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Teach [Thatch], Edward [known as Blackbeard]locked

(d. 1718)
  • Peter H. Wood

Teach [Thatch], Edward [known as Blackbeard] (d. 1718), pirate, grew up in Bristol, according to most recent assessments. If true, he would have seen the steady rise of successful privateers during the wars with France after 1689. But his initial name and place of origin remain uncertain. One early unconfirmed source gave his family name as Drummond; another suggested that he was born in Jamaica. Whatever the reality it was from Jamaica, using the name Edward Teach or some similar variation, that he apparently sailed aboard a privateer during the War of the Spanish Succession. When that conflict ended in 1713 many sailors, including Teach, refused to give up this relatively free and profitable existence for the harsh discipline and arbitrary treatment found in the merchant marine or the Royal Navy. Instead they turned to piracy, swelling the ranks of Caribbean buccaneers to several thousand persons. Many of the pirate bands operated out of New Providence (modern Nassau) in the Bahamas, raiding shipping throughout the Atlantic and as far away as the Red Sea, then frequently selling their stolen goods in British North America, where Atlantic ports chafed under increasingly restrictive imperial trading laws. Colonial officials from New York to Charlestown, South Carolina, were often willing to tolerate, and even protect, ships carrying unauthorized goods, if crews would sell hard to obtain items at reasonable prices and then linger in town to spend their cash in local establishments.

In 1716 Teach joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, one of the most skilled and ruthless of the Bahama pirates, and within months he proved such an aggressive figure that Hornigold put him in charge of a captured sloop. The two men terrorized shipping in the western Atlantic together, returning occasionally to New Providence for supplies. One of their richest prizes, taken in the eastern Caribbean late in 1717, was the Concorde, a large French vessel under Captain d'Ocier which had entered the African trade after a wartime sojourn in Rio de Janeiro. Apparently, this 300 ton ship, measuring 104 feet and carrying twenty guns, had been built by the English in 1710 and named the Concord, but when the French seized it the following year they modified the hull and altered the name. When Hornigold granted Teach command of the vessel the young pirate changed the name again, calling it Queen Anne's Revenge, and added another twenty guns. Now in command of a heavily armed vessel Teach reputedly bested the Scarborough, a British man-of-war sent from Barbados to destroy him, and went on to plunder at least eighteen ships in the next six months, usually sailing in consort with several smaller boats. His reputation spread rapidly, and he cultivated his flamboyant image as a fierce fighter, impetuous leader, and constant womanizer. Though no confirmed likeness survives, contemporary accounts and popular prints portrayed him as a tall, rugged man with a massive beard, which he decorated with ribbons (and even slow-burning hemp fuses on occasion) to heighten his fearsome appearance.

Dismayed by the rise of rampant piracy in their Atlantic dominions, the British government took measures to suppress it. George I appointed Woodes Rogers, a former privateer from Bristol, to be the new governor of the Bahamas, instructing him to make war on brigands in the Caribbean and to grant pardons to any who would voluntarily surrender. Teach's wealthy former mentor, Hornigold, accepted a pardon from Rogers when he arrived at Nassau, but Teach, now known to the public and feared as Blackbeard, followed a different course. In May 1718, in the boldest gambit of his brief career, he brazenly ordered his flotilla, including Stede Bonnet's Revenge, David Harriot's Adventure, and a captured Spanish sloop, to blockade the busy port of Charlestown. In scarcely a week the brigands seized eight or nine vessels and ransomed their prizes to local authorities for a much needed chest of medicine before escaping by sea to the protection of North Carolina's treacherous outer banks.

In early June, in the shallow waters of Topsail inlet (now Beaufort inlet), Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground, as did the smaller Adventure. The move may have been on purpose so that Blackbeard and a select crew of loyal men could transfer the accumulated booty to another vessel and abscond, leaving Bonnet and other irate pirates to fend for themselves. In September Bonnet and his crew were captured near the mouth of the Cape Fear River by a force from Charlestown, and by the end of the year Bonnet and forty-eight other pirates had been tried in that port and publicly hanged. Meanwhile Blackbeard entered Pamlico Sound and put in at North Carolina's new village of Bath Town, where he obtained a pardon from Governor Charles Eden and married the daughter of a planter. But captain and crew were not easily reconciled to land, and within months they were at sea again, laying hold of a heavily laden French ship and claiming that it had been found adrift without a soul on board.

In Virginia, Governor Alexander Spotswood was locked in controversy with his council and saw an attack on Blackbeard as a way to upstage his opposition. He suspected Governor Eden and his Bath neighbour, Tobias Knight (North Carolina's secretary, chief justice, and collector of customs), of protecting the notorious pirate and sharing in his spoils. So Spotswood put a price of £100 on Blackbeard's head and financed an expedition south by land and sea to expose the supposed corruption. On 22 November 1718 Lieutenant Robert Maynard, commanding two sloops and fifty-four well-armed men, engaged the pirate force in a bloody seaboard battle at North Carolina's Ocracoke inlet. Having pledged neither to give quarter nor to seek it Blackbeard died fighting, and Maynard suspended his severed head from the bowsprit. The victors carried more than a dozen captured pirates back to Virginia, where they were hanged on gibbets along the path from James River to Williamsburg, later known as Gallows Road. If they left behind any treasure, its whereabouts remains a mystery, but in November 1996 divers at Beaufort inlet located the possible remains of Queen Anne's Revenge in 20 feet of water, prompting a flurry of fresh interest in Blackbeard and the brief heyday of Atlantic piracy.

Sources

  • D. Botting, The pirates (1978)
  • S. C. Hughson, The Carolina pirates and colonial commerce, 1670–1740 (1894)
  • D. Defoe, A general history of the pyrates, ed. M. Schonhorn (1972)
  • R. E. Lee, Blackbeard the pirate: a reappraisal of his life and times (1974)
  • H. L. Osgood, The American colonies in the eighteenth century, 4 vols. (1924), 1.525–52
  • H. F. Rankin, The pirates of colonial North Carolina (1960)
  • M. Rediker, Between the devil and the deep blue sea: merchant seamen, pirates, and the Anglo-American maritime world (1987)
  • North Carolina Maritime Museum website