Edward Teach, better known as "Blackbeard," was the most feared pirate of his day and perhaps the figure most often associated with the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean (or piracy in general for that matter). Blackbeard was a skilled pirate and businessman, who knew how to recruit and keep men, intimidate his enemies and use his fearsome reputation to his best advantage. Blackbeard preferred to avoid fighting if he could, but he and his men were deadly fighters when they needed to be. He was killed on November 22, 1718, by English sailors and soldiers sent to find him.
Early Life of Blackbeard
Little is known of Edward Teach's early life, including his exact name: other spellings of his last name include Thatch, Theach and Thach. He was born in Bristol sometime around 1680. Like many young men of Bristol, he took to sea, and saw some action in English privateers during Queen Anne's War (1702-1713). According to Captain Charles Johnson, one of the most important sources for information on Blackbeard, Teach distinguished himself during the war but did not receive any significant command.
Association With Hornigold
Sometime in 1716, Teach joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, at that time one of the most feared pirates in the Caribbean. Hornigold saw great potential in Teach, and soon promoted him to his own command. With Hornigold in command of one ship and Teach in command of another, they could capture or corner more victims and from 1716-1717 they were greatly feared by local merchants and sailors. Hornigold retired from piracy and accepted the King's pardon in early 1717.
Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet
Stede Bonnet was a most unlikely pirate: he was a gentleman from the Barbados with a large estate and family who decided he would rather be a pirate captain. He ordered a ship built, the Revenge, and fitted her out as if he were going to be a pirate hunter, but the minute he was out of port he hoisted the black flag and began looking for prizes. Bonnet did not know one end of a ship from the other and was a terrible captain. After a major engagement with a superior ship, the Revenge was in bad shape when they limped into Nassau sometime between August and October of 1717. Bonnet was wounded, and the pirates on board begged Blackbeard, who was also in port there, to take command. The Revenge was a fine ship, and Blackbeard agreed. The eccentric Bonnet stayed on board, reading his books and walking the deck in his dressing-gown.
Blackbeard on His Own
Blackbeard, now in charge of two good ships, continued to prowl the waters of the Caribbean and North America. On November 17, 1717, he captured La Concorde, a large French slaving ship. He kept the ship, mounting 40 guns on it and naming it Queen Anne's Revenge. The Queen Anne's Revenge became his flagship, and before long he had a fleet of three ships and 150 pirates. Soon the name of Blackbeard was feared on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout the Caribbean.
Fearsome and Deadly
Blackbeard was much more intelligent than your average pirate. He preferred to avoid fighting if he could, and so cultivated a very fearsome reputation. He wore his hair long and had a long black beard. He was tall and broad-shouldered. During battle, he put lengths of slow-burning fuse in his beard and hair. This would sputter and smoke, giving him an altogether demonic look. He also dressed the part: wearing a fur cap or wide hat, high leather boots and a long black coat. He also wore a modified sling with six pistols into combat. No one who ever saw him in action forgot it, and soon Blackbeard had an air of supernatural terror about him.
Blackbeard in Action
Blackbeard used fear and intimidation to cause his enemies to surrender without a fight. This was in his best interests, as the victimized ships could be utilized, valuable plunder was not lost and useful men such as carpenters or doctors could be made to join the pirate crew. Generally, if any ship they attacked surrendered peacefully, Blackbeard would loot it and let it go on its way, or put the men aboard some other ship if he decided to keep or sink his victim. There were exceptions, of course: English merchant ships were sometimes treated harshly, as was any ship from Boston, where some pirates had recently been hung.