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The Death of Blackbeard

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The Death of Blackbeard

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach

Artist Unknown

Blackbeard’s Last Stand:

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach (1680? - 1718) was a notorious English pirate who was active in the Caribbean and coast of North America from 1716 to 1718. He was particularly fearsome: he put lit fuses in his long black hair and beard, causing him to be surrounded by a wreath of smoke in battle. He made a deal with the governor of North Carolina in 1718 and for a time operated out of the many inlets and bays of the Carolina coast. Locals soon tired of his predations, however, and an expedition launched by the Governor of Virginia caught up with him in Ocracoke Inlet. After a furious battle, Blackbeard was killed on November 22, 1718.

Blackbeard the Pirate:

Edward Teach fought as a Privateer in Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). When the war ended, Teach, like many of his shipmates, went pirate. In 1716 he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, then one of the most dangerous pirates in the Caribbean. Teach showed promise and was soon given his own command. When Hornigold accepted a pardon in 1717, Teach stepped into his shoes. It was about this time that he became “Blackbeard” and started to intimidate his foes with his demonic appearance. For about a year, he terrorized the Caribbean and the southeastern coast of the present-day USA.

Blackbeard Goes Legit:

By mid-1718, Blackbeard was the most feared pirate in the Caribbean and possibly the world. He had a 40 gun flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, and a small fleet captained by loyal subordinates. His fame had become so great that his victims, upon seeing Blackbeard's distinctive flag of a skeleton spearing a heart, usually simply surrendered, trading their cargo for their lives. But Blackbeard tired of the life and intentionally sank his flagship, absconding with the loot and a few of his favorite men. In the summer of 1718 he went to Governor Charles Eden of North Carolina and accepted a pardon.

A Crooked Business:

Blackbeard may have wanted to go legit, but it certainly didn't last long. He soon entered into a deal with Eden by which he would continue to raid the seas and the Governor would cover for him. The first thing Eden did for Blackbeard was to officially license his remaining ship, the Adventure, as a war trophy, therefore allowing him to keep it. On another occasion, Blackbeard took a French ship laden with goods including cocoa. After putting the French sailors on another ship, he sailed his prize back, where he declared that he and his men had found it adrift and unmanned: the Governor promptly awarded them salvage rights…and kept a little for himself, too, of course.

Blackbeard’s Life:

Blackbeard did settle down, to an extent. He married the daughter of a local plantation owner and built a home on Ocracoke Island. He would often go out and drink and carouse with the locals. On one occasion, pirate Captain Charles Vane came seeking Blackbeard, to try and lure him back to the Caribbean, but Blackbeard had a good thing going and politely refused. Vane and his men stayed on Ocracoke for a week and Vane, Teach and their men had a rum-soaked party. According to Captain Charles Johnson, Blackbeard would occasionally let his men have their way with his young wife, but there is no other evidence to support this and it appears to simply be a nasty rumor of the time.

To Catch a Pirate:

Local sailors and merchants soon tired of this legendary pirate haunting the inlets of North Carolina. Suspecting that Eden was in cahoots with Blackbeard, they took their complaints to Alexander Spotswood, Governor of neighboring Virginia, who had no love for pirates or for Eden. There were two British war sloops in Virginia at the time: the Pearl and the Lyme. Spotswood made arrangements to hire some 50 sailors and soldiers off of these ships and put a Lieutenant Robert Maynard in charge of the expedition. Since the sloops were too large to chase Blackbeard into shallow inlets, Spotswood also provided two light ships.

Hunt for Blackbeard:

The two small ships, the Ranger and the Jane, scouted along the coast for the well-known pirate. Blackbeard's haunts were well known, and it didn't take Maynard too long to find him. Late in the day on November 21, 1718, they sighted Blackbeard off of Ocracoke Island, but decided to delay the attack until the next day. Meanwhile, Blackbeard and his men were drinking all night as they entertained a fellow smuggler.

Blackbeard’s Final Battle:

Fortunately for Maynard, many of Blackbeard's men were ashore. On the morning of the 22nd, the Ranger and the Jane, tried to sneak up on the Adventure, but both became stuck on sandbars and Blackbeard and his men couldn't help but notice them. There was a verbal exchange between Maynard and Blackbeard: according to Captain Charles Johnson, Blackbeard said: "Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you." As the Ranger and the Jane, came closer, the pirates fired their cannons, killing several sailors and stalling the Ranger. On the Jane, Maynard hid many of his men below decks, disguising his numbers. A lucky shot severed the rope attached to one of the Adventure's sails, making escape impossible for the pirates.

Who Killed Blackbeard?:

The Jane, pulled up to the Adventure, and the pirates, thinking they had an advantage, boarded the smaller vessel. The soldiers came out of the hold and Blackbeard and his men found themselves outnumbered. Blackbeard himself was a demon in battle, fighting on despite what was later described as five gun wounds and 20 cuts by sword or cutlass. Blackbeard fought one-on-one with Maynard and was about to kill him when a British sailor gave the pirate a cut on the neck: a second hack severed his head. Blackbeard's men fought on, but outnumbered and with their leader gone, they eventually surrendered.

Aftermath of Blackbeard’s Death:

Blackbeard's head was mounted on the bowsprit of the Adventure, as it was needed for proof that the pirate was dead in order to collect a sizeable bounty. According to local legend, the pirate's decapitated body was thrown in the water, where it swam around the ship several times before sinking. More of Blackbeard's crew, including his boatswain Israel Hands, were captured on land. Thirteen were hanged: Hands avoided the noose by testifying against the rest and because a pardon offer arrived in time to save him. Blackbeard's head was hung from a pole on the Hampton River: the place is now known as Blackbeard's Point. Some locals claim that his ghost haunts the area.

Maynard had found papers on board the Adventure which implicated Eden and the Secretary of the Colony, Tobias Knight, in Blackbeard's crimes. Eden was never charged with anything and Knight was eventually acquitted in spite of the fact that he had stolen goods in his home.

Maynard became very famous because of his defeat of the mighty pirate. He eventually sued his superior officers, who decided to share the bounty money for Blackbeard with all crew members of the Lyme and Pearl, and not only those ones who had actually taken part in the raid.

Blackbeard's death marked his passing from man to legend. In death, he has become far more important than he ever was in life. He has come to symbolize all pirates, which in turn have come to symbolize freedom and adventure. His death is certainly part of his legend: he died on his feet, a pirate to the very last. No discussion of pirates is complete without Blackbeard and his violent end.

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.

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