BLACKBEARD: The Man and the Myth
by Julie Ann Powers
Reprinted from Coastwatch, a bimonthly magazine of North Carolina Sea Grant. For more information, write Coastwatch, NCSU Box 8605, Raleigh, NC 27695-8605, or check the Sea Grant website: http://www.ncsu.edu/seagrant
Despite a fierce reputation that has survived nearly three centuries, Blackbeard wouldn't be called a successful pirate. Those were rich men who died a quiet death at an old age.
But Blackbeard certainly was notorious.
He was born Edward Drummond around 1680 in Bristol, England, according to history brooks. He assumed the surname Teach, also spelled Thatch, Tache or Tatch, as a pirate. His more well-known nickname came from his dark, bushy whiskers.
Legend says that Blackbeard, a big man with a formidable countenance, used his beard to heighten any pirate's biggest weapon - the ability to engender fear. Before battle, he supposedly braided his whiskers into pigtails and tucked slow-burning matches amongst them or behind his ears, spending curls of smoke around his face.
Blackbeard was always armed with an array of daggers, swords and loaded pistols, though some historians say there's no evidence he killed anyone until the day of his own death.
His nautical bad-guy career began during Queen Anne's War, as a privateer sailing out of Jamaica to attack French merchant ships.
After the war ended in 1713, Blackbeard crewed for another pirate in the Bahamas. he captured the French slaver, Concorde, in 1717. When he was rewarded with its command, he renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge.
At its largest, his force included four ships and 300 or more men. The fleet assaulted mariners from the Caribbean to New England. North Carolina's coast offered several hideouts from colonial and British authorities. An anchorage at Ocracoke is still called Teach's Hole. Bath was another Blackbeard haunt.
North Carolina's Gov. Charles Eden reportedly shrugged at pirate activity and possibly shared in Blackbeard's booty. Eden pardoned the pirate in June 1718.
Blackbeard supposedly was semi-retired in November 1718 when he met his end at Ocracoke. In fact, some historians theorize the losses of Queen Anne's Revenge and a smaller sloop, Adventure, in June 1718, were intentional. Grounding the vessels in Beaufort Inlet might have been the pirate's way of "downsizing" his business.
Pirate attacks off the colonial coast continued, however, and Virginia's Gov. Alexander Spotswood blamed Blackbeard. Not so forgiving as Eden, he put a price on Blackbeard's head and urged the British military, the Virginia Assembly and Eden's opponents to help capture him.
Blackbeard was tricked into battle by Lt. Robert Maynard off Ocracoke Nov. 22, 1718, on a British sloop. According to legend, the pirate fought on even after being shot, stabbed and slashed across the throat, until he died while cocking a pistol.
It was the custom of the times to display dead pirates as a deterrent to the occupation. Blackbeard's severed head was hung from the bowspirit of Maynard's ship.