Everyone knows the name Blackbeard. And thanks to that one Pirates of the Caribbean movie, he’s more ingrained into popular culture now than ever before.
But did you know he ACTUALLY DID exist? Blackbeard’s real name was Edward Teach, and not much is known about him or his life up to a few years before his death. Most likely born in England, he became a sailor during the War of the Spanish Succession (1700-1714, France and Spain against Britain, Holland, and the Holy Roman Empire) as a privateer. A few years after the war ended, around 1716, Teach signed on as a crewmember to the pirate Benjamin Hornigold’s crew. He quickly grew in the ranks under Hornigold, and after capturing a French slaver heading for the Bahamas, he captained his own ship, which he renamed the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
At this point, Teach’s reputation and renown were in question, so he grew a coarse black beard, which he braided with red ribbons into pigtails. He donned himself in brightly colored silk or velvet coats, slung a bandolier over his shoulder that could hold three pistols, and wore a broad belt which held an assortment of pistols and daggers. He also attached hemp cord fuses to the underside of his hat, which he lit in battle, adding wisps of smoke to his appearance.
Taking what he learned from Hornigold, Blackbeard began to stalk the waters between Virginia and the Bahamas, seeking out merchant ships with loot onboard. He was ruthless and bloodthirsty, but if his captives obeyed his orders, he did not kill unnecessarily.
After capturing and crewing four ships, as well as amassing a small fortune in plundered treasure over the course of a few weeks, Blackbeard went up the Pimlico Sound, the sound separating the Outer Banks from the mainland, concealing his pirate fleet in Ocracoke. He asked for a pardon from North Carolina’s governor, received it, and settled down for an uneventful life in the small town of Bath, North Carolina.
He soon grew bored of this, however, and took up piracy again. The Queen Anne’s Revenge took a turn for the worst, and sank in May of 1718. He commandeered other ships, and after reigning terror over the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood, in an attempt to help Virginia and North Carolina citizens, put out a proclamation for Blackbeard’s capture-dead or alive, along with his crew. Two sloops, captained by British Lieutenant Robert Maynard, were sent to Ocracoke under Spotswood’s direction.
And so begins the battle to which Blackbeard lost his life. Maynard, arriving in the evening of November 21, 1718, carefully hid his sloops, watching the anchored pirate ships off Ocracoke Island. He attacked the following morning, but his ship ran aground. A shouting match ensued between Maynard and Blackbeard. Maynard’s crew eventually freed the sloops from the sandbar, and began rowing toward Blackbeard’s ship. Maynard’s crew was caught off-guard when cannon shot hit their ship. Quick-thinking, Maynard ordered his crew to hide below decks. Blackbeard, thinking everyone dead, boarded the ship to loot and plunder, only to be surprised moments later in hand to hand combat. Blackbeard stood his ground, according to legend, received twenty-five wounds before being beheaded. His head was attached to the bow of Maynard ship, and his body were thrown overboard. Also according to legend, his body swam three times around the ship before sinking to its murky grave.
This battle between pirates and the British Navy became known as the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet, and is considered the bloodiest naval actions on record.
Supposedly, the waters around Teach’s Hole, Ocracoke Island, glimmer on clear nights, and is Blackbeard looking for his head. If followed, the lights will lead the person to Blackbeard’s treasure, with the Devil seated on top, waiting to receive his share of the booty.
One year, my sister and I decided we were going to drive to Ocracoke, pitch a tent, and spend the night to see if the tales concerning Blackbeard haunting the island were true. In the end, we never did it. We’re big scared-y cats!
In 1996, marine archaeologists located Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, along the coast at Beaufort Inlet. Archaeology on the ship is still on-going, and to date, they have found 13 canons, 2 anchors, a 1705 bell, and other smaller 18th century artifacts. Unfortunately, most of the items on the ship were probably salvaged or plundered when it wrecked, or soon after.
Donnelly, Mark P. and Daniel Diehl. Pirates of Virginia: Plunder and High Adventure on the Old Dominion Coastline. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2012. Print.
Heritage History. ‘War of the Spanish Succession.’ Heritage History. 2012. Web. 25 July 2013 http://www.heritage-history.com/www/heritage.php?Dir=wars&FileName=wars_spanishsuccess.php
Lawrence, Richard and Mark Wilde-Ramsing. ‘In Search of Blackbeard: Historical and Archaeological Research at Shipwreck Site 0003BUI.’ Southeastern Geology 40.1 (2001): 1-9. Web. 25 July 2013. http://www.qaronline.org/Portals/3/Documents/lawrencescreen.pdf
Lee, Robert E. Blackbeard the Pirate: A Reappraisal of His Life and Times. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 1974. Print.
Slappey, Kelly. ‘The Pirate Blackbeard.’ North Carolina History Project. 25 July 2013. Web. 25 July 2013 http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/466/entry
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. ‘Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge 1718.’ North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. 25 July 2013. Web. 25 July 2013 http://www.qaronline.org/
North Carolina Department of Historic Resources. ‘Pictures: Blackbeard’s Ship Yields Ornamental Sword.’ National Geographic. 12 July 2011. Web. 25 July 2013 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/pictures/110112-pirate-blackbeards-sword-shipwreck-queen-annes-revenge-science-treasure/