The REAL Blackbeard
Usually I prefer to write about historical figures I like or admire – or that were responsible for (or took part in) some great undertaking or event. Also many of you here have come to know me as someone that fervently defends Pirates, Piracy and that most famous era of the “Golden Age” within our beloved video game environs – BECAUSE – of all of the most excellent, brave, daring exploits, adventures and dramatic flair of the many heroic characters that took part. These elements simply make great story fodder and good stories make even better games.
However, today I write about a man that I do not admire or look up to in any way, shape or form, – and who never took part in any great event or endeavor. I write about this man simply because of his enduring fame, my continuing confusion about his modern popularity, and the “kiddie crowd”/our more youthful population’s uneducated and naïve admiration of this psychopath.
After all, who admires Charles Manson or any of the worst gang leaders currently in prison for numerous murders? Only the stupid or unbalanced I think.
On 22 November 1718, Eduard Drummond, (c. 1680 – 22 November 1718) alias Edward Tash, Tatch, Titch, (Edward Teach) known more famously and in modern-times as BLACKBEARD, was killed while fighting for his life aboard the Navy sloop HMS Pearl. This final fight was against Lieutenant Robert Maynard at Ocracoke Inlet on the North Carolina coast – just south of Cape Hatteras in what is now the United States. Blackbeard
Blackbeard was among the last of the hold outs from the dozens of privateer captains left over after the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession (“Queen Anne’s War” in America). The hold outs turned to piracy at wars end with thousands of unemployed seamen engorging their ranks. Nassau and the town of New Providence in the Bahamas became their protected piratical base. The Bahamas had been so viciously attacked over and over again by the Spanish and French during the war, that all legitimate inhabitants had quit trying to rebuild and moved on. Those left behind were the desperate and criminal elements. Soon these places became dens of pirates. There had not been a haven so well suited or populated since the so called “Pirate Republic” had been wiped out on Madagascar a few years before. Tortuga had also long since become legitimate by this time. Bermuda was (and is) known to have treacherous shallows and reefs surrounding a labyrinth of thousands of small islands – ideal for small craft making an escape or attempting to hide. Some historical estimates put the number of small pirate vessels haunting this area at above two thousand, between the years 1715-1730.
With pirates virtually wiped out in the east, and the slave trade abolished in northern waters, many of the traditional targets for pirates were now gone. Eastern convoys were always well guarded by man-o-war and/or frigate escorts – usually too big a bite to chew for these small timers. So these Bermuda based pirates turned their attentions to weakly defended merchant convoys or single merchantmen up and down the North American seaboard from Florida to Maine. They also still of course preyed upon shipping out of the Antilles and Jamaica as well.
Governors and merchants complained bitterly about the pirates to the Crown of Great Britain. These complaints fell on deaf and indifferent ears, even though insurance rates had skyrocketed. Finally many of the rich Yankee and British merchant interests formed together in an anti-piracy plan in conjunction with the Governors of the British North American colonies and blessed by the crown.
The idea was to forcefully take back the Bahamas and resettle them with a “legitimate and honest population”. At the same time pardons would be offered to all of the pirates. Those coming forward first would be granted privateering licenses to hunt down the ones that still hadn’t given themselves up. Several of Blackbeard’s closest acquaintances became “honest men” by taking these licenses, including Major Stede Bonnet (who as a rare exception was actually well educated and came from a good family) as well as Edward Teach’s former captain, Benjamin Hornigold.
The man charged with the arduous task of “taking back” the Bahamas was none other than Captain Woodes Rodgers, who in my opinion is one of the great unsung heroes of British naval history. Woodes Rogers
Most of the pirate captains stepped forward to take these government pardons. Those few hold outs that didn’t were now hunted. Among these – Blackbeard.
With the Bahamas now in British hands and teaming with privateers charged with hunting pirates, Blackbeard made his home base the town of Bath, North Carolina Bath NC on the Pamleco River right off the Pamleco Sound. This was still a good base and the narrow strait of Ocracoke just to the east was a tight choke point of sandbars and shoals that ships had to navigate to enter and exit the many inlaying North Carolina river towns. It also offered a vantage point of good defensible observation – of sails on the horizon moving north and south along the Carolina seaboard.
Blackbeard was popular among the corrupt customs collectors, harbormasters and merchants of the small Carolina towns that gladly bought his pirated goods and stores for half their worth. In the end Teach finally accepted a pardon from North Carolina’s Governor Eden. It is even rumored that he married a prominent merchant’s daughter or even Governor Eden’s daughter, however there is no proof of this.
If he did take a wife at this time, she would have been one of many. Blackbeard was a known bigamist noted in numerous contemporary accounts. Daniel Defoe (*the author of Robinson Crusoe and considered by many to be one of the fathers of the modern novel -writing over 500 books) notes in his “A General History of the Pyrates” written in 1724 – that Blackbeard had fourteen wives, the youngest who was 16 years old. Some of these women were said to live aboard ship and performed functions as part of the crew. Defoe makes a point of observing from accounts told by Blackbeard’s numerous surviving crew and acquaintances, that Blackbeard himself was a lascivious rake that after taking this young girl for himself would then order her to have relations with another half dozen of his crew while he watched.
At any rate the Governor’s “pardon” could not save him. He had outfitted his ships for “privateering” even though he himself was basically the last of the significant hold outs. A few days later he took two French merchantmen – even though all of the European powers were now at peace. One was taken and one abandoned and found as a derelict by an expedition hunting Blackbeard a few days later.
So badly did the Governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia want Blackbeard that they even sent a large body of armed militia into North Carolina to find him and seize his ships, crews and loot. This basically amounted to an invasion of North Carolina at the time because it had not been coordinated or approved by North Carolina’s governor. Obviously this expedition did not find him, because he was not in port.
He was finally found on 22 November 1718 at the Ocracoke Inlet by Lieutenant Maynard’s expedition. It came down to a sloop to sloop fight between Blackbeard’s Adventure and Maynard’s HMS Pearl.
Blackbeard actually had had real problems with the tide and sandbars that day and had become stuck waiting for a high tide. The wind was against Maynard for hours, but by the time the tide did rise Blackbeard was trapped, however the HMS Pearl under the Adventure’s constant gunnery had to struggle upwind to finally reach boarding distance. During this long amount of time both ships were clearly within earshot of one another hurling insults across the closing space of boggy water. This was somewhat of a blessing for the Adventure, as Blackbeard and his crew had been drinking and partying the whole night before and most were still drunk or badly hungover. Maynard was determined to get the pirate and even though 21 of his small crew of 35 had already been wounded by their drunken fire, he continued on – heaving ballast overboard and ordering all below that didn’t need to be on deck until it was time to board.
According to Defoe’s interview with Maynard, Blackbeard at this point yelled out “Damn you for villains who are you? And from whence you came?” At this Lieutenant Maynard ran up the British Ensign and loudly replied, “You can see by our colors we are no pirates!” Blackbeard then ran up the black flag in response and cut his cables to use the weather wind in his favor. He turned facing his opposite broadside on the second Navy sloop HMS Lyme commanded by Midshipman Baker. The vicious torrent of grapeshot killed Baker and half his crew. Blackbeard then headed for the Pearl.
As the Navy and Pirate sloop’s gunwales came together, Blackbeard’s crew hurled grenades filled with blackpowder, glass, musketshot and scrap iron onto the decks of the Pearl. Numerous explosions covered the ship. Luckily for the privateers, most of them were still below. Blackbeard deceived by the lack of movement aboard the enemy ship, believed he had killed or wounded the majority of the Navy crew – and so ordered his men to board the Pearl.
As Blackbeard and his men rushed aboard, Maynard ordered his men up from below. The crews clashed in savage combat and Maynard and Teach immediately came face to face shooting their pistols at one another from almost point blank range. Blackbeard missed, but Maynard’s shot went straight into Teach’s body. Maynard noted that Blackbeard was an imposing giant of a man and it was impossible to miss, but he was very surprised when he saw the bullet seemed to have no effect on the pirate. Backbeard animatedly “howled” and swung his cutlass breaking Maynard’s sword in two. Blackbeard reared his sword back to finish Maynard off when one of the Navy seamen sliced open his throat with his cutlass. Blackbeard turned with blood spirting down his chest and continued to fight loudly cursing and yelling insults. Another seamen cut him and still another shot him. Blackbeard pulled out another pistol and cocked it, but before he could fire off a shot, he collapsed to the deck like a great wounded beast. Blackbeard the pirate was dead.
Maynard noted that Blackbeard’s corpse had no less than 25 wounds – five from musket roundshot (bullet) holes in him and the rest from blades. Maynard ordered his head cut off and threw Teach’s headless body into the Ocracoke. Some legends say the headless body swam around the ship three times before it sank. Maynard had Blackbeard’s head prominently attached to the bowsprit so he could show the pirates demise – as well as to have proof of the deed – so he could collect the reward money back in port. Maynard suffered 10 dead and 25 wounded. The pirate crew had 9 survivors who were taken back to Virginia for trial. A better fate than would have befallen Maynard’s men if Blackbeard had won. He was known for taking no prisoners.
LOL Well that makes it really hard to explain how he became a headless zombie wandering about looking for his head who after years managed to find it and rebuild the broken up Queen Anne’s Revenge and then seek out the Fountain of Youth thirty two years after Ocracoke at a somewhat aged 70 years old. What can one say but…….YEAY – DISNEY – WHEEEEE!!!!
Defoe’s research and account of Blackbeard is quite fascinating, but serves to illustrate that the man was a complete psycopath and that is really why he is remembered today – I am convinced. For a pirate, his career was really fairly mediocre and lackluster. He is attributed with no more than 20 prizes. Truthfully he was a small-timer. Compare his record with the earlier “pirates” branded so by the powers they privateered against. Piet Heyn had hundreds of prizes to his name and was a beloved hero and savior of his homeland. Even at the end of the Age of Piracy in the 1720s, the last of the Great Pirates, Black Bart (Bartholomew Roberts) is attributed by some historians with over 400 prizes.
No I am convinced that Blackbeard is remembered for the same reasons the Emperor Caligula is. Caligula
Blackbeard’s story and reputation survived because of how he treated and dealt with those around him. He was a giant of a man that was known to have superior strength and constitution. He used these qualities to scare people and kept his crew loyal with fear. He was clearly a man who constantly indulged himself with sex and drink. He would slaughter the crews of the ships he took in unduly cruel ways that helped to tighten his strangle-hold of fear upon his own crew.
One story from Defoe’s account has Teach drinking below with two of his crewmen. He suddenly pulled out two pistols below the table. One of the crewmen immediately left the table moving up on deck. The other, Israel Hands, stayed to drink. Blackbeard suddenly blew out the candle lighting the chamber, he cocked the pistols and fired. Israel Hands was shot in the kneecap and crippled for life. When Blackbeard was asked why he would shoot his own men, he replied, “that if he did not now and then kill one of his crew, they would forget who he was”. *BTW they used that line in that last Disney movie sequel of Pirates of the Caribbean. I wanted to gouge out my eyes with a spoon and then gag myself with it.
Blackbeard was also known to be constantly competitive and loved games. This combined with his almost constant drunkenness and mental instability made for some dangerous games. Upon one occasion out on the open sea he yelled for the crew to make sport with him. He ordered them all below with a couple of pots of brimstone. When everyone was standing on the ballast he ordered the hatches closed and the brimstone lit afire. He wanted to see who could hold their breath the longest. As the smoke filled the lower deck a crewman finally gasped for air and begged for the hatches to be opened. Blackbeard ordered the hatches open and watched who emerged first to last. Convincing himself that he had won the game he came out from below last. When he emerged, one of his crew made the comment “Why Captain, you look like you were coming straight from the gallows.” Blackbeard replied, “My lad, the next time we shall play at gallows and see who can swing the longest on the string without being throttled.”
Love him or hate him he is the stuff of legend, but I must add that he never did anything to distinguish himself as even the slightest bit kindhearted on any occasion that is recorded. He was truly a villain. At least with many pirates, stories survive of some occasional kindnesses or chivalrous and brave deeds. One only look at William Dampier as a man that started out in piracy on a very similar life track to Teach, but went in a completely different dirrection. In fact I would propose that Dampier is an almost opposite of Blackbeard. William Dampier
Just to synch my argument water tight I will mention a couple of other items that have come up in arguments:
Some folks have reminded me that Blackbeard’s blockade of Charleston harbor was a significant act. While I will agree that it is a mildly audacious act lets think about it a little. Blackbeard would have had excellent intelligence about naval activity there. He would never have pulled that stunt if he knew there were British warships in the harbor. While Charleston was an important and bustling port in the area, it was still somewhat remote at the time and a backwater in comparison to ports further up the Atlantic seaboard. Also he was asking for medical supplies for Pete’s sake. Its not like he was trying to extort piles of Spanish gold. This act is not even on the same planet or worthy of comparison against Laurens De Graff’s sacking of Vera Cruz in 1683 or any of Henry Morgan’s raids.
Prisoners – No mercy or set them free: I have seen a lot of commentary the last few years saying that Blackbeard was not the bloodthirsty pirate we have come to know and love and must have let all of his prisoners go to build up such a great reputation. I am afraid to say that this is just not the case. All one need to look at is the derelict of a large French merchantman that the expedition hunting Blackbeard came upon. Not a man left alive aboard. “Dead men tell no tales”, and Blackbeard knew this was not a legal prize as Britain was not at war with the French at this time and Blackbeard was supposed to be “privateering” when he left Bath that last time.
So lets summarize: Blackbeard the pirate. Famous only because of Defoes account, catching his hair on fire and a catchy name. Known for navigating and running his ship aground and having to abandon it. (Recent scholarship has verified that this was not deliberate as some have theorized – as the wreck shows that ballast was moved to the rear of the ship in obvious attempts to refloat and save it), showmanship prone theatrics and nut-ball behavior and sexual deviance, and he only captured a couple dozen known prizes during his entire short career. Awesome!
Sorta like: Brut cologne from Faberge, a cheap as cologne with a fancy name. Blackbeard the pirate from Bristol eh, a cheap ass pirate with a revered name.
At any rate if any of you young pirate lovers read this far I hope you are a little better educated on this iconic pirate personality now. I would lastly make comment that…….. if Defoe had never written his famous account of Blackbeard, – I think people would have forgotten him long ago. He would hardly even be remembered now as dozens of others that were just like him and have been lost to history – probably even much meaner and blood-thirsty than Blackbeard ever was!
Aaron R. Shields A.K.A. MK
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