1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Blackbeard: Truth, Legends, Fiction and Myth

By

Blackbeard: Truth, Legends, Fiction and Myth

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach

Artist Unknown

Blackbeard: Truth, Legends, Fiction and Myth:

Edward Teach (1680? - 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a legendary pirate who worked the Caribbean and the coast of Mexico and Eastern North America. He is just as well known today as he was during his heyday some three hundred years ago: he is arguably the most famous pirate ever to set sail. There are many legends, myths and tall tales concerning Blackbeard the pirate. Are any of them true?

Legend: Blackbeard hid buried treasure somewhere:

Fact: Sorry. This legend persists anywhere Blackbeard ever spent significant time, such as North Carolina or New Providence. In reality, pirates rarely (if ever) buried treasure. The myth comes from the classic story Treasure Island, which incidentally features a pirate character named Israel Hands, who was Blackbeard's real-life boatswain. Also, much of the loot that Blackbeard took consisted of things like barrels of sugar and cocoa which would be worthless today had he buried them.

Legend: Blackbeard’s dead body swam around the ship three times:

Fact: Unlikely. This is another persistent Blackbeard legend. What is known for certain is that Blackbeard died in battle on November 22, 1718 and his head was cut off so that it could be used to get a bounty. Lieutenant Robert Maynard, the man who hunted Blackbeard down, does not report that the body swam around the ship three times after it was thrown in the water, and neither did anyone else who was at the scene. It is interesting to note, however, that Blackbeard sustained no less than five gunshot wounds and twenty sword cuts before finally dropping dead, so who knows? If anyone could swim around the ship three times after death, it would be Blackbeard.

Legend: Blackbeard would light his hair on fire before battle:

Fact: Sort of. Blackbeard wore his black beard and hair very long, but he never actually lit them on fire. He would put little candles or pieces of fuse in his hair and light those. They would give off smoke, giving the pirate a fearsome, demonic appearance. In battle, this intimidation worked: his foes were terrified of him. Blackbeard's flag was scary, too: it featured a skeleton stabbing a red heart with a spear.

Legend: Blackbeard was the most successful pirate ever:

Fact: Nope. Blackbeard wasn't even the most successful pirate of his generation: that distinction would go to Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts (1682-1722) who captured hundreds of vessels and operated a large fleet of pirate ships. That's not to say that Blackbeard wasn't successful: he had a very good run from 1717-1718, when he operated the 40-gun Queen Anne's Revenge. Blackbeard was certainly greatly feared by sailors and merchantmen.

Legend: Blackbeard retired from piracy and lived as a civilian for a while:

Fact: Mostly true. In mid-1718 Blackbeard intentionally ran his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, into a sand bar, effectively destroying it. He went with some 20 men to see Charles Eden, the Governor of North Carolina and accepted a pardon. For a while, Blackbeard lived there as an average citizen. But it didn't take him long to take up piracy again. This time, he went into cahoots with Eden, sharing the loot in exchange for protection. No one knows if that was Blackbeard's plan all along or if he really wanted to go straight but simply couldn't resist a return to piracy.

Legend: Blackbeard left behind a journal of his crimes:

Fact: This one is not true. It's a common rumor, because Captain Charles Johnson, who wrote about piracy around the time Blackbeard was alive, cites from a journal allegedly belonging to the pirate. Other than Johnson's account, there is no evidence of any journal. Lieutenant Maynard and his men did not mention one and no such book has ever surfaced. Captain Johnson had a flair for the dramatic, and most likely he just made up journal entries when it suited his needs.

Sources:

Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 1996

Defoe, Daniel. A General History of the Pyrates. Edited by Manuel Schonhorn. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1972/1999.

Konstam, Angus. The World Atlas of Pirates. Guilford: the Lyons Press, 2009

Woodard, Colin. The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. Mariner Books, 2008.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.