Edward Teach or Edward Thatch (c. 1680 - November 22, 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate in the Caribbean Sea and western Atlantic during the early 18th century, a period referred to as the Golden Age of Piracy. His best known vessel was the Queen Anne's Revenge, which is believed to have run aground near Beaufort Inlet in the Inner Banks of North Carolina in 1718.
Blackbeard often fought, or simply showed himself, wearing a big feathered tricorn, and having multiple swords, knives, and pistols at his disposal. In A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, it was reported that he had lit matches woven into his enormous black beard during battle to intimidate his enemies. Blackbeard is often regarded as the archetypal image of the seafaring pirate.Early life
Little is known about Blackbeard's early life. Most likely, he was born around 1680, in the British port town of Bristol. It has been suggested that his father also was a sailor aboard privateers in the waters off Port Royal in Jamaica, during the War of the Grand Alliance from 1688 to 1697. His birth name is usually given as either Edward Teach or Thatch,though other sources have suggested Edward Drummond.His first biographer, Captain Charles Johnson, claimed Blackbeard went to sea at an early age and served on a British ship in the War of the Spanish Succession, privateering in the Spanish West Indies and along the Spanish Main.
After Britain withdrew from the War in 1713, Teach turned to piracy, as did many other privateers. He joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, who was based in Jamaica. Hornigold was overthrown by his crew in November 1717 and Blackbeard, who may not have been present at the event, was subsequently elected captain He took command of one of Hornigold's recent prizes, the French slave ship La Concorde, renaming her the Queen Anne's Revenge and arming her with 40 guns.The Queen Anne's Revenge would remain Blackbeard's flagship for most of his career.Blackbeard the Pirate
According to Charles Johnson, Blackbeard fought a running duel with the British thirty-gun man-of-war HMS Scarborough, which added to his notoriety. However, neither the log of the Scarborough nor the official letters of its captain have any mention of such an encounter; historian Colin Woodard provides evidence suggesting Johnson confused and conflated two actual events: the Scarborough's battle against John Martel's band and Blackbeard's close encounter with another warship, HMS Seaford.
Blackbeard would plunder merchant ships, forcing them to allow his crew to board their ship. The pirates would seize all of the valuables, food, liquor, and weapons. Despite his ferocious reputation, there are no verified accounts of him actually killing anyone. He deliberately cultivated his barbaric reputation, and so could prevail by terror alone.
However, colourful legends and vivid contemporary newspaper portrayals had him committing acts of cruelty and terror. One tale claims he shot his own first mate, saying "if he didn't shoot one or two crewmen now and then, they'd forget who he was." Another legend is that having had too much to drink, he said to his crew, "Come, let us make a hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it." Going into the ship's hold, they closed the hatches, filled several pots with brimstone and set it on fire. Soon the men were coughing and gasping for air from the sulphurous fumes. All except Blackbeard scrambled out for fresh air. When Blackbeard emerged, he snarled, "Damn ye, ye yellow-bellied sapsuckers! I'm a better man than all ye milksops put together!" According to Captain Charles Johnson's A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates:
Before he sailed upon his adventures, he married a young creature of about sixteen years of age . . . and this I have been informed, made Teach's fourteenth wife . . . with whom after he had lain all night, it was his custom to invite five or six of his brutal companions to come ashore, and he would force her to prostitute herself to them all, one after another, before his face.
The story of Blackbeard's treatment of his fourteenth wife, or even whether she was his fourteenth wife, has been called into question by some. Teach was away at sea for most of his adult life, leaving little time for continual marriages, and no records exist for his other thirteen wives. Many primary documents also attest to Blackbeard's merciful tendencies when it came to bystanders, which casts doubt onto the allegations that he had subjected his teenage wife to gang rape.Blockade of Charleston
Blackbeard's chief claim to fame is his blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. In approximately late May 1718, Blackbeard entered the mouth of Charleston harbour with the Queen Anne's Revenge and three lighter vessels. He plundered five merchant freighters attempting to enter or leave the port. No other vessels could transit the harbour for fear of encountering the pirate squadron.
Aboard one of the ships that Blackbeard captured in the harbor mouth was a group of prominent Charleston citizens, including Samuel Wragg. Blackbeard held these hostages for ransom, making an unusual demand: a chest of medicines. He sent a deputation ashore to negotiate this ransom. Due partly to his envoys' preference for carousing rather than bargaining, the ransom took some days to be delivered, and Blackbeard evidently came close to murdering his prisoners. Eventually, the medicines were turned over, and Blackbeard released the hostages, without their clothing, but otherwise unharmed. Blackbeard's whole squadron then escaped northward.
Shortly afterward, Blackbeard ran two of his vessels aground at Topsail Inlet (now Beaufort Inlet), including the Queen Anne's Revenge, and the ship Adventure when trying to 'save' the grounded ship. He has been accused by many, including his own crew, of doing this deliberately in order to downsize his crew and increase his own share of the treasure. Deliberate or not, he stripped three of the ships of all treasure, beached or marooned most of his crew, and went to Bath, North Carolina, where he finally accepted a pardon under the Royal Act of Grace. He then went off to Ocracoke Inlet in the last of his four vessels to enjoy his loot.Death
Having accepted a pardon, Teach had apparently retired from piracy. Nevertheless, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia became concerned that the notorious freebooter lived nearby. Spotswood decided to eliminate Blackbeard, even though he lived outside of Spotswood's jurisdiction.
Blackbeard operated in many coastal waters; it was difficult for larger vessels to engage him in battle. Two smaller hired sloops were therefore put under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard, with instructions from Spotswood to hunt down and destroy Blackbeard, offering a reward of £100, and smaller sums for the lesser crew members.
Maynard sailed from James River on November 11, 1718, in command of thirty men from HMS Pearl, and twenty-five men and a midshipman of HMS Lyme, and in command of the hired sloops, the Ranger and Jane (temporarily commissioned as His Majesty's Ships to avoid accusations of piracy themselves). Maynard found the pirates anchored in a North Carolina inlet on the inner side of Ocracoke Island, on the evening of November 21.
Maynard and his men decided to wait until the following morning because the tide would be more favourable. Blackbeard's Adventure had a crew of only nineteen, "Thirteen white and six Negroes", as reported to the Admiralty. A small boat was sent ahead at daybreak, was fired upon, and quickly retreated. Blackbeard's superior knowledge of the inlet was of much help, although he and his crew had been drinking in his cabin the night prior. Throughout the night Blackbeard waited for Maynard to make his move. Blackbeard cut his anchor cable and quickly attempted to move towards a narrow channel. Maynard made chase; however, his sloops ran aground, and there was a shouted exchange between captains. Maynard's account says, "At our first salutation, he drank Damnation to me and my Men, whom he stil'd Cowardly Puppies, saying, He would neither give nor take Quarter", although many different versions of the dialogue exist.
Eventually, Maynard's sloops were able to float freely again, and he began to row towards Blackbeard, since the wind was not strong enough at the time for setting sail. When they came upon Blackbeard's Adventure, they were hit with a devastating broadside attack. Midshipman Hyde, captain of the smaller Jane, was killed along with six other men. Ten men were also wounded in the surprise attack. The sloop fell astern and was little help in the following action. Maynard continued his pursuit in Ranger, managing to blast the Adventure's rigging, forcing it ashore. Maynard ordered many of his crew into the holds and readied to be boarded. As his ship approached, Blackbeard saw the mostly empty decks, assumed it was safe to board, and did so with ten men. Blackbeard's assault was preceded by several grenades made by filling rum bottles with gunpowder. Broken glass swept the deck and gunpowder smoke obscured Maynard's view of Blackbeard's boarders.
Maynard's men emerged, and the battle began. Primary sources disagree about the exact circumstances of Blackbeard's death. The most quoted account of the following events comes from the Boston News-Letter. (Other, more direct, accounts included the letters of Maynard himself and those of his commanding officers.)
Maynard and Teach themselves begun the fight with their swords, Maynard making a thrust, the point of his sword against Teach's cartridge box, and bent it to the hilt. Teach broke the guard of it, and wounded Maynard's fingers but did not disable him, whereupon he jumped back and threw away his sword and fired his pistol which wounded Teach. Abraham Demelt struck in between them with his sword and cut Teach's face; in the interim both companies engaged in Maynard's sloop. Later during the battle, while Teach was loading his pistol he finally died from blood loss. Maynard then cut off his head and hung it from his bow.
Despite the best efforts of the pirates (including a desperate plan to blow up the Adventure), Teach was killed, and the battle ended. Teach was reportedly shot five times and stabbed more than twenty times before he died and was decapitated. Legends about his death immediately sprang up, including the oft-repeated claim that Teach's headless body, after being thrown overboard, swam between 2 and 7 times around the Adventure before sinking. Teach's head was placed as a trophy on the bowsprit of the ship (it was also required by Maynard to claim his prize when he returned home). After the sheer terror of the battle with the pirates, and the wounds that the crew received, Maynard still only acquired his meager prize of £100 from Spotswood. Teach's head was placed on a pike or pole on the north shore of the Hampton River in Virginia, at a place now called Blackbeard's Point, as a warning to other sailors who thought of taking up piracy.Legend
History has romanticised Blackbeard. Popular contemporary engravings show him with the smoking ends of his pigtails or with lit cannon fuses in his hair and pistols in his bandoliers, and he has been the subject of books, movies, and documentaries. Hampton, Virginia holds an annual Blackbeard Festival. The crew of the modern day British warship HMS Ranger commemorate his defeat at the annual Sussex University Royal Naval Unit Blackbeard Night mess dinner in November.
Another legend in coastal North Carolina holds that Captain Teach's skull was used as the basis for a silver drinking chalice. A North Carolina judge claimed to have drunk from it one night in the 1930s at a closed dinner with a university student.
Teach was prone to burying treasure. He would allegedly take a treasure chest ashore with one sailor in a small boat, and return alone. The sailor's corpse was said to lie atop the chest in the excavation to discourage the squeamish from continuing the treasure hunt.In times as difficult as the American Revolution, people commonly dug along the beaches in search of hidden treasure. In 1996 a wreck believed to be Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge was discovered near Beaufort, North Carolina. It is now part of a major tourist attraction.
Blackbeard was thought to have fourteen "wives" throughout his life, living on various islands, as well as a wife and son in England.Historical evidence
In 1723, the book A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates was written by a Captain Charles Johnson, sometimes attributed to Daniel Defoe. This book describes the adventures of various pirates besides Edward Teach: e.g., Anne Bonny and Mary Read. The General Historie's descriptions, which have found their way into serious histories, are a mixture of historical evidence and fiction woven together in a way so complex that it is nearly impossible to divide them again.
The problem appears especially in the case of Edward Teach's life and appearance. The description of the burning matches in his beard is in a literary style that uses dramatic descriptions to make a person more interesting-a style closely connected to Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe. The earlier mentioned battle with HMS Scarborough lacks evidence in the warship's log. Other incidents, e.g., the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, appear in other sources.
The remains of Edward Salter, suspected to be one of Blackbeard's crew, have been found and are undergoing identification.