When it comes to Blackbeard, the most famous pirate ever to sail the seven seas, it's hard to separate myth from fact. There are a lot of tall tales out there about the man who was the scourge of the Atlantic in 1717-1718. Here are some facts about everyone's favorite buccaneer.
Well, you probably guessed that one, right? Blackbeard’s real name was Edward Thatch or Edward Teach: some original sources list it one way, some another.
2. Blackbeard learned from other pirates
Blackbeard started his piracy career while serving under the legendary Benjamin Hornigold. He wasn’t “Blackbeard” then: he was just one more pirate out of many. Hornigold saw potential in young Edward Teach and promoted him. Eventually, he gave Teach his own command as captain of a captured ship. The two were very successful while they worked together. Hornigold eventually accepted a pardon and Blackbeard set out on his own.
In November of 1717, Blackbeard captured La Concorde, a large French slaving vessel. He renamed the Queen Anne’s Revenge and kept it for himself, modifying it for piracy. He put 40 cannons on it, making it one of the most formidable pirate ships ever. With it, he terrorized the Atlantic and Caribbean for almost a year before the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground.
4. Blackbeard looked like a devil in battle
Blackbeard knew the importance of image in his line of work. Before battle, he would dress all in black, strap several pistols to his chest and put on a large black captain’s hat. Then, he would put slow burning fuses in his hair and beard. The fuses constantly sputtered and gave off smoke, which wreathed him in a perpetual greasy fog. He looked like a devil who had stepped right out of hell and onto a pirate ship and most of his victims simply surrendered their cargo rather than fight him. Blackbeard intimidated his opponents this way because it was good business: if they gave up without a fight, he could keep their ship and he lost fewer men.
Besides Hornigold, Blackbeard sailed with some famous pirates. He was a friend of Charles Vane, who came to see him in North Carolina to try and enlist his help in establishing a pirate kingdom in the Caribbean (Blackbeard wasn’t interested, but his man and Vane’s had a legendary party). He sailed with Stede Bonnett, the “Gentleman Pirate” from the Barbados. Also, Blackbeard’s First Mate was a man named Israel Hands, and Robert Louis Stevenson borrowed the name for his classic Treasure Island.
6. Blackbeard went legit…sort of
In 1718, Blackbeard went to North Carolina and accepted a pardon from Governor Charles Eden. He may have wanted to leave piracy behind, but his retirement didn’t last long. Before long, Blackbeard had struck a deal with the crooked Governor: loot for protection. Eden helped Blackbeard appear legit, and Blackbeard shared his takings. It was an arrangement that benefitted both men until Blackbeard’s death.
Blackbeard wasn’t one to run from a fight. On November 22, 1718, Blackbeard was cornered by two Royal Navy sloops that had been sent to hunt him down. The pirate had relatively few men, as most of his men were on shore at the time, but he decided to fight. He almost got away, but in the end was brought down in hand-to-hand fighting on the deck of his ship. When Blackbeard was finally killed, they found five bullet wounds and twenty sword cuts on his body. His head was cut off and presented as proof to collect a bounty: his body was thrown into the water, and legend has it that it swam around the ship three times before sinking.
That’s a common myth about Blackbeard and other pirates like him. There are no accounts of Blackbeard ever burying treasure, and nothing attributable to him has ever been dug up. Much of the loot that he captured was vulnerable to the elements, like fabrics or cocoa, and burying it would have ruined it (and it certainly would be in bad shape today!). Still, treasure hunters like to look around his old haunts to see if maybe he did leave something behind.
Most people seem to think of Blackbeard as a sort of King of Pirates, perhaps the most successful pirate ever to sail the seven seas. This is far from the truth: other pirates were far more successful than Blackbeard. Henry Avery took a single treasure ship worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in 1695, which was far more than Blackbeard took in his whole career. “Black Bart” Roberts, a contemporary of Blackbeard, captured hundreds of ships, far more than Blackbeard ever did. Still, Blackbeard was an outstanding pirate, as such things go: he was an above average pirate captain for sure in terms of loot, even if he wasn’t the best ever.
10. Blackbeard's ship has been found
Researchers think they have discovered the wreck of the mighty Queen Anne’s Revenge along the North Carolina coast. Searches of the site have yielded treasures such as cannons, anchors, musket barrels, a bell, a broken drinking glass and part of a sword. Work on the site is ongoing and researchers hope to turn up more. It’s the closest thing to buried treasure the famed pirate left behind!