t match up to this image we have today.[1] Still, this image was largely created by Blackbeard and the legends that surround him. His image and dramatic death became the personification of piracy, inspired by many eighteenth and nineteenth century plays and melodramas written about him.[2] The idea of Blackbeard’s exploits being shown to an eager and willing audience helped spread this image in a way that ensured it is still very much remembered today.

Blackbeard the Pirate (18th century), Peter Newark Pictures / Bridgeman Images

The demonic image that we have of Blackbeard was fuelled by Blackbeard himself. This was purposefully done by matches placed in his hair and beard and his brutal treatment of fellow shipmates. All this was done to give the appearance of a beast from hell.[3] The reputation this created ensured that he gained power from encouraged tales about him to exacerbate his brutal nature.[4] One of these shipmates was Israel Hands, who was shot in the knee, with the hope it would encourage further rumours of brutal treatment. [5]

His reputation for a brutal form of piracy first became noticed by a wider public when his ship besieged Charleston in South Carolina. The oddest thing about this siege was that it was done to get medicines for the crew.[6] It’s not known exactly what disease the medicines were needed for but following the finding of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in 1996, large traces of mercury were found.[7] From this, it has since been believed that the most likely reason for the medicines was for the mercury, suggesting that many on board were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, which were usually treated with mercury.[8]

Blackbeard was believed to have been a mass bigamist who had married fourteen wives. His last wife, Mary Ormond, was sixteen years old when she married him and afterwards was prostituted out by Blackbeard. [9] This shows a different culture than would have been acceptable in Blackbeard’s native England as bigamy and prostitution was considered illegal but such behaviour was deemed acceptable in the pirate community. However, such transgressive behaviour was usually exaggerated by legitimate sea captains who were the only contemporaries to comment on piracy in order to promote their own careers. [10] This ‘othering’ reaction was certainly something that was part of Blackbeard’s motives behind the behaviour.

Thomas Nicholls, Captain Teach, commonly called Blackbeard (c.1734), Private Collection / Bridgeman Images

The most famous part of Blackbeard’s story is without a doubt his death. It was this that sealed his fate as the most infamous pirate to have sailed the seas of the Caribbean. Johnson describes his final battle as Blackbeard’s last defiant act, as it took 25 shots and cutlass wounds to kill him after Captain Maynard’s crew besieged the Queen Anne’s Revenge. [11] His headless body was thrown overboard and legends circulated that his headless body swam around the ship in defiance of his own death. [12] This would be the last act to reinforce Blackbeard’s devil image, even though it was from beyond the grave. Once dead, Maynard displayed Blackbeard’s head as a war trophy on the front of his ship. [13] This followed the tradition of displaying the body of hanged pirates on waterfronts to act as a deterrent to other would be pirates by indicating that the relevant authorities had command on such crimes. [14]

Blackbeard’s Last Fight (19th century), Peter Newark Historical Pictures / Bridgeman Images

Pirates were able to romanticise themselves by a lack of ethical accountability and used this in order to establish a common “national-cultural identity”. [15] In the case of Blackbeard, this was done by controlling his own portrayal of individual identity, which in turn influenced the collective memory of what it meant to be pirate. The idea of pirates and their lack of accountability finally changed with the development of official naval legality in Nassau and warships had gained better weapon technology, increasing the number of coordinated campaigns against pirates. [16] Blackbeard was the beginning of the end for the pirates who plagued the seas around the Caribbean and so is continually remembered for being the image by which all pirates are remembered. His legacy is that he has influenced many fictional pirates after him, including Long John Silver and Captain Flint, as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean series, especially as Blackbeard himself makes an appearance.

[1] Bowling, T., Pirates and Privateers (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2008), p. 148.

[2] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold: Captain Woodes Rogers & the True Story of the Pirates of the Caribbean (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 167.

[3] Johnson, C., A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, Reprint (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), p. 60.

[4] Parry, D., Blackbeard: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean (London: National Maritime Museum Publishing, 2006), p. 10.

[5] Parry, D., Blackbeard, p. 69 and 110.

[6] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 169.

[7] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 169.

[8] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 169.

[9] Johnson, C., A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, p. 50 Parry, D., Blackbeard, pp. 99 and 102.

[10] George Woodbury, The Great Days of Piracy in the West Indies (1951) cited in Lee. R. E., Blackbeard the Pirate, p. 22

[11] Johnson, C., A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, p. 57.

[12] Johnson, C., A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, cited in Lee. R. E., Blackbeard the Pirate, p. 124

[13] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 177.

[14] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, pp. 161- 162 Parry, D., Blackbeard, pp. 163-164

[15]Mackie, E., Rakes, Highwaymen, and Pirates: The Making of the Modern Gentleman in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, USA: John Hopkins University Press, 2009), pp. 12-13.

[16] Cordingly, D., Spanish Gold, p. 161 Parry, D., Blackbeard, p. 161 and 164.


The Last Days of Blackbeard

For the 18 men aboard the French merchant ship Rose Emelye, the evening of August 23, 1718, was shaping up to be as routine as the 167 that had preceded it since they’d left Nantes. They’d spent the spring following the winds and currents across the Atlantic to tropical Martinique, and much of the summer unloading French cargo and taking on bags of cocoa and barrels of freshly refined sugar. Now they were following the Gulf Stream home in the company of another French merchant ship, La Toison d’Or, sailing just a stone’s throw behind and to leeward. The American mainland had disappeared behind the horizon days before. The next day would raise Bermuda above the horizon, the final waypoint before making landfall in Europe.

Then, as the sun sank low in the sky, someone spotted sails bearing down on their stern.

Over the next three hours the sky grew dark and the vessel drew ever closer. To the Frenchmen’s relief, it was a tiny vessel: a sloop with Spanish lines better suited to shuttling cargo between Caribbean islands than to crossing an ocean. Still, something wasn’t right. What was it doing out here in the open ocean, and why was it on an intercept course with the Frenchmen’s much larger oceangoing merchant ships? As the mysterious sloop overtook them and pulled alongside, they knew they would have answers soon enough.

In the last moments, Capt. Jan Goupil would have seen three cannon muzzles rolled out of gun ports on the tiny sloop’s sides and dozens of armed men crowded on its decks. He ordered his crew of 17 to prepare for action, getting Rose Emelye’s four cannons to the ready. Remove yourselves, Goupil’s mate cried out to the men on the sloop, or we will fire!

At the end of his career, Blackbeard and his men camped on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island, close to hideaways (an 18th-century map) and passing ships. (Courtesy Of The Davidson College Archives) But the place was not as secure as he might have hoped. ( Jim Wark / Airphoto) Hollywood’s latest Blackbeard, Ian McShane, in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean. (Walt Disney Pictures / The Kobal Collection / Art Resource) John Malkovich in “Crossbones.” (NBC) A bell stamped �.” (North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources) The author says Blackbeard’s surname wasn’t Teach, as long believed, but Thatch. (The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY) Among the artifacts recovered from the wreckage of Blackbeard’s sloop Queen Anne’s Revenge are gold fragments. (Wendy M. Welsh / North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources) Among the artifacts recovered this past year, a cannon—one of several on the former French slave ship. (cannon ) Virginia Lt. Gov. Spotswood launched the 1718 mission to capture the pirate in North Carolina. (Kenneth Garrett) A copper allow mortar and pestle recovered from Queen Anne's Revenge. (Wendy M. Welsh / North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources) Blackbeard and crew killed a score of British pursuers before he was vanquished. His head hung from the bowsprit of a Royal Navy vessel. (The Granger Collection, NYC) An iron shackle with cord binding recently recovered from Queen Anne's Revenge. (Mathew Waehner / North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources )

On the tiny sloop, a tall, slim man with a long black beard barked out an order. His helmsman threw the tiller hard to lee, men released ropes, and, sails briefly flapping, the strange vessel suddenly swung hard about, shooting by in the opposite direction.

Goupil’s skin may have turned cold. The sloop—the pirate sloop—swept down to the unarmed Toison d’Or. Minutes later the vessels’ wooden hulls came together with a moan. Pirates swarmed over the gunwales and onto the ship’s decks, seizing the crew, perhaps as human shields. The bearded man had fooled him. Now he found himself facing not one attacker but two.

Soon the bearded man was alongside again and his men discharged their cannons. Musket balls flew over Goupil’s head. There was nothing to be done. He turned Rose Emelye into the wind, drifted to a halt and surrendered his command.

Blackbeard, the notorious pirate, had captured two vessels more than twice the size of his own—a feat described here for the first time. He could not have known that these would be the last prizes of his career and that in just three months he and most of his crew would be dead.

Out of all the pirates who’ve trolled the seas over the past 3,000 years, Blackbeard is the most famous. His nearest rivals—Capt. William Kidd and Sir Henry Morgan—weren’t really pirates at all, but privateers, mercenaries given permission by their sovereign to attack enemy shipping in time of war. Blackbeard and his contemporaries in the early 18th-century Caribbean had nobody’s permission to do what they were doing they were outlaws. But unlike the aristocrats who controlled the British, French and Spanish colonial empires, many ordinary people in Britain and British America saw Blackbeard and his fellow pirates as heroes, Robin Hood figures fighting a rear-guard action against a corrupt, unaccountable and increasingly tyrannical ruling class. So great were these pirates’ reputations—daring antiheroes, noble brigands—that they’ve been sustained ever since, inspiring 18th-century plays, 19th-century novels, and 20th- and 21st-century motion pictures, television shows and pop culture iconography. In his lifetime, Blackbeard—who terrorized the New World and died in a shipboard sword fight with sailors of the Royal Navy—captivated the public imagination like no other. He has never let it go.

And yet Blackbeard’s life and career have long been obscured in a fog of legend, myth and propaganda, much of it contained in a mysterious volume that emerged shortly after his death: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. Nobody knows for sure who wrote the book—which was published pseudonymously in 1724—but the General History almost single-handedly informed all the accounts that have come since. Parts of it are uncannily accurate, drawn word-for-word from official government documents. Others have been shown to be complete fabrications. For researchers, it has served as a treasure map, but one that leads to dead ends as often as it does to verifiable evidence, which scholars covet like gold.

In recent years, however, researchers have dug up new evidence, buried in the archives of England, France and the Americas, or beneath the sands of the American coast, allowing them to piece together a fuller and extremely compelling picture of Blackbeard and his cohorts, one that shows him to have been a canny strategist, a master of improvisation, a showman, a natural leader and an extraordinary risk taker. “Researchers are often drifting around without a rudder not sure what pirate stories are real,” says underwater explorer Mike Daniel, president of the Maritime Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, who found the never-before-published account of the Rose Emelye’s capture buried in the Archives Départementales de Loire-Atlantique in Nantes in 2008. “Then all of a sudden you find documents like these and it’s like finding an island. There are solid facts beneath your feet.”

Many of the discoveries shed light on the final months of Blackbeard’s life, when he executed a series of daring schemes that, for a time, kept him one step ahead of his enemies as the golden age of piracy was collapsing all around him. They go a long way in explaining why a pirate active for, at most, five years has managed to grip the public’s attention for nearly three centuries.

Of late, pirates are everywhere. Disney is planning the fifth installment of its Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, while the fourth installment of the multi-billion-dollar Assassin’s Creed video game series is entitled “Black Flag.” (I worked on the game as a script consultant.) And there are two new television series: “Black Sails,” which premiered in January on Starz, and, launching this winter on NBC, “Crossbones,” which features John Malkovich as Blackbeard and is based on my 2007 nonfiction book, The Republic of Pirates.

Virtually all of these pirate materials—as well as the works of Robert Louis Stevenson—are inspired by Blackbeard’s circle of pirates, who shared a common base in the Bahamas, and were active for a very brief period: 1713 to 1720 or so. Despite the brevity of their careers, many of these pirates’ names have lived on through the ages: Sam Bellamy of Whydah fame, the female pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny, the gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet, the flamboyantly dressed Calico Jack Rackham, the bombastic Charles Vane and, of course, Blackbeard himself.

Part of the reason for their fame is the success they enjoyed. At their zenith, in late 1717, Blackbeard and his Bahamian associates had disrupted the trans-Atlantic commerce of three empires and even had the warships of the Royal Navy on the run. They were threatening colonies, occupying smaller ones at will and burning and blockading the larger ones. The governor of Bermuda expected an invasion at any time. The governor of Pennsylvania feared they would come burn Philadelphia. The lieutenant governor of the British Leeward Islands colony effectively found himself under house arrest for several days when Sam Bellamy’s men took over the island of Virgin Gorda for a few days of recreation and debauchery. The captain of the frigate HMS Seaford abandoned his patrol of the same colony on the rumor that pirates were near because he feared his ship would be captured. It was a genuine concern: Bellamy, Blackbeard and other pirates not only piloted ships every bit as large and well-armed as the 22-gun Seaford, but the pirates also had far greater manpower, which was a critical advantage in boarding actions.

Their success was largely because of the pirates’ sanctuary, a fortified base at Nassau, once and future capital of the Bahamas. Britain had lost control of this colony during the War of Spanish Succession, which ended for Britain in 1713, and during which the French and Spanish sacked Nassau twice. After the war, the pirates took over this failed state before Britain got around to it, shoring up Fort Nassau and brokering a black market trading network with unscrupulous English merchants at Harbour Island and Eleuthera, two Bahamian islands 50 miles northeast. From this well-defended and supplied position, the pirates could spring out into the Florida Straits—a major seaway that, due to the prevailing winds, most Europe-bound ships were compelled to use—capture prizes and quickly carry them back to the safety of their base.

The Bahamian pirates were unlike most other pirates before or since in that they engaged in more than simple banditry. Most of them—Blackbeard included—were former merchant and naval sailors who thought themselves engaged in a social revolt against shipowners and captains who’d made their prior lives miserable. Bellamy’s crew members referred to themselves as Robin Hood’s men. “They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference,” Bellamy once told a captive. “They rob the poor under the cover of law. and we plunder the rich under the cover of our own courage.”

There was also a democratic spirit aboard the pirates’ ships, an unusual development six decades before Lexington and Yorktown, more than seven ahead of the storming of the Bastille. Upon seizing a vessel, the pirates turned its government upside down. Instead of using whips and beatings to enforce a rigid, top-down hierarchy, they elected and deposed their captains by popular vote. They shared their treasure almost equally and on most ships didn’t allow the captain his own cabin. “They were very shrewd in the way they reorganized their ships to limit the captain’s power,” says maritime historian Marcus Rediker of the University of Pittsburgh. “There was a real social consciousness at work there.”

Blackbeard was likely one of the first pirates to come to Nassau after the end of the War of Spanish Succession. He was probably one of the 75 men who followed the Jamaican privateer Benjamin Hornigold to the ruined town in the summer of 1713, and whose early exploits were documented by the governor of Bermuda and even received attention in the American colonies’ only newspaper, the Boston News-Letter. The war was over, but Hornigold’s gang continued attacking small Spanish trading vessels in the Florida Straits and isolated sugar plantations in eastern Cuba. Operating from three large open sailing canoes called periaguas, in just eight months the gang pulled in plunder worth 㾹,175, a staggering fortune at a time when a naval sailor made only about 㾸 a year. Nine months later their haul had grown to 㿨,000, several times the annual income of Britain’s wealthiest noblemen. They soon drove the last authority figures out of the Bahamas and traded their periaguas for large, nimble sloops-of-war, which extended their range as far north as New England and south to the Spanish Main.

In the fall of 1715, Nassau’s pirate population grew from dozens to hundreds after an early hurricane wrecked the annual Spanish treasure fleet on the nearby beaches of Florida, scattering bodies and gold coins across what has since been called the Treasure Coast. At year’s end, Henry Jennings, another former Jamaican privateer, arrived in Nassau with 䀃,000 in recovered Spanish treasure. Prostitutes, smugglers, escaped slaves and adventure-seekers flowed into Nassau, which expanded into a city of huts and tents, an open-air Las Vegas and tropical Deadwood rolled into one.

Blackbeard first appears in the historical record in early December 1716, when he was Hornigold’s lieutenant and in charge of his own eight-gun, 90-man pirate sloop. (The pirates were apparently preparing a feast: They relieved a Jamaica-bound brigantine of its beef, peas, oysters and other foodstuffs before releasing it and the captain to tell the tale to authorities in Kingston.) Of his life before then we still know very little. He went by Edward Thatch—not “Teach” as many historians have said, apparently repeating an error made by the Boston News-Letter. He may have been from the English port of Bristol (as the General History says), where the name Thatch appears in early 18th-century census rolls that I scrutinized in that city while researching Republic of Pirates. During the war, he probably sailed aboard Hornigold’s privateering vessel, and he was known to merchants as far away as Philadelphia, where he had sailed as “a mate from Jamaica,” the commercial hub of the British Caribbean. The only eyewitness description—that of former captive Henry Bostock, originally preserved among the official papers of the British Leeward Islands colony—describes him as “a tall Spare Man with a very black beard which he wore very long.”

Despite his infamous reputation, Blackbeard was remarkably judicious in his use of force. In the dozens of eyewitness accounts of his victims, there is not a single instance in which he killed anyone prior to his final, fatal battle with the Royal Navy. “I haven’t seen one single piece of evidence that Blackbeard ever used violence against anyone,” says Trent University historian Arne Bialuschewski, who unearthed several forgotten accounts by captives and others in the archives of Jamaica in 2008. Imperial authorities and allied newspapers, Bialuschewski says, “created this image of Blackbeard as a monster.”

Thatch’s first fully independent command came under unusual circumstances. In late August 1717, an unfamiliar vessel came into Nassau Harbor, its rigging, hull and crew bearing the scars of battle. When the captain showed himself, Nassau’s pirates must have gasped. He was clad in a fine dressing gown, patched with bandages, and spoke and carried himself like a gentleman and a landlubber, both of which he turned out to be. This was Stede Bonnet, the 29-year-old scion of a wealthy Barbados family of sugar planters who built his own armed sloop, hired a crew of 126 and ran away with them to start a life of piracy—an account that I recently confirmed in the letters, now in Britain’s National Archives, of an 18th-century Royal Navy captain. Why Bonnet did so is unclear—he had no maritime experience and three small children at home—but the author of the General History claimed he suffered from “a disorder of his Mind” caused “by some discomforts he found in a married state.” On arrival on the American seaboard, he’d foolishly engaged a Spanish warship, losing a third of his crew, suffering serious injury himself and barely escaping capture.

Bonnet sought sanctuary among Nassau’s pirates they complied, but turned command of Bonnet’s sloop, Revenge, to Edward Thatch. When Thatch set sail a couple of weeks later, Bonnet remained lodged in his book-lined captain’s cabin, barely able to leave his bed on account of his injuries. He would remain there as Thatch led one the most dramatic and attention-grabbing piracy operations the American colonists had ever seen.

In battle, he cultivated a terrifying image. According to the (often unreliable) General History, he wore a silk sling over his shoulders on which were “three braces of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoliers.” Under his hat he tied lit fuses, dangling some of them down the sides of his face so as to surround it with a halo of smoke and fire, making him “look more frightful” than “a fury from Hell.”

Merchant crews would take one look at this apparition and the army of wild men around him bearing cutlasses, muskets and primitive hand grenades and invariably surrender without firing a shot. It was during this cruise that Thatch’s victims began referring to him as Blackbeard, as documented in merchants’ letters now housed in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Over the first three weeks of October 1717, Blackbeard terrorized the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia and New York Harbor, never staying more than 48 hours in one place. He captured at least 15 vessels, becoming the most feared pirate in the Americas practically overnight. Traumatized captains poured into Philadelphia and New York with tales of woe: cargoes thrown into the sea pirates leaving vessels and their crews to run aground after hacking down their masts and cutting loose their anchors an entire cargo of indentured servants whisked away, perhaps because they wanted to join the pirates’ ranks as so many other members of captured ships did. “Pirates. now Swarm in America and increase their numbers by almost every Vessel they take,” Philadelphia merchant James Logan wrote a friend in London after Blackbeard’s raids. “If speedy care be not taken they will become formidable. and [they] know our govern[men]t can make no defence.”

Throughout his career, Blackbeard stayed one step ahead of his adversaries, and by the time military authorities had been alerted, he, the Revenge and his two prize sloops were well offshore and halfway to the far eastern Caribbean. There he would capture the ship that made him a threat not just to merchant vessels, but also to naval frigates and colonial capitals.

On November 17, 1717, Blackbeard’s flotilla intercepted the French slaver La Concorde in the open ocean approaches to the Windward Islands. The ship was formidable: At nearly 250 tons it was as big as most of the Royal Navy frigates stationed in the Americas and had enough gun ports to accommodate 40 cannons. But the ship was in no condition to resist the pirates. Sixteen crewmen had died in the eight-month journey from France and Africa, and most of the survivors were stricken with “scurvy and the bloody flux,” according to accounts by their officers unearthed in Nantes in 1998 by Mike Daniel. Most of La Concorde’s cannons had been left in France to make room for an oversize cargo of 516 slaves chained below decks. Unable to outrun Blackbeard’s swift sloops, Capt. Pierre Dosset surrendered without a fight.

For Blackbeard, it was the perfect pirate ship. “Slavers had all the right elements: They were large, extremely fast and could carry a lot of armament,” says Daniel. “They could be easily converted to a large, totally open, flush deck that could house many people and allow them to easily move around during a boarding action.” Blackbeard brought the ship to a remote anchorage where his crew refitted her as a pirate frigate, renaming her Queen Anne’s Revenge. They kept food and valuables, of course, but what of her human cargo?

Pirate vessels were among the few places in European America where slaves could free themselves. A remarkable number of pirates were of African origin, according to accounts of captives and pirates brought to trial. There were more than 30 Africans in Bellamy’s crew, and in the months after capturing the Concorde, witnesses would report as many as 70 serving with Blackbeard. “Most of these black sailors on pirate ships were not slaves,” Rediker, who has studied both the pirates and life aboard slave ships, told me recently. “We have an account of a group of rebellious slaves on one of the islands rowing offshore to join a pirate ship. And the pirates knew they could count on them to be totally committed and to fight to the end, because their only other option was a life of plantation slavery.”

But not everyone was seen as a potential recruit. Of the 455 slaves who were still alive when Blackbeard intercepted Concorde, all but 61 were given back to Captain Dosset, along with a small sloop, which he used to ferry them back to Martinique to be sold at auction. How it was decided which people were crew and which were cargo remains a mystery, beyond the lucky minority being able-bodied males. What is known is that a substantial number of black people would remain within Blackbeard’s inner circle until the day he died.

With the Queen Anne’s Revenge at the center of his flotilla, Blackbeard raced up the Lesser Antilles, the island chain ringing the outer arc of the Caribbean like a string of pearls, leaving fear and destruction in his wake, events described in the testimonies of some of those he held captive and the letters of the colonial officials whose islands he terrorized. He set fire to part of Guadeloupe Town, burned a fleet of merchant vessels in the shadow of the British fort on St. Kitts and caused the governor of the Leeward Islands to abandon a tour of his colony aboard HMS Seaford for fear the frigate would be captured. Blackbeard and his crew repaired to St. Croix, burning an English sloop for amusement, and sailed for Puerto Rico, where, in early December, they learned shocking news from the captain of a merchant sloop they’d seized.

King George I had decreed that any pirate who surrendered to a British governor by September 1718 would be pardoned for all piracies committed before January 5, and could even keep his plunder. The day before, Blackbeard and the 400 other men in his fleet had thought they had already taken an irrevocable step into criminality and rebellion. Now they could consider the possibility of a second chance. What Blackbeard did next reveals a great deal about his character.

Until recently, nobody knew exactly what that was. The great pirate vanished from British records for the next three months, last seen continuing westward toward Cuba. Spanish merchants spoke of a pirate known only as “the Great Devil” stalking the Gulf of Mexico in a ship filled with “much treasure.” A London newspaper reported Blackbeard and Bonnet had that winter been seen around the Mexican gulf port of Veracruz, hunting for “a galley called the Royal Prince” and the 40-gun HMS Adventure, which at the time was the most powerful Royal Navy warship in the Western Hemisphere. Was there any truth to these sensational-sounding stories, or had Blackbeard actually gone somewhere to lie low until he figured out the safest way to receive the king’s pardon?

It turns out these rumors were accurate. Working in the British archives after my book was published, I found the papers of Capt. Thomas Jacob of the HMS Diamond, whose task that winter was to escort the Royal Prince, flagship of the South Seas Company, to Veracruz. The papers—handwritten and stitched into a leather-bound folio by 19th-century archivists—include depositions from merchant captains describing how Blackbeard had cleverly captured their vessels in the Bay Islands off Honduras by anchoring innocently nearby and seizing officers after they naively rowed over to say hello. One witness, who spent 11 weeks aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, reported that 70 of the 250 crewmen were black and that they all sought to seize the Adventure. Another reported that they “often threatened to take his majesty’s ship the Diamond, as they heard she was weakly manned.” Blackbeard’s intelligence was excellent. Jacob’s letters indicate his warship’s crew had been critically weakened by tropical diseases en route to Veracruz. Blackbeard hadn’t been lying low he’d doubled-down on piracy, risking everything in an effort to make a massive final score.

It was not to be. Blackbeard never found the frigates or the Royal Prince, probably because he abandoned the search too early. He spent much of February, March and April in the islands off Honduras and Belize, seizing ships filled with wood and molasses, rather than Spanish gold and silver. Indeed, despite capturing a huge number of vessels, his enormous crew had fairly little wealth to show for it. Morale was apparently poor, especially when they ran out of rum for a time. “A damned confusion amongst us!” Blackbeard reportedly wrote in his journal, which was found and remarked on by naval officers after his death and quoted by the author of the General History but has since been lost. “Rogues a plotting [and] great talk of separation.” While he was able to replenish the liquor supply and head off mutiny, he must have been desperate for real treasure.

In the spring, Blackbeard pointed Queen Anne’s Revenge north. His four-vessel fleet dropped into Nassau —perhaps to sell goods—then tried their luck diving among the Spanish treasure fleet wrecks on the nearby Florida coast. In May he made another bold move, blockading the entrance to Charleston’s harbor for six days and capturing every vessel that came or went. I found Charleston’s customs records for these weeks in the British archives. The cargoes he intercepted were useless, mostly barrels of pitch, tar and rice. Improvising, Blackbeard seized passengers instead, sending word to the town that he wished to ransom them. In the end, his crew of 400 left the area with plunder worth less than ٠,000. They needed a hideaway, and the creeks and inlets of poor, sparsely populated North Carolina had hideaways in abundance.

What happened next is a matter of scholarly debate. We know that on June 3, 1718, Blackbeard guided his fleet into Topsail Inlet, home to the tiny hamlet of Fish Town, now Beaufort. Bonnet’s Revenge and the fleet’s two other sloops went first, negotiating the narrow, comma-shaped channel to the village. Queen Anne’s Revenge ran hard aground, apparently while under full sail. The pirates tried to get their flagship off the shoal, but only managed to sink one of their sloops in the effort. We know that Blackbeard sent Bonnet away with the Revenge before marooning dozens of his remaining crew on a large sand bank. He then set off in the remaining sloop with his closest crewmen—“forty white men and sixty Negroes”—and all the company’s plunder. One of his captives, David Herriot, later told authorities it was “generally believed the said Thatch ran his vessel a-ground on purpose” to get rid of the riff-raff. Others—including the man who would find the wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge nearly 300 years later—think that Blackbeard simply made the best of the situation.

Not all the evidence of Blackbeard lies hidden in archives it also lies at the bottom of the sea, with the wrecks of his vessels, each an artifact-packed time capsule. Daniel, then working for the salvage firm Intersal, found the remains of Queen Anne’s Revenge one November day in 1996, and with it a treasure trove of physical evidence. There’s the ship itself, which is just as witnesses described it and was equipped with a variety of cannons of mixed English, French and Swedish origin, some of which were loaded when it sank. During his blockade of Charleston, Blackbeard’s most urgent ransom demand had been a chest of medicine on the wreck, divers found a pewter urethral syringe containing traces of mercury, which in the pirates’ day was used to treat syphilis. Daniel thinks that the wreck’s location shows the grounding was an accident. “He didn’t run right into a bank, he hit the sandbar at the shallowest part as you enter,” he says. “She was just too big to get in there.”

“The Queen Anne’s Revenge was his claim to fame—he was an admiral when he had that,” Daniel continues. “After that he was just a small operator working out of a 35-ton vessel. Why would he have done that to himself?”

Crammed aboard their small Spanish-built sloop, Blackbeard and his followers headed for their final sanctuary. The tiny hamlet of Bath, located up a narrow creek from Pamlico Sound a day’s sail from Beaufort, was a frontier settlement. Just over ten years old and comprising fewer than two dozen homes, it had only a hundred residents. But it was also, in effect, the capital of North Carolina, and counted Gov. Charles Eden among its residents.

No eyewitness accounts of the initial meeting between Blackbeard and Eden have survived, but it must have gone well. Eden was a wealthy English nobleman who governed an impoverished colony spread out over what was literally a backwater: vast tracts of pestilent, low-lying cypress forests pierced by sluggish, tea-colored creeks, inlets and swamps. Most of its approximately 20,000 colonists were penniless and outnumbered by aggrieved Indians who, just six years before, had nearly wiped Bath and the rest of the colony from the map. Blackbeard’s men wanted a pardon—one to include even their blockade of Charleston—and they offered the colony something in return. First, with their arrival, the population of Bath nearly doubled, and the newcomers were armed combat veterans, men who could help defend the settlement if war resumed with the Indians or anyone else. Second, they had money and the means and inclination to bring in more, so long as Governor Eden refrained from asking too many questions about where it came from. In the end, Eden granted all of them a pardon and, later, legal title to the sloop they’d arrived in.

Blackbeard and several of his men settled in Bath, building homes and leading what might appear at a distance to be honest lives. Blackbeard even married a local girl, a fact that reached the ears of Royal Navy officers in nearby Virginia, who noted the development in their dispatches to London. But in reality the pirates were intent on slipping down the creek and into the open sea to prey on vessels passing up and down the Eastern Seaboard or to and from Chesapeake Bay. As later court testimony reveals, they set up a camp on Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks, where they could sort their plunder, repacking it for transshipment and sale back in Bath. It was the perfect arrangement: a new Nassau, only better in that it had a sovereign government and therefore, the pirates might well have assumed, not subject to British invasion.

Blackbeard started small at first, “insulting and abusing the masters of all trading sloops and taking from them what goods or liquors he pleased,” according to one witness. But in August he and his gang took the Spanish sloop far out to sea in search of foreign vessels whose crews would be unlikely to be able to identify them. On the morning of the 24th, they captured the Rose Emelye and the Toison d’Or, or “Golden Fleece.”

True to form, Blackbeard’s men terrorized the Frenchmen, but did them no harm. According to mate Pierre Boyer’s account—recently found by Daniel in the city of Nantes—they tied up the five crewmen and kept them aboard the pirate sloop, while armed men strip-searched the rest for valuables. Pleased with the Rose Emelye’s cargo� barrels of sugar and hundreds of bags of cocoa—they transferred the crew to the Toison d’Or and “ordered them to make without delay” for France or Blackbeard would burn their ship. In parting, the pirates told the crew that if the extra vessel had not been available “they would have thrown them into the sea”—the nearest reference to “walking the plank” ever found in connection to the golden age pirates.

Blackbeard brought Rose Emelye back to Ocracoke. While his crew began unloading its cargo and storing it in tents on the beach, he set off in a small boat bearing presents for Bath authorities: sweetmeats, loaf sugar, chocolate and some mysterious boxes. Arriving at midnight at the home of Tobias Knight, North Carolina’s chief justice and His Majesty’s customs collector, he was welcomed inside and stayed, eyewitnesses later testified, “till about an hour before the break of day.” When he emerged —without the gifts—he headed back to Ocracoke. A day later, Governor Eden granted him full salvage rights to the French ship, which Blackbeard alleged to have found abandoned at sea. Meanwhile a large parcel of sugar found itself into Knight’s barn, hiding itself under a pile of hay.

Blackbeard may have had Eden in his pocket, but the lieutenant governor of Virginia was another matter. Alexander Spotswood had been keeping tabs on Blackbeard for months, even sending spies into North Carolina “to make particular inquiry after the pirates.” Merchants had bombarded him with complaints about Thatch, but when he learned of the Rose Emelye incident, Spotswood later wrote, “I thought it necessary to put a stop to the further progress of the robberies.” He didn’t have the authority to send an expedition into another colony, but Spotswood was not one to be constrained by legal and ethical niceties. Legislators were already working to have him thrown out of office for various power grabs and for squandering tax revenue on Williamsburg’s fantastically opulent new Governor’s Palace. Through blind trusts he would ultimately give himself 85,000 acres of public land, an area that came to be known as Spotsylvania County. He contacted the captains of the two naval frigates at anchor in Hampton Roads and hatched an audacious and illegal plan to wipe out the fearsome pirate.

Not knowing if Blackbeard would be in Bath or on Ocracoke, the naval captains launched a two-pronged invasion of their southern neighbor. One led a contingent of armed men overland on horseback, arriving at Eden’s house in Bath six days later. The other dispatched 60 men under Lt. Robert Maynard in two small, unarmed sloops Spotswood had provided. They arrived at Ocracoke five days later. Blackbeard’s sloop was anchored there.

The following morning, Lieutenant Maynard’s men attacked. Blackbeard’s crew of 20 had spent the night drinking and might have been surprised at anchor, had one of Maynard’s sloops not run aground coming into the anchorage. By the time the naval sailors got their small vessel free, Blackbeard had gotten his sloop underway and greeted them with a broadside that killed or injured many. But as the pirates sailed for open water, a musketball severed a halyard on their sloop, causing a sail to drop and a critical loss in speed. The second sloop—Lieutenant Maynard’s—caught up to them, only to receive another broadside of deadly grapeshot and a salvo of hand grenades. In seconds, 21 members of Maynard’s crew were killed or wounded. Staring down at the smoke-veiled carnage, Blackbeard concluded the battle had been won. He ordered his sloop to come alongside Maynard’s sloop, so his men could take control of it. Blackbeard was the first to step aboard, a rope in his hands to lash the vessels together.

Suddenly: chaos. Maynard and a dozen uninjured sailors rushed up from the hold where they had been hiding and engaged the pirates in hand-to-hand combat. In a scene that would inspire many Hollywood movies, the dashing naval lieutenant and the arch-pirate faced each other with swords. In the end, Blackbeard’s men were overwhelmed, and the pirate fell to the deck “with five shot in him, and 20 dismal cuts in several parts of his body,” according to Maynard. The second sloop arrived to overwhelm the rest. Maynard returned to Virginia with 14 prisoners (nine white and five black). Blackbeard’s head was strung up from his bowsprit.

The controversy over the invasion helped bring down Spotswood, who was deposed in 1722. Although Eden was cleared of wrongdoing, his reputation never recovered from his dealings with Blackbeard. He died from yellow fever on March 17, 1722. “He brought the country into a flourishing condition,” his tombstone reads, “and died much lamented.”

Blackbeard had no grave at all. His body was thrown into Pamlico Sound, his head given as a trophy to Spotswood, who had it displayed on a tall pole in Hampton Roads, at a site now known as Blackbeard’s Point. But while the governors have both been all but forgotten, the pirate has lived on, more famous in death than ever he was in life.

The Nassau pirates were self-interested, to be sure, but their idealistic way of organizing themselves, sharing their plunder and settling scores with social betters made them heroes to many common people throughout Britain’s empire. The example they set—choosing to live a dangerous but free life over one of stability and servitude—has proven a captivating one, and the new archival and archaeological discoveries accentuate the incredible (and often unnecessary) risks many of them took, even after being offered a second chance. Many intriguing questions remain unanswered—from the status of former slaves to the origins of principal figures like Blackbeard—but scholars hope the answers are out there, in long-forgotten documents at French, Spanish and Caribbean archives, or beneath shifting sands at the bottom of the sea.

About Colin Woodard

Colin Woodard is a journalist and historian, and the author of six books including Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood. He lives in Maine.


A few Bay pirate tales

Pirate adventures helped shape the patterns of settlement on the Bay's shores and the consequent use of its waters. To Blackbeard, the Davis trio and other pirates who frequented the Bay, we owe a colorful&mdashyet barbaric&mdashslice of Bay history.

Davis, Wafer and Hinson

After five years of piracy in the South Seas, the threesome Davis, Wafer and Hinson decided to settle in Virginia with their spoils.

The threesome traveled over land from Delaware Bay to the head of the Chesapeake, then headed down the Bay in a shallop. But before they could complete their trip, Captain Rowe of the Dumbarton captured them and threw them in the Jamestown jail for a year.

Davis, Wafer and Hinson petitioned the Virginia council several times to return their confiscated treasures. Finally, in 1692, the King of England proclaimed that their loot be returned &ndash minus 300 pounds. This money went toward founding the College of William and Mary.

William Kidd

William Kidd was a reputable and successful man who owned several properties in Manhattan before taking to piracy. Kidd commandeered the Adventure Galley, capturing several European ships near Madagascar and in the Red Sea.

In 1699, officials in England ordered that Kidd and his cronies be captured. Kidd soon arrived on the Delaware coast, where some of his crew left the ship. He then sailed for Boston, where he was arrested and deported to England.

On May 23, 1701, the infamous Captain Kidd was hanged.

Theophilus Turner

Theophilus Turner, one of the men who left Kidd's ship in Delaware, boarded Andrew Gravenrod's sloop as it headed up the Bay. Turner had plans to quietly settle with his treasure in the Tidewater area.

When Gravenrod&rsquos sloop was anchored in the Severn River, an agent of the Maryland governer visited. Turner was arrested and sent to England for trial, and his treasure was confiscated.

Edward Teach (Blackbeard)

Of all pirates, Edward Teach&mdashbetter known as Blackbeard&mdashis probably the most legendary. His untrimmed, braided beard extended from his eyes down to his chest. Teach was a master at creating terror. He would stick long-burning fuses under his hat before going into battle, making him appear demonic.

Like other pirates, Teach sometimes used the seclusion of the Eastern Shore to prepare his ship for sea. Though he traveled far and wide, Teach also found fertile pirating grounds in the area off the Virginia capes. In the fall of 1717, he and Captain Hornigold captured the sloop Betty off Cape Charles and plundered Madeira wine and other valuables.

By the summer of 1718, Teach decided to live the life of a "gentleman," settling in Bath, North Carolina, and marrying his 14th bride. His gentlemanly life was cut short when his nemesis, Governor Spotswood of Virginia, sent Captain Maynard to North Carolina for a duel.

After a bloody fight, Maynard prevailed and carried his prize&mdashBlackbeard's head&mdashback to Hampton, Virginia, on the bowsprit of his ship.


Watch the video: Blackbeards Face Was His Greatest Weapon (January 2022).