Blackbeard the Infamous Pirate: Legend and Facts
Was Blackbeard Real or Just a Legend?
The legend of Blackbeard tells of a buried treasure that has never been discovered, a demonic presence with a glowing beard, and ruthlessness at its worst. Few will ever know what is real or what is fantasy when it comes to this legendary man. One thing is for certain, Blackbeard truly did exist.
He was born in Bristol, England sometime around 1680. His name is most commonly believed to be Edward Teach, although there are many discrepancies as to the spelling of his last name; including Thatch, Thach, Thache, Thack, Tack, Thatche and Theach.
His reign of terror was from 1716 to 1718, where he predominantly resided in the Caribbean Sea, until he was beheaded on November 22, 1718, in Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. This reign of terror has made him one of history's most infamous pirates of all time.
Years before he began commanding the seas, he actually served as an English Privateer during Queen Anne's War (1702 - 1713). Privateer's were hired by a government and were technically legal pirates. Edward Teach stood out among his fellow privateers. Due to feelings of hostility towards England, he would later break away from England and rule the seas as a fearless pirate, where he would take out his anger on any English ship he passed.
Why Was He So Feared?
One of his greatest legacies was his fierce and fearless demeanor. Truth be told, he rarely battled any ship, because he instilled so much fear through scare tactics that most merchant ships would comply without putting up a fight. Teach was also a valiant leader. Many of his crewmen were attracted to him due to his charisma. They felt secure on his ship knowing that his cleverness would keep them alive. Few left his ship once they joined. He commanded four of his own ships during the year and a half that he tortured the seas from Europe to the Americas.
Blackbeard, though christened Edward Teach, earned his name because of the great display he would portray while in battle. He wove hemp into his very long black beard, lighting the wicks on fire. The flames would sputter and smoke, giving him a demonic appearance. He decorated his natural stout, tall build, with a fur cap, black coat, and tall boots. If the sight of him did not scare the men aboard a ship, then the swords and sling with six guns he wore would. He seldom used this weaponry, since most ships surrendered at the mere sight of him. They would allow him to pillage anything he wanted without a fight.
Edward Teach In Battle
The Truth about Him
In 1716, when the Blackbeard's reign of terror began, he joined the Jamaican ship where pirate Benjamin Hornigold led. He began serving under Hornigold as captain after they captured a French slave ship called "the Concorde" on November 1717. When Hornigold took advantage of the amnesty extended to privateers, Edward Teach commanded alone.
He became an extremely imposing figure along the West Indies and the Atlantic Coast of North America, earning him his name. He would force merchant ships to let him and his crew onboard their ships, then they would raid the ships of all of their valuables, weapons, medicine, liquor, and food. In true pirate fashion, if they did not resist, the ship and its men would be allowed to go relatively unharmed. Those who chose to fight would either be killed or were abandoned on a deserted island.
In April of 1718, he set up camp a little north of a Charleston harbor, where he imprisoned a few of the men sailing from the land. He then sent a ransom note to the town stating that if they wanted the men back, they must send a chest full of medicine. Medicine at the time was as valuable as asking for gold. The town quickly supplied; Blackbeard and his men left with their booty after only a week.
Eventually, Edward Teach did find a home in North Carolina, where he paid Charles Eden, the governor of North Carolina, a portion of his booty in return for protection and an official pardon for his crimes. Although this soon proved to be a front, for Teach went back to piracy within a few weeks and Eden continued to benefit from Blackbeard's booty.
Teach and his men lived in a nearby inlet, where they attacked passing ships. During one raid, they captured a ship with cocoa and sugar, brought it to the governor and claimed it was an abandoned ship that just happens to have floated by. Though few believed the story, no one wanted to cross either the pirate or the governor; therefore, this went unpunished and Blackbeard was awarded.
Despite Blackbeard's stealthy success, it did not cause much of a lasting economic impact on those he stole from. Most merchants still continued business as usual, and Blackbeard never truly became wealthy, despite rumors of a buried treasure. It was not his success as a pirate that caused his name to go down in history, but rather the memorable presence that could instill fear in all those around him.
Do You Believe He Was As Feared As Legend Tells It?
His Jolly Roger
All pirates had their very own Jolly Roger or flag that they used as a scare tactic. They would raise them as a merchant ship would get close, in order to intimidate the oncoming ships. By instilling this fear, they were able to steal whatever they wanted on most ships without a fight. Blackbeard's flag was black with a white horned skeleton holding a spear. The spear was pointing at a red heart with blood dripping from it. In the other hand, the skeleton is toasting his glass to the devil. Skeletons, blood, and the devil were common themes on Jolly Rogers.
Queen Anne's Revenge: Blackbeard's Ship
Queen Anne's Revenge
Queen Anne's Revenge was one of Blackbeard's most infamous ships, in part because the wreckage was discovered in 1996. Though treasure was not found on board, a treasure of information was. The site today is still under excavation; artifacts and relics are continually being uncovered and restored. Many of them are displayed at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Some of these artifacts include navigational devices, cannons, sword hilts, along with hundreds of other items.
Queen Anne's Revenge was originally led by Stede Bonnet, unfortunately, he was not very good at being a pirate captain. He was so ill-equipped, that when his men came across Blackbeard, who was sailing the same port at the time, begged him to take over as captain. He agreed and kept Bonnet on board as well as all 150 of his men. Bonnet spent most of his time reading his books and rarely got out of his dressing gown, while Blackbeard commanded the ship.
As one would imagine, he made sure to make the ship as scary as he could by mounting 40 guns on it and naming it Queen Anne's Revenge.
His pirating days went well until the mid-1718's when he felt he needed a break from the pirate life. His plan was to get away with as much of the loot aboard the ship without splitting with the crew. Instead, he ended up crashing Queen Anne's Revenge, where it stayed until 1996. He did get most of his loot onto his fourth and final ship, this time leaving Bonnet and his men behind.
How Did Blackbeard Die?
Unfortunately for Blackbeard, his reign of terror did not last long, only a year and a half. Due to his striking presence and beastly actions, he was a very hated man. As local merchants lost much of their income, they became infuriated and began searching for a means to stop Edward Teach. Since Governor Eden was a supporter of him, this put many of the people in a very bad spot. Fortunately, they found a supportive ear from Governor Alexander Spotswood from Virginia, who had no respect for Eden and was willing to get involved.
Spotswood hired 57 men and a commander named Lieutenant Robert Maynard. Maynard led two ships, the Ranger and the Jane. In November of 1718, these sloops carried the soldiers across the inlets of North Carolina in pursuit of Blackbeard.
On November 22, in Ocracoke Inlet, Maynard and his men finally succeeded in their mission. Blackbeard was caught off guard with none of his best men; most were on shore. Blackbeard knew he was in trouble and managed to shoot down the Ranger, killing many of those on board, but the Jane was left standing. The men aboard the Jane began hand-to-hand combat with the pirate and the few men that were on deck.
Blackbeard went after Maynard, but as he was about to kill him, one of the soldiers swiped twice across the pirate's neck, beheading him. Some reports claim it was Maynard, who beheaded him. Some reports say he was stabbed 25 times before being beheaded. Although the exact details may never be uncovered, it is certain that it was a bloody battle. Ten soldiers and ten pirates lost their lives. Once Blackbeard was dead, the remaining pirates surrendered.
Proud of their victory, Maynard strung Blackbeard's head on the bowsprit of his ship to display their awesome defeat.
Despite Blackbeard's infamy, the men who sailed with him were held up with honor and had gained authority long after he was gone. Although Blackbeard's reign only lasted a total of a year and a half, his story has lasted centuries, being retold time and time again through books, articles, movies, etc. Few men will ever have such a fearsome memory as Edward Teach.
- Blackbeard Biography. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.biographybase.com/biography/blackbeard.html.
- The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Blackbeard." Encyclopædia Britannica. May 17, 2012. Accessed February 27, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Blackbeard.
- Minster, Christopher. "Blackbeard, the Most Fearsome Pirate of all." ThoughtCo. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/historyofthecaribbean/a/Biography-Of-Edward-Blackbeard-Teach.htm.
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz