The Dark Tales of the Darkest Pirate: Blackbeard

The Dark Tales of the Darkest Pirate: Blackbeard

Image above taken from the National Geographic website.

 

We are almost all familiar with the notorious pirate, Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Why do you think he was called Blackbeard? You guessed it…his flourishing, black beard and fearsome appearance. Historic descriptions suggest that the beard was braided into pigtails and sometimes tied with small, colored ribbons. He wore knee-high boots and dark clothing, occasionally wearing a long coat of bright colored silk, topped with a wide hat. Some say he would even place a lit match under his hat or wrap it in his substantial beard to frighten the enemy! The remaining smoky vision around his head resulted in a very terrifying, devil-like look (He wouldn’t be considered the most intelligent man on the planet by today’s standards, but it worked in the day!).

In his obvious attempts to emphasize his fearsome presence, it seemed clear that Blackbeard understood the value of appearance to get the most “bang for his buck,” as well as the role it played in the business of piracy. Even his flag was menacing, depicting a skeleton spearing a heart while toasting the devil.

Blackbeard was believed to have been born in England, and lived his life between the years of 1680 and 1718; this would have made him about 35- to 40-years-old when he died. Probably arriving in the West Indies aboard a merchant ship, he honed his “pirating” skills and was known to terrorize the waters around the West Indies, as well as the American colonies inhabiting the eastern seaboard of America. Although he controlled a fleet of vessels, his flagship was called Queen Anne’s Revenge (a French vessel that was stolen by Blackbeard and renamed). It carried approximately 40 guns alone and his crew numbered well over 300 members.

During the days of colonial settlement, Charleston (then known as Charles Town) did not have any ships guarding the harbor. This was a busy port, with merchant ships frequently coming in and out. As a result, Blackbeard saw a lucrative opportunity in the waters of Charleston Harbor. He and his fleet would prey on these merchant ships, as well as passenger ships, stealing their belongings and cargo, without equal resistance.

Blackbeard’s most notable association with Charleston came with an assault known as the Blockade of Charleston. Now he added a new “twist” to his pilfering and that was “hostage taking.” Commandeering ships and acquiring a number of influential South Carolinians—counts vary from 5-25 in number—as hostages, he used them as a negotiating tool for not silver or gold, but medical supplies. It was first speculated that the medicines were for Blackbeard himself, but it ends up the medicine was needed to treat his ailing crew. It is not known how many of his crew members were ill, but the number must have been large for him to take such a risk.

If the demands were not met by the colonial government of South Carolina, Blackbeard and his men threatened the death of their hostages by execution, their heads sent to the Governor, and all the captured ships burnt. With Blackbeard’s heavily armed ships advancing into the harbor, and Charleston having no way to defend itself, it was a wise choice to meet Blackbeard’s ransom demands and a chest of medicines was promptly delivered to Blackbeard’s ship. He released his hostages (minus their valuables and some fine clothing) and withdrew from the area.

His seafaring adventures continued, eventually running the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on a sandbar in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, cracking the main mast and severely damaging the ship. Using the Revenge (now part of his fleet and previously pilfered from another pirate, Stede Bonnet), he and his crew attempted to free the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Now the Revenge also became stuck on the sandbar and damaged, as well. Abandoning ship and marooning part of his crew, Blackbeard sailed away in one of the smaller sloops in his fleet.

The favorite anchorage and the ultimate place of demise for this notorious pirate was Okracoke Inlet, North Carolina. It was here that Blackbeard and his crew fought their final battle. Fearful that the now notorious pirate and his associates would wreak havoc on the coastal waters of Virginia, Governor Alexander Spotswood sent Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the HMS “Pearl” to sea to take charge of the hunt and capture of Blackbeard and his crew. As an extra incentive, the Assembly of Virginia offered a reward for his capture.

Blackbeard and his ships were soon spotted by Maynard and after a long and bloody battle Blackbeard was killed by Maynard and his crew. His decapitated corpse was sent overboard and in order to allow him to collect the reward, Blackbeard’s head was suspended from the bowsprit of Maynard’s sloop!

Much of Blackbeard’s stash was confiscated by Gov. Spotswood, however, legend has it that Blackbeard buried a stash of “booty” somewhere along the Southeastern seaboard, and it has yet to be found. Although pirates are notoriously known for burying treasure, after all, this makes for a good story, it is a little bit of a myth to say the majority of them practiced this. Frankly, not many really did bury their treasure. However, no one but Blackbeard knows for sure whether he buried treasure or not (and he won’t tell). Good luck to all you local treasure hunters because for all we know, it could be buried somewhere right here beneath our noses in Charleston!

A few interesting facts:  A number of Blackbeard artifacts can be viewed at several museums on the East Coast, including the Smithsonian. The wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered in shallow water in the Atlantic, near Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina by a research firm in 1996.

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