The most infamous pirate of the Caribbean is Blackbeard. The name Blackbeard is synonymous with pirate and has appeared in many books, movies, video games, and other forms of media throughout the centuries.
However, despite being the most famous his real name lies in mystery. Many believed that his real name is Edward Teach or Edward Thatch but that has been disputed.
Regardless, Blackbeard was one of the most successful and feared pirates that sailed the Spanish main.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Early Years
The 17th-century rise of Britain’s American colonies and the rapid 18th-century expansion of the Atlantic slave trade had made Bristol an important international seaport, and Teach was most likely raised in what was then the second-largest city in England.
He could almost certainly read and write; he communicated with merchants and when killed had in his possession a letter addressed to him by the Chief Justice and Secretary of the Province of Carolina, Tobias Knight. It is speculated that Edward Teach probably came from a wealthy family and was a sailor during the War of Spanish Succession.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Early Career
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the European powers began to colonize the New World and in the Caribbean pirates began to create their own colonies. One of these pirate colonies was New Providence which was founded by former privateer-turned-pirate Henry Jennings.
New Providence would become the capital of Nassau and become an important haven for pirates. Blackbeard was one of those who came to enjoy the island’s benefits. Probably shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, he moved there from Jamaica, and with most privateers once involved in the war, became involved in piracy.
Possibly about 1716, he joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold, a renowned pirate who operated from New Providence’s safewaters. In 1716 Hornigold placed Teach in charge of a sloop he had taken as a prize. In early 1717, Hornigold and Blackbeard, each captaining a sloop, set out for the mainland.
They captured a boat carrying 120 barrels of flour out of Havana, and shortly thereafter took 100 barrels of wine from a sloop out of Bermuda. A few days later they stopped a vessel sailing from Madeira to Charles Town, South Carolina. Teach and his quartermaster, William Howard, may at this time have struggled to control their crews. By then they had probably developed a taste for Madeira wine, and on 29 September near Cape Charles, all they took from the Betty of Virginia was her cargo of Madeira, before they scuttled her with the remaining cargo.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Pirate Life
On 28 November Teach’s two ships attacked a French merchant vessel off the coast of Saint Vincent. They each fired a broadside across its bulwarks, killing several of its crew, and forcing its captain to surrender. The ship was La Concorde of Saint-Malo, a large French Guinea man carrying a cargo of slaves. Teach and his crews sailed the vessel south along Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to Bequia, where they disembarked her crew and cargo, and converted the ship for their own use.
The crew of La Concorde were given the smaller of Teach’s two sloops, which they renamed Mauvaise Rencontre (Bad Meeting), and sailed for Martinique. Teach may have recruited some of their slaves, but the remainder were left on the island and were later recaptured by the returning crew of Mauvaise Rencontre.
Teach immediately renamed La Concorde as Queen Anne’s Revenge and equipped her with 40 guns. By this time Teach had placed his lieutenant Richards in command of Bonnet’s Revenge. In late November, near Saint Vincent, he attacked the Great Allen. After a lengthy engagement, he forced the large and well-armed merchant ship to surrender. He ordered her to move closer to the shore, disembarked her crew and emptied her cargo holds, and then burned and sank the vessel.
The incident was chronicled in the Boston News-Letter, which called Teach the commander of a “French ship of 32 Guns, a Brigantine of 10 guns and a Sloop of 12 guns.” When or where Teach collected the ten gun brigantine is unknown, but by that time he may have been in command of at least 150 men split among three vessels.
On 5 December 1717 Teach stopped the merchant sloop Margaret off the coast of Crab Island, near Anguilla. Her captain, Henry Bostock, and crew remained Teach’s prisoners for about eight hours and were forced to watch as their sloop was ransacked. Bostock, who had been held aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, was returned unharmed to Margaret and was allowed to leave with his crew.
He returned to his base of operations on Saint Christopher Island and reported the matter to Governor Walter Hamilton, who requested that he sign an affidavit about the encounter. Bostock’s deposition details Teach’s command of two vessels: a sloop and a large French Guinea man, Dutch-built, with 36 cannon and a crew of 300 men.
The captain believed that the larger ship carried valuable gold dust, silver plate, and “a very fine cup” supposedly taken from the commander of Great Allen. Teach’s crew had apparently informed Bostock that they had destroyed several other vessels and that they intended to sail to Hispaniola and lie in wait for an expected Spanish armada, supposedly laden with money to pay the garrisons.
Bostock also claimed that Teach had questioned him about the movements of local ships, but also that he had seemed unsurprised when Bostock told him of an expected royal pardon from London for all pirates.
Bostock’s deposition describes Teach as a “tall spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long”. It is the first recorded account of Teach’s appearance and is the source of his cognomen, Blackbeard. Later descriptions mention that his thick black beard was braided into pigtails, sometimes tied in with small colored ribbons.
Johnson described him as “such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury from hell to look more frightful.” Whether Johnson’s description was entirely truthful or embellished is unclear, but it seems likely that Teach understood the value of appearances; better to strike fear into the heart of one’s enemies, than rely on bluster alone.
Teach was tall, with broad shoulders. He wore knee-length boots and dark clothing, topped with a wide hat and sometimes a long coat of brightly-colored silk or velvet. Johnson also described Teach in times of battle as wearing “a sling over his shoulders, with three braces of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoliers; and stuck lighted matches under his hat”, the latter appears to emphasize the fearsome appearance he wished to present to his enemies. Despite his ferocious reputation though, there are no verified accounts of his ever having murdered or harmed those he held captive.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Blockade of Charles Town
By May 1718, Teach had awarded himself the rank of Commodore and was at the height of his power. Late that month his flotilla blockaded the port of Charles Town in the Province of South Carolina. All vessels entering or leaving the port were stopped, and as the town had no guard ship, its pilot boat was the first to be captured. Over the next five or six days about nine vessels were stopped and ransacked as they attempted to sail past Charles Town Bar, where Teach’s fleet was anchored. One such ship, headed for London with a group of prominent Charles Town citizens which included Samuel Wragg, was the Crowley. Her passengers were questioned about the vessels still in port and then locked below decks for about half a day. Teach informed the prisoners that his fleet required medical supplies from the colonial government of South Carolina and that if none were forthcoming, all prisoners would be executed, their heads sent to the Governor and all captured ships burnt.
Wragg agreed to Teach’s demands, and a Mr. Marks and two pirates were given two days to collect the drugs. Teach moved his fleet, and the captured ships, to within about five or six leagues from land. Three days later a messenger, sent by Marks, returned to the fleet; Marks’s boat had capsized and delayed their arrival in Charles Town. Teach granted a reprieve of two days, but still, the party did not return. He then called a meeting of his fellow sailors and moved eight ships into the harbor, causing panic within the town. When Marks finally returned to the fleet, he explained what had happened. On his arrival, he had presented the pirates’ demands to the Governor and the drugs had been quickly gathered, but the two pirates sent to escort him had proved difficult to find; they had been busy drinking with friends and were finally discovered, drunk.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Beaufort Inlet
Whilst at Charles Town, Teach learned that Woodes Rogers had left England with several men-of-war, with orders to purge the West Indies of pirates. Teach’s flotilla sailed northward along the Atlantic coast and into Topsail Inlet (commonly known as Beaufort Inlet), off the coast of North Carolina. There they intended to careen their ships to scrape their hulls, but Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on a sandbar, cracking her main-mast and severely damaging many of her timbers. Teach ordered several sloops to throw ropes across the flagship in an attempt to free her. A sloop commanded by Israel Hands of Adventure also ran aground, and both vessels appeared to be damaged beyond repair, leaving only Revenge and the captured Spanish sloop.
Teach had at some stage learned of the offer of a royal pardon and probably confided in Bonnet his willingness to accept it. The pardon was open to all pirates who surrendered on or before 5 September 1718 but contained a caveat stipulating that immunity was offered only against crimes committed before 5 January. Although in theory this left Bonnet and Teach at risk of being hanged for their actions at Charles Town Bar, most authorities could waive such conditions. Teach thought that Governor Charles Eden was a man he could trust, but to make sure, he waited to see what would happen to another captain. Bonnet left immediately on a small sailing boat for Bath Town, where he surrendered to Governor Eden, and received his pardon. He then traveled back to Beaufort Inlet to collect the Revenge and the remainder of his crew, intending to sail to Saint Thomas Island to receive a commission. Unfortunately for him, Teach had stripped the vessel of its valuables and provisions, and had marooned its crew; Bonnet set out for revenge but was unable to find him. He and his crew returned to piracy and were captured on 27 September 1718 at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. All but four were tried and hanged in Charles Town.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Civilian Life
Before sailing northward on his remaining sloop to Ocracoke Inlet, Teach marooned about 25 men on a small sandy island about a league from the mainland. He may have done this to stifle any protest they made if they guessed their captain’s plans. Bonnet rescued them two days later. Teach continued on to Bath, where in June 1718—only days after Bonnet had departed with his pardon—he and his much-reduced crew received their pardon from Governor Eden.
Blackbeard settled down for a bit and even married. He was encouraged to acquire a license for privateering which would help curb his itch for sailing. Ocracoke Inlet was Teach’s favorite anchorage. It was a perfect vantage point from which to view ships traveling between the various settlements of northeast Carolina, and it was from there that Teach first spotted the approaching ship of Charles Vane, another English pirate. Several months earlier Vane had rejected the pardon brought by Woodes Rogers and escaped the men-of-war the English captain brought with him to Nassau. He had also been pursued by Teach’s old commander, Benjamin Hornigold, who was by then a pirate hunter. Teach and Vane spent several nights on the southern tip of Ocracoke Island, accompanied by such notorious figures as Israel Hands, Robert Deal, and Calico Jack.
Blackbeard Facts and Piracy: Death
As it spread throughout the neighboring colonies, the news of Teach and Vane’s impromptu party worried the Governor of Pennsylvania enough to send out two sloops to capture the pirates. They were unsuccessful, but Governor of Virginia Alexander Spotswood was also concerned that the supposedly retired freebooter and his crew were living in nearby North Carolina. Some of Teach’s former crew had already moved into several Virginian seaport towns, prompting Spotswood to issue a proclamation on 10 July, requiring all former pirates to make themselves known to the authorities, to give up their arms and to not travel in groups larger than three. As head of a Crown colony, Spotswood viewed the proprietary colony of North Carolina with contempt; he had little faith in the ability of the Carolinians to control the pirates, who he suspected would be back to their old ways, disrupting Virginian commerce, as soon as their money ran out.
Spotswood learned that William Howard, the former quartermaster of Queen Anne’s Revenge, was in the area, and believing that he might know of Teach’s whereabouts had the pirate and his two slaves arrested. Spotswood had no legal authority to have pirates tried, and as a result, Howard’s attorney, John Holloway, brought charges against Captain Brand of HMS Lyme, where Howard was imprisoned. He also sued on Howard’s behalf for damages of £500, claiming wrongful arrest.
Spotswood’s council claimed that Teach’s presence was a crisis and that under a statute of William III, the governor was entitled to try Howard without a jury. The charges referred to several acts of piracy supposedly committed after the pardon’s cut-off date, in “a sloop belonging to ye subjects of the King of Spain”, but ignored the fact that they took place outside Spotswood’s jurisdiction and in a vessel then legally owned.
Another charge cited two attacks, one of which was the capture of a slave ship off Charles Town Bar, from which one of Howard’s slaves was presumed to have come. Howard was sent to await trial before a Court of Vice-Admiralty, on the charge of piracy, but Brand and his colleague, Captain Gordon (of HMS Pearl) refused to serve with Holloway present.
Incensed, Holloway had no option but to stand down, and was replaced by the Attorney General of Virginia, John Clayton, whom Spotswood described as “an honester man [than Holloway]”. Howard was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but was saved by a commission from London, which directed Spotswood to pardon all acts of piracy committed by surrendering pirates before 23 July 1718.
Spotswood had obtained from Howard valuable information on Teach’s whereabouts, and he planned to send his forces across the border into North Carolina to capture him. He gained the support of two men keen to discredit North Carolina’s Governor—Edward Moseley and Colonel Maurice Moore. He also wrote to the Lords of Trade, suggesting that the Crown might benefit financially from Teach’s capture.
Spotswood personally financed the operation, possibly believing that Teach had fabulous treasures hidden away. He ordered Captains Gordon and Brand of HMS Pearl and HMS Lyme to travel overland to Bath. Lieutenant Robert Maynard of HMS Pearl was given command of two commandeered sloops, to approach the town from the sea. An extra incentive for Teach’s capture was the offer of a reward from the Assembly of Virginia, over and above any that might be received from the Crown.
Maynard took command of the two armed sloops on 17 November. He was given 57 men—33 from HMS Pearl and 24 from HMS Lyme. Maynard and the detachment from HMS Pearl took the larger of the two vessels and named her Jane; the rest took Ranger, commanded by one of Maynard’s officers, a Mister Hyde. Some from the two ships’ civilian crews remained aboard. They sailed from Kecoughtan, along the James River, on 17 November. The two sloops moved slowly, giving Brand’s force time to reach Bath. Brand set out for North Carolina six days later, arriving within three miles of Bath on 23 November. Included in Brand’s force were several North Carolinians, including Colonel Moore and Captain Jeremiah Vail, sent to put down any local objection to the presence of foreign soldiers. Moore went into the town to see if Teach was there, reporting back that he was not, but that the pirate was expected at “every minute.” Brand then went to Governor Eden’s home and informed him of his purpose. The next day, Brand sent two canoes down Pamlico River to Ocracoke Inlet, to see if Teach could be seen. They returned two days later and reported on what eventually transpired.
Maynard found the pirates anchored on the inner side of Ocracoke Island, on the evening of 21 November. He had ascertained their position from ships he had stopped along his journey, but unfamiliar with the local channels and shoals, he decided to wait until the following morning to make his attack. He stopped all traffic from entering the inlet—preventing any warning of his presence—and posted a lookout on both sloops to ensure that Teach could not escape to sea. On the other side of the island, Teach was busy entertaining guests and had not set a lookout. With Israel Hands ashore in Bath with about 24 of Adventure‘s sailors, he also had a much-reduced crew. Johnson (1724) reported that the pirate had “no more than twenty-five men on board” and that he “gave out to all the vessels that he spoke with that he had forty”. “Thirteen white and six Negroes”, was the number later reported by Brand to the Admiralty.
At daybreak, preceded by a small boat taking soundings, Maynard’s two sloops entered the channel. The small craft was quickly spotted by Adventure and fired at as soon as it was within range of her guns. While the boat made a quick retreat to the Jane, Teach cut the Adventure‘s anchor cable. His crew hoisted the sails and the Adventure maneuvered to point her starboard guns toward Maynard’s sloops, which were slowly closing the gap. Hyde moved Ranger to the port side of Jane and the Union flag was unfurled on each ship. Adventure then turned toward the beach of Ocracoke Island, heading for a narrow channel. What happened next is uncertain. Johnson claimed that there was an exchange of small-arms fire following which Adventure ran aground on a sandbar, and Maynard anchored and then lightened his ship to pass over the obstacle. Another version claimed that Jane and Ranger ran aground, although Maynard made no mention of this in his log.
What is certain though is that Adventure turned her guns on the two ships and fired. The broadside was devastating; in an instant, Maynard had lost as much as a third of his forces. About 20 on Jane were either wounded or killed and 9 on Ranger. Hyde was dead and his second and third officers either dead or seriously injured.
His sloop was so badly damaged that it played no further role in the attack. Again, contemporary accounts of what happened next are confused, but small-arms fire from Jane may have cut Adventure‘s jib sheet, causing her to lose control and run onto the sandbar. In the aftermath of Teach’s overwhelming attack, Jane and Ranger may also have been grounded; the battle would have become a race to see who could float their ship first.
The lieutenant had kept many of his men below deck and in anticipation of being boarded told them to prepare for close fighting. Teach watched as the gap between the vessels closed, and ordered his men to be ready. The two vessels contacted one another as the Adventure‘s grappling hooks hit their target and several grenades, made from powder and shot-filled bottles and ignited by fuses, broke across the sloop’s deck. As the smoke cleared, Teach led his men aboard, buoyant at the sight of Maynard’s apparently empty ship, his men firing at the small group formed by the lieutenant and his men at the stern.
The rest of Maynard’s men then burst from the hold, shouting and firing. The plan to surprise Teach and his crew worked; the pirates were apparently taken aback at the assault. Teach rallied his men and the two groups fought across the deck, which was already slick with blood from those killed or injured by Teach’s broadside. Maynard and Teach fired their flintlocks at each other, then threw them away. Teach drew his cutlass and managed to break Maynard’s sword.
Against superior training and a slight advantage in numbers, the pirates were pushed back toward the bow, allowing Jane‘s crew to surround Maynard and Teach, who was by then completely isolated. As Maynard drew back to fire once again, Teach moved in to attack him, but was slashed across the neck by one of Maynard’s men. Badly wounded, he was then attacked and killed by several more of Maynard’s crew.
The remaining pirates quickly surrendered. Those left on the Adventure were captured by the Ranger‘s crew, including one who planned to set fire to the powder room and blow up the ship. Varying accounts exist of the battle’s list of casualties; Maynard reported that 8 of his men and 12 pirates were killed. Brand reported that 10 pirates and 11 of Maynard’s men were killed. Spotswood claimed ten pirates and ten of the King’s men dead.
Maynard later examined Teach’s body, noting that it had been shot five times and cut about twenty. He also found several items of correspondence, including a letter to the pirate from Tobias Knight. Teach’s corpse was thrown into the inlet and his head was suspended from the bowsprit of Maynard’s sloop so that the reward could be collected.