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one of the most feared pirates to ever ply the Caribbean
The man known to history as Blackbeard was born somewhere around Bristol, England, sometime around 1680. The exact date and place of his birth is unknown, as is his given name. Although most history books say that his real name was Edward Teach, many variations of his last name appear in contemporary accounts of his exploits, including Thatch, Theach, and Thach. It is believed that he was well educated, since he was known to read and write, skills average people of his day did not possess. And, since most working families of the day could not afford to send their children to school, it is likely that Edward came from a relatively well-to-do family.
The earliest verifiable records of Edward's life show him as a crewman aboard a British privateer "assigned" to plunder French and Spanish ships in the Caribbean during the War of Spanish Succession (Queen Anne's War, 1702-13). What he did in the years immediately after the war is unknown, but by 1716 he had joined a band of Caribbean pirates led by Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold took a liking to Edward and gave him command of one of his two ships. Working in concert, the two pirates terrorized the Caribbean for almost two years, capturing and looting any and all ships they could, regardless of nationality. It was around this time that Edward began calling himself Blackbeard.
On November 17, 1717, Hornigold and Blackbeard captured the La Concorde, a large French slaving ship, off the island of St. Vincent. Soon after this coup, Harigold decided to take a King's pardon and retire from piracy, leaving the Concorde in Blackbeard's command. Blackbeard had the ship outfitted with 40 cannons and strengthened its sides, renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge, and made it his flagship. Not long after, while anchored in Jamaica, the crew of the Revenge, another pirate ship, asked him to replace their incompetent captain, an offer Blackbeard readily accepted. With his two ships, Blackbeard quickly became the most feared pirate in the Caribbean.
Few pirates, if any, were as skilled at crafting a persona as Blackbeard. Already an imposing figure by stature, he enhanced his fearsome look by braiding his long black hair and beard, wearing a fur cap or wide hat, high leather boots, and a long, black coat, and carrying as many as six pistols, along with a cutlass and at least one other knife, at a time. When confronting a ship he was known to stuff a slow-burning rope under his hat to present an even more formidable image. That fearsome image would have been useless, however, had he not also been very skilled at captaining a ship and capturing his targets. In addition, his reputation for treating his men well meant he never had to worry about a mutiny and he was always able to maintain a very skilled and willing crew. In fact, he, his ships, and his men were so good at what they did that they even took on, and beat, any warship that dared challenge them.
By the spring of 1718, Blackbeard had several ships and almost 700 men under his command. His reputation for fierceness was so well established that merchant ships often surrendered to him as soon as they saw his flag. Those ships that surrendered peacefully were usually looted of valuables and then allowed to go on their way. A ship that failed to yield to Blackbeard's flag would be fired upon, with the first shots usually aimed at whoever was manning the wheel. Once the target ship was left pilotless, Blackbeard's ship would draw up close enough for his men to snare it with hooks. Although Blackbeard and his men were more than willing to kill anyone who still tried to resist, they were generally able to board their prey without much fight once within striking range. Once aboard, Blackbeard's men would divest the crew and passengers of all their personal valuables, and search the ship and cargo for anything and everything else they deemed valuable. Unlike many other pirates of his and later days, Blackbeard never resorted to sheer cruelty toward his hostages. Although there is one verified account of Blackbeard cutting off a man's finger to get the ring he refused to hand over, even his enemies agreed that such acts were only reserved for people who resisted him. He was, however, also known for treating the crews of English merchant ships and ships from Boston, where some pirates had been hung, more harshly than others.
In May of 1718, Blackbeard launched his most audacious "mission" to date. He and his ships stationed themselves in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, where they looted ships at will and, for the first time ever, took several hostages. Once he decided he had enough hostages, Blackbeard then sent a message to the city of Charleston demanding a cache of medicines and medical supplies in return for his hostages. The city readily gave Blackbeard what he demanded, the hostages were released as promised, and Blackbeard's fleet left Charleston Harbor.
Soon after leaving Charleston, Blackbeard decided it was time to retire from piracy. After "accidentally" grounding the Revenge and a sloop off what is now Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, and transferring all of his loot to his remaining ship, he sailed off, leaving all but about 20 of his men, all of whom he had personally chosen, behind. He then approached North Carolina Governor Charles Eden with a plan he said would make them both very rich. After Eden officially licensed Blackbeard's last ship, the Adventure, as a war prize, Blackbeard established a base at Bath Town, a small settlement on a harbor near the Outer Banks, from where he could easily prey on ships travelling along the coast. In exchange for having given Blackbeard's ship an official commission, and for not stopping his raids on ships, Eden received a share of all loot captured. The locals tolerated Blackbeard's activity because they liked buying many of the goods he stole, which were often both superior to and cheaper than goods bought through proper commerce. For his part, Blackbeard appeared to enjoy the life of a more "legitimate businessman," and he even married a young local girl.
In November of 1718, Blackbeard hosted a huge gathering of former crewmen and other pirates aboard his ship off Ocracoke Island. Despite his arrangement with Eden, Blackbeard was still officially a wanted criminal, and Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood was determined to put an end to his activities once and for all. Upon learning of the gathering at Ocracoke, Spotswood outfitted two small sloops and charged Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the British Royal Navy with the task of either capturing or killing Blackbeard. Maynard's sloops arrived within sight of Blackbeard on the evening of November 21st, but the tide was low at the time and the sloops could not clear the submerged sandbars, so both sides spent that night preparing for the coming battle. In the morning, as Maynard's ships began crossing the sandbars, Blackbeard surprised his crew, and Maynard, and steered his ship toward the beach. Just as it appeared he was about to run the ship aground, however, he skillfully maneuvered it into a narrow channel between the beach and a barely visible sandbar. Maynard's ships gave chase but both ended up grounded on the sandbar. Blackbeard's men then rained cannon fire down on the sloops, destroying one and seriously damaging the other. Maynard had not yet been defeated, however, as he was able to free his ship by throwing water and other provisions overboard to lighten the ship until it could clear the sandbar. He then had all of his men hide below decks to make it appear as if the ship was deserted. As soon as Blackbeard and his men boarded, Maynard and his men swarmed out of hiding and hand-to-hand combat commenced. Blackbeard and Maynard ended up in a face-to-face battle in which Blackbeard was shot at least once but still managed to disarm Maynard. Blackbeard was struck down and killed before he could deliver a finishing blow to Maynard, however, and the rest of the pirates surrendered quickly thereafter. As a warning to other pirates, Maynard had Blackbeard's head cut off and suspended from the bow of his ship; how long Blackbeard's head remained on such display is unknown.
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This page was last updated on June 16, 2017.