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Edward Teach/Thatch
c. 1680 - November 22, 1718
Blackbeard (c. 1734 engraving)
Nickname: Blackbeard
Place of birth: Bristol, England
Place of death: Ocracoke, North Carolina
Years active: 1713–1718
Rank: Captain
Commands: Queen Anne's Revenge, Adventure

Edward Teach or Edward Thatch (c. 1680 – November 22, 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies during the early 1700s.

Teach was most likely born in Bristol, England. Little is known about his early life, but he probably joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold in 1716, a pirate who operated from the Caribbean island of New Providence. He quickly gained his own ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, and from 1717–1718 became a notorious and feared pirate. His cognomen was derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance; he was reported to have tied lit fuses under his hat to frighten his enemies.

After separating from Hornigold, Teach formed an alliance of pirates, and with his cohorts blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. After successfully ransoming the port's inhabitants, he reportedly ran his ship aground, left with a small crew, and accepted a royal pardon. He was soon back at sea however, and attracted the attention of the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood. Spotswood arranged for a party of soldiers and sailors to find and capture the pirate, which they did on 22 November 1718. During a ferocious battle, Teach was killed by a small force of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

A shrewd businessman, Teach used his fearsome image instead of force to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day image of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews, and there are no known accounts of him ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive. He was romanticised after his death, and became the inspiration for a number of pirate-themed works of fiction across a range of genres.


Early life

Little is known about Blackbeard's early life. It is commonly believed that at the time of his death he was between 35 and 40, and thus born in about 1680.[1][2] In contemporary records his name is most often given as either Blackbeard or Edward Teach, and it is the latter which today is most often used, but several spellings of his surname exist—Thatch, Thach, Thache, Thack, Tack, Thatche, and Theach. Other historians have suggested that his surname was Drummond, but the lack of any supporting documentation makes this unlikely. It was the custom of pirates to use fictitious surnames while engaging in the business of piracy, so as not to tarnish the family name, and Teach's real name will likely never be known.[3][4]

The 17th-century rise of England's American colonies and the rapid 18th-century expansion of the Atlantic slave trade had made Bristol an important international sea port, and Teach was most likely raised in what, at the time, was the second-largest city in England. Teach could almost certainly read and write; he communicated with merchants, and on his death had in his possession a letter addressed to him by the Chief Justice and Secretary of the Province of Carolina, Tobias Knight. He may therefore have been born into a respectable, wealthy family.[5] The 18th-century author Charles Johnson claimed that Teach was for some time a sailer operating from Jamaica on privateer ships during Queen Anne's War, and that "he had often distinguished himself for his uncommon boldness and personal courage".[6] At what point during the war Teach joined the fighting is, however, unknown.[7]

New Providence

The West Indies was the setting for a great many maritime incidents during the 17th and 18th centuries. The privateer Henry Jennings and his followers had early in the 18th century decided to use the then empty island of New Providence as a base for their operations; the island was within easy reach of the Florida Strait and its busy shipping lanes filled with European vessels going to and from Europe. New Providence's harbour could easily accommodate hundreds of ships, and was too shallow for the Royal Navy's larger vessels. The island then was not the popular tourist destination it is now; the author George Woodbury described it as "no city of homes; it was a place of temporary sojourn and refreshment for a literally floating population," continuing, "The only permanent residents were the piratical camp followers, the traders, and the hangers-on; all others were transient."[8] Law and order was unheard of; in New Providence the pirates found a welcome respite.[9]

Teach 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 along with most of those who had been privateers during the war, became involved in piracy. At New Providence, possibly about 1716, Teach joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold was a renowned pirate who operated from the safe waters of New Providence, and in 1716 he placed Teach in charge of a sloop he had taken as a prize.[10] In spring 1717, Hornigold and Teach, each captaining a sloop, set out for the mainland. They captured a boat from Havana carrying 120 barrels of flour, and shortly thereafter took 100 barrels of wine from a sloop from Bermuda. A few days later they stopped a vessel sailing from Madeira to Charlestown in South Carolina. Teach and his quartermaster, William Howard, may at this time have been struggling to control their crews, as on 29 September near Cape Charles all they took from the Betty of Virginia was her cargo of Madeira wine, before she was scuttled along with her nonpotable cargo.[11] The sloops Robert of Philadelphia and Good Intent of Dublin were stopped on 22 October 1717, and their cargo holds emptied.[12]

It was during this cruise with Hornigold that the earliest known report of Teach was made—recorded as a pirate in his own right, in command of a large crew. In a report made by a Captain Mathew Munthe on an anti-piracy patrol for North Carolina, "Thatch" was described as operating "a sloop 6 gunns [sic] and about 70 men".[13]

Shortly after (probably the latter part of 1717), Hornigold and Teach attacked a merchant vessel flying a French flag, off the coast of Saint Vincent. They each fired a broadside across the vessel's bulwarks, killing several of its crew, and forcing its captain to surrender. The ship turned out to be the Concord of Saint-Malo, a large French guineaman carrying a rich cargo of gold dust, money, plate, jewels, and other goods. The ship was Dutch-built, and the attack had caused little damage to her hull, but Teach admired the vessel and Hornigold agreed to his request to claim her as a prize, and to be charged with its command.[14] At about the same time, Hornigold decided to retire from piracy. The two never met again, and along with many of the other occupants of New Providence, Hornigold later accepted the King's pardon from Woodes Rogers in June 1718.[15]

Teach the pirate

Blackbeard (18th-century lithograph)

Teach immediately renamed the Concord the Queen Anne's Revenge, and equipped her with 40 guns. With a crew of 300 sailors, some of whom had served under her previous captain, Teach attacked the Great Allen, near Saint Vincent. A large and well-armed merchant ship, she was forced to surrender after a lengthy engagement with Teach's vessel. The Great Allen was ordered to move closer to the shore of Saint Vincent where her crew could be disembarked, and her cargo holds were emptied. The ship was then burned and sunk, to the sound later that evening of the crew of the Queen Anne's Revenge's merriment. News of the Great Allen's fate spread throughout the Caribbean, making Teach notorious.[16]

The Queen Anne's Revenge may then have fought a running duel with the British 30-gun man-of-war HMS Scarborough, however, neither the log of the Scarborough nor the letters of its captain mention such an encounter; historian Colin Woodard believes that 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.[17] Whatever the truth of the matter, both the Scarborough and Queen Anne's Revenge escaped from the battle.[18]

So our hero, Captain Teach, assumed the cognomen of Blackbeard, from that large quantity of hair which, like a frightful meteor, covered his whole face and frightened America more than any comet that has appeared there a long time. This beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant length; as to breadth, it came up to his eyes. He was accustomed to twist it with ribbons, in small tails, after the manner of our Ramillies wigs, and turn them about his ears.

Teach's cognomen, Blackbeard, was derived from his thick black beard, which he braided into pigtails, sometimes tied in with small coloured ribbons. Johnson (1724) described Teach as "such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury from hell to look more frightful." Whether Johnson's description of Teach was entirely truthful (or simply 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.[20] 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-coloured silk or velvet. Johnson also described Teach in times of battle as wearing "a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters, like bandoliers; and struck lighted matches under his hat",[nb 1] the latter apparently to emphasise the fearsome appearance he wished to present to his enemies.[19][22] Despite his ferocious reputation however, there are no verified accounts of his ever having murdered or harmed those he held captive.[nb 2]

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 Margaret was ransacked. Bostock, who had been held aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, was returned to his sloop, and with his crew allowed to leave, unharmed.[25] Bostock 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 explaining the encounter. Bostock's deposition details Teach's command of two vessels: a sloop, and a large French guineaman, 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 the Great Allen. Teach's crew 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. Teach questioned Bostock about the movements of local ships, but seemed unsurprised when Bostock told him of an expected royal pardon, for all pirates, from London.[26]

Enlargement of Teach's fleet

Teach may have accepted a royal pardon in January 1718.[nb 3] Pardons were often made when England was on the verge of war; the services of pirates were a valuable commodity at such times. Teach may have understood this, and surrendered to a pardon of 5 September 1717. The proclamation offered rewards to those persons who captured pirates who refused to surrender, covered incidences of murder committed during acts of piracy, and allowed those who had suffered the theft of their property the right to recover their goods—but only through legal channels. Teach therefore would have been under no obligation to surrender his loot to the Crown. According to author Robert Lee, if Teach did surrender, the Queen Anne's Revenge would likely have been anchored at Ocracoke Inlet, from which place he would have travelled to Bath, North Carolina.[27]

By March 1718 however, Teach was back on the open sea near the Bay of Honduras, where he encountered Stede Bonnet's sloop Revenge. Bonnet, a landowner and military officer from a wealthy family, had turned to piracy in 1717. His crew of about 70  were reportedly dissatisfied with Bonnet's command, and Teach suspected the latter was too inexperienced to be an effective pirate. After a few days therefore—and with Bonnet's permission—Teach took control of the Revenge, placing his second-in-command in charge. While taking on water at Turneffe Island, both ships spotted the Adventure (a sloop from Jamaica) making for the harbour. The boat was quickly stopped and its captain, David Harriot, invited to join the pirates. Harriot and his crew agreed; half of the Adventure's crew stayed aboard, and the other half moved to the Queen Anne's Revenge.[28]

On 9 April 1718 Teach's enlarged fleet of ships entered the Bay of Honduras, where they looted and burnt the Protestant Caesar. His flotilla then sailed to Grand Cayman where they captured a "small turtler", before putting in to the port of Havana to sell their loot and replenish their stores.[29]

Blockade of Charleston

Toward the end of May 1718, Teach's flotilla of ships blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. By now he had awarded himself the rank of Commodore, and was at the height of his power. All vessels entering or leaving the port were stopped. Charleston's 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 Charleston Bar, where Teach's fleet was anchored. One of these, headed for London with a group of prominent Charleston citizens which included Samuel Wragg (a member of the Council of the Province of Carolina), was the Crowley. Its passengers were questioned about the vessels still in port, before being 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 the prisoners would be executed, their heads sent to the Governor, and that all captured ships would be burnt.[30]

Wragg agreed to Teach's demands. A Mr Marks and two pirates were given two days to collect the drugs, and Teach moved his fleet, and the captured ships, about five or six leagues from land. After three days, a messenger, sent by Marks, returned to the fleet; Marks's boat had capsized and delayed their arrival in Charleston. Teach granted a reprieve of two days, but still the party did not return. Teach called a meeting of his fellow sailors, and eight ships were moved into the harbour. General panic within the town ensued, before Marks's small boat finally approached the fleet. Marks had presented the pirates' demands to the Governor, and the drugs were quickly gathered. Marks's escort, however, had not been so easy to find; they had been busy drinking with friends and were finally discovered, drunk.[31]

Teach kept to his side of the bargain, and released the captured ships and his prisoners—albeit both relieved of all valuables, including the fine clothing worn by some of the captives.[32]

Beaufort Inlet

Whilst at Charleston, Teach had learnt that Woodes Rogers had left England with several men-of-war, with orders to purge the West Indies of pirates. Teach's flotilla of ships sailed northward along the Atlantic coast, and into Topsail Inlet (commonly known as Beaufort Inlet), on the coast of North Carolina, to careen the ships for the purpose of scraping their hulls. The Queen Anne's Revenge aground on a sandbar, cracking her main-mast, and severely damaging many of her timbers. Teach then ordered several sloops to throw ropes across the flagship in an attempt to free her from the obstruction. One of the sloops, commanded by Israel Hands of the Adventure, also ran aground; both vessels appeared to be damaged beyond repair.[33]

Taking a small compliment of his original crew, Bonnet left immediately for Bath where he surrendered to Governor Charles Eden and received his pardon. He then travelled back to Beaufort Inlet to collect the Revenge and the remainder of his crew, intending to sail to Saint Thomas Island where he would receive his commission. Unfortunately for them, Teach had stripped the vessel of all its valuables and provisions; Bonnet set out for revenge, but was unable to find Teach. He and his crew were captured on 27 September 1718 at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and all but four of those caught were later tried and hanged in Charleston. The captured Revenge was later part of a fleet of ships commanded by the Governor of South Carolina, which made a ferocious attack on a group of pirates near the entrance to Charleston Harbour, resulting in the execution of 49 pirates inside a month. Their bodies were hung in gibbets near White Point.[34]

The author Robert Lee surmised that Teach and Hands ran both ships aground on purpose, to reduce the crew compliment of the fleet and therefore increase their share of the spoils. During the trial of Bonnet's crew the Revenge's boatswain Ignatius Pell testified that "the ship was run ashore and lost, which Thatch [Teach] caused to be done."[35] Lee also considers it plausible that Teach let Bonnet in on his plan, which was to accept a pardon from Governor Charles Eden, of North Carolina. He suggested Bonnet do the same, and consider taking a privateer's commission from England in prospect of a threatened war between the Quadruple Alliance of 1718 and Spain. Teach offered Bonnet the return of his ship, the Revenge.[36] In 1997, the supposed location of the Queen Anne's Revenge was searched, and a wreck was found and excavated.[37]


A map of the area around Ocracoke Inlet, 1775

Before sailing northward to Ocracoke Inlet, Teach marooned about 25 men (presumably they had guessed their captain's plans, and had protested) on a small sandy island about a league from the mainland. He continued on to Bath, where in June 1718—only days after Bonnet had departed with his pardon—he and his crew received their pardon from Governor Charles Eden.[38]

Teach settled in Bath, on the eastern side of Bath Creek at Plum Point, near the home of Governor Eden.[39] He turned to a life of leisure, converted his sloop into a yacht, and with a small crew sailed the inland waterways of North Carolina, occasionally heading out to sea. He married the daughter of a local plantation owner but seemed dissatisfied with the quiet life, and soon returned to piracy, selling what he stole in Bath.[40] Teach was given official title to the Adventure, and sailed out to sea soon after. He travelled to Philadelphia, then the largest city in colonial America. Teach had visited the city before and was well-known there, but upon his arrival he was informed that on 11 August 1718 the Governor had reported to his Council the issuance of a warrant for his arrest. Teach and his crew soon left, pursued by two sloops sent out by the Governor. Teach may then have sailed to Bermuda, encountering several English ships along the way (taking only provisions from them), and toward the end of August capturing a French vessel bound for Martinique.[nb 4][42]

In September 1718 Teach and four of his crew told Governor Eden that he had found the French ship at sea, deserted. A Vice Admiralty Court was quickly convened, presided over by Tobias Knight and the Collector of Customs. The ship was judged as a derelict found at sea, 20 hogsheads of sugar were awarded to Knight, and sixty to Eden; Teach and his crew were given the rest of the boat's cargo.[43]

Ocracoke Inlet was Teach's favourite anchorage. It was a perfect location from which to view ships travelling between the settlements of northeast Carolina, and it was from this vantage point that Teach first spotted the approaching ship of another English pirate, Charles Vane. Vane had rejected the pardon brought by Woodes Rogers, and escaped the men-of-war the English Captain brought with him to Nassau, on 26 July 1718. He had also been pursued by Benjamin Hornigold (Teach's old commander, now turned pirate-hunter). The two captains spent several nights on the southern tip of Ocracoke Island, accompanied by such celebrities as Israel Hands, Robert Deal, and Calico Jack, with Teach as host.[44]

Alexander Spotswood

Alexander Spotswood, Governor of Virginia, became concerned that the supposedly retired freebooter and his crew were living in nearby North Carolina. 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 Carolinans to control the pirates, some of whom had already moved to several Virginian seaport towns. He suspected that as soon as their money ran out, they would be back to their old ways, disrupting the commercial activities of sea-faring Virginians. On 10 July 1718 he issued a proclamation 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.[45]

Spotswood was facing a personal crisis of his own, with the House of Burgesses and his Council trying to remove him from office. He learnt that the former quartermaster of the Queen Anne's Revenge, William Howard, was in the area, and believing that he might know of Teach's whereabouts, had him and two Negro slaves he had captured, arrested. However, Spotswood had no legal authority to have pirates tried,[nb 5] and Howard's attorney, John Holloway, had several people arrested: the Justice of the Peace who had signed the arrest warrant, and Captain George Gordon and Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the man-of-war Pearl (where Howard was locked up). Holloway sued for damages of £500, claiming wrongful arrest. Spotswood instituted criminal proceedings against Howard, who was not allowed trial by jury.[46] Howard was sent to await trial before a Court of Vice-Admiralty on the charge of piracy, but two of the captains asked to sit as judges refused to serve with Holloway, as he was involved in the civil action also involving Howard. Holloway was replaced by the Attorney General of Virginia, John Clayton, who Spotswood described as "an honester man [than Holloway]". Howard was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, but was however saved by a commission from London which directed Spotswood to pardon all acts of piracy committed by surrendering pirates before 23 July 1718.[47]

Spotswood obtained from Howard valuable information on the whereabouts of Teach.[48] He planned to send his forces across the border into North Carolina, and capture him.[49] Spotswood 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 George Gordon and Ellis Brand of the Pearl and the Lyme to travel overland to Bath, and Maynard (of the Pearl) was placed in command of two sloops which would approach the town by water. Extra incentive for Teach's capture was given by the offer of a reward from the Assembly of Virginia, over and above any that might be received from the Crown.[50]

Spotswood's two armed sloops sailed out from Kecoughtan, along the James River, on 11 November. They moved slowly, to allow Brand's force to reach Bath. Brand set out for North Carolina six days later, arriving within three miles of Bath on 23 November. They had with them Colonel Moore and Captain Jeremiah Vail, along with a number of other North Carolinians, to dissuade the locals from objecting to the presence of foreign soldiers. Moore went into the town to see if Teach was there, and reported back that he was not, but 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 had transpired.[51]

Last battle

Maynard found the pirates anchored on the inner side of Ocracoke Island, on the evening of 21 November.[52] He had ascertained their position from ships he had stopped, 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 out to sea.[53]

The Adventure now had a much-reduced crew. Johnson (1724) reported that he had "no more than twenty-five men on board", and that Teach "gave out to all the vessels that he spoke with that he had forty".[54] "Thirteen white and six Negroes", was the number later reported by Brand to the Admiralty.[55] The attacking force had 58 men—the 2 pilots, 32 men under Maynard's command, and 22 under Hyde's. A small boat was sent out at daybreak, and was fired upon as soon as it came within range of the Adventure. The boat made a quick retreat and was hauled back onto the sloop, and Maynard raised the Union Flag. The Adventure now closed in, and Hyde moved his sloop to the port side of Maynard's vessel. Maynard's crew attacked Teach's ship with small arms fire, while the rest attended to the oars. The Adventure then turned toward the beach of Ocracoke Island, heading for a narrow channel. Maynard's group continued to close the gap, but as they aimed for the channel they hit a sandbar in the shallow waters, and were grounded.[56]

Damn you for villains, who are you? And from whence came you? The Lieutenant made him answer, You may see by our colours we are no pirates. Black-beard bid him send his boat on board, that he might see who he was: but Mr Maynard replied thus, I cannot spare my boat, but I will come aboard of you as soon as I can, with my sloop. Upon this, Black-beard took a glass of liquor, and drank to him with these words: Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarter or take any from you. In answer to which Mr Maynard told him That he expected no quarter from him, nor should he give any.

Reported exchange of views between Teach and Maynard[57][nb 6]

The sloops' crews set about trying to free the two vessels, as the Adventure turned her guns on the two ships, and fired. The force of Teach's eight-cannon broadside pushed the Adventure onto the sand, and she too became stuck. Her crew immediately set about trying to re-float the ship, but Maynard had much more serious problems; Teach's broadside had wounded or killed about 20 of his crew, and 9 on Hyde's vessel. Hyde himself was dead, and his second and third officers were either dead or seriously injured. His sloop was so badly damaged that it played no further role in the attack.[59]

Maynard ordered his men to empty all barrels of water, and to jettison any ballast. His sloop was then able to move free of the sandbar, and again approached the Adventure. The Lieutenant ordered his crew below deck, and in anticipation of being boarded told them to prepare for close fighting. Teach watched as the sloop drew closer, and ordered his men to be ready. Several grenades, made from powder and shot-filled bottles and ignited by fuses, broke across the sloop's deck. As the smoke cleared, Teach ordered his men aboard, buoyant at the sight of Maynard's apparently empty ship. The two vessels contacted one another as the Adventure's grappling hooks hit their target, and Teach was the first aboard—followed closely by a further ten pirates, who fired at anything that moved.[60]

Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Maynard and his crew burst from the hold, shouting and firing. The plan to surprise Teach and his crew worked; the pirates were apparently taken aback at his 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 pistols at each other; Teach's shot missed, but Maynard hit his target. Teach continued to fight however, and managed to break Maynard's sword with his cutlass. 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, Teach was then attacked by several more of Maynard's crew, and killed. The remaining pirates quickly surrendered. Those left on the Adventure were captured by the crew of the other sloop, 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. Captain Brand reported that 10 pirates and 11 of Maynard's men were killed. Spotswood claimed ten pirates dead, and ten of the King's men.[61]

Edward Teach's severed head, hanging from Maynard's bowsprit

Maynard later examined Teach's body, and noted that he had been shot no fewer than five times, and had about twenty severe cuts on his body. He also found several items of correspondence, including a letter to the pirate from Tobias Knight. His decapitated corpse was then thrown into the inlet, and his head suspended from the bowsprit of Maynard's sloop (to enable the reward to be collected).[62]


Maynard remained on Ocracoke Island for several weeks. Teach's loot—sugar, cocoa, indigo, and cotton—found "in pirate sloops and ashore in a tent where the sloops lay", was sold at auction along with sugar and cotton found in Tobias Knight's barn, for £2,238. Maynard and Brace did not leave North Carolina until at least late December,[63] and the two companies did not receive their reward for another four years.[64]

Eden was doubtless embarrassed by Spotswood's invasion of North Carolina.[65] The province issued a plea requesting that the Teach's goods be returned; it was overruled, and Brand was threatened with a lawsuit for trespass. Spotswood defended his actions, writing to Lord Carteret, a shareholder of the Province of Carolina, that he might benefit from the sale of the seized property and reminding the Earl of the number of Virginians who had died to protect his interests. He defended the secrecy of the operation by suggesting that Governor Eden "could contribute nothing to the Success of the Design", and told Eden that his authority to capture the pirates came from the king. Lee (2002) concludes that although Spotswood may have thought that the ends justified the means, he had no legal authority to invade North Carolina, to capture the pirates, and to seize and auction their goods.[66]

The remainder of Teach's crew and former associates were found in Bath,[63] and were transported to Williamsburg, Virginia, where they were jailed on charges of piracy. Several of the pirates were black, and Spotswood asked his council if anything could be done about "the Circumstances of these Negroes to exempt them from undergoing the same Tryal as other pirates." The Council considered the request but decided that they should stand trial with the others. The trial, under admiralty law, took place on 12 March 1719, in Williamsburg's Capitol building. No records of the trial remain, but 14 of those accused were found guilty; one was found not guilty, having proven that although he had partaken of the fight out of necessity, he had been on Teach's ship only as a guest at a drinking party the night before, and was not a pirate. Israel Hands, not present at the fight, was also found guilty, but was saved by a general prolongation of King George's pardon. The remaining 13 pirates were left to rot in gibbets along Williamsburg's Capitol Landing Road (later known as Gallows Road).[67]

Tobias Knight, Chief Justice and Secretary of the Province of Carolina, was tried on 27 May 1719, as Teach's accomplice. Israel Hands had, weeks earlier, testified that Knight had been on board the Adventure in August 1718, shortly after Teach had brought a French ship to North Carolina as a prize. Four pirates had testified that with Teach, they had visited Knight's home to give him presents. This testimony and the letter found on Teach's body by Maynard appeared compelling, but Knight produced a strong witness for his defence, and was acquitted of all charges.[68]

Modern view

We normally think about pirates as sort of blood-lusting, that they want to slash somebody to pieces. [It's probably more likely that] a pirate, just like a normal person, would probably rather not have killed someone, but pirates knew that if that person resisted them and they didn't do something about it, their reputation and thus their brand name would be impaired. So you can imagine a pirate rather reluctantly engaging in this behavior as a way of preserving that reputation.

Peter Leeson[69]

Although most contemporary authors described their subjects as despicable rogues of the sea, the view of the authorities could often be quite different. Privateers who became pirates were generally considered by the English government to be reserve forces, and were sometimes given active encouragement. As far back as 1545 Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth when he returned to England from a round-the-world expedition, with plunder worth an estimated £1,500,000.[70] Royal pardons were regularly issued, usually when England was on the verge of going to war. Public sentiment was often on the side of the pirates also, many considering them to be akin to tutelary saints.[71] Economist Peter Leeson at the University of Chicago believes that pirates were generally shrewd businessmen, far removed from the modern romanticised view of them as murderous tyrants.[69] After Woodes Rogers landed in 1718 at New Providence and succeeded in putting an end to the former pirate republic however, piracy in the West Indies fell into terminal decline. With no easily accessible outlet to fence their stolen goods, pirates were reduced to a subsistence livelihood. Following almost a century of naval warfare between the British, French, and Spanish—during which sailors could find easy employment—lone privateers became easily outnumbered by the powerful ships employed by the British Empire to defend its merchant fleets. The popularity of the slave trade helped bring to an end the frontier condition of the West Indies, and under such circumstances, piracy could no longer flourish as it once did.[72]

Since the end of this so-called golden age of piracy, Teach and his exploits have become the stuff of lore, inspiring books, films, and amusement park rides. Much of what is known about him can be sourced to Charles Johnson's A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, published in Britain in 1724.[73] A recognised authority on the pirates of his time, Johnson's descriptions of such figures as Anne Bonny and Mary Read were for years required reading for those interested in the subject of piracy.[74] His description of Teach (by then dead for six years) proved popular, and the pirate Blackbeard has since remained at the forefront of the public's imagination. Readers were titillated by these stories, and a section edition was quickly published, however author Angus Konstam suspects that "his version of Blackbeard's life was coloured a little to make a more sensational story." A General Historie is, however, generally considered to be a reliable source.[58][75] Johnson may have been an assumed alias. Lee (2002) considers that whoever the author was, he had some access to official correspondence; his accounts have been corroborated in personal and official dispatches.[74] Konstam speculates further, suggesting that Johnson may have been the English playwright Charles Johnson, the British publisher Charles Rivington, or the writer Daniel Defoe.[75] In his 1951 work The Great Days of Piracy, author George Woodbury wrote that Johnson is "obviously a pseudonym", continuing "one cannot help suspecting that he may have been a pirate himself."[76]

Teach was reputedly wed on fourteen occasions, but his marriage in 1718 to the sixteen-year-old daughter of a Bath county planter, the service conducted by Governor Eden, is the only one that was formalised.[77] There are no records of any children from the marriage, and Teach was killed several months later. His wife's name is not known for certain, although tradition claims that she was called Mary Porter.[78] Johnson claimed that Teach prostituted her: "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."[79] Most records of Teach's treatment of those who suffered his exploits, however, seem to cast doubt on such allegations,[80] although contemporary newspaper reports held Teach responsible for some notable instances of cruelty. One story claimed he shot his first mate: "if he didn’t shoot one or two crewmen now and then, they'd forget who he was." Another reported that while drunk, Teach said to his crew "let us make a hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it", and filled several pots with brimstone. Once the contents were on fire, all except Teach scrambled out for fresh air. The pirate then emerged, and said "damn ye, ye yellow-bellied sapsuckers! I'm a better man than all ye milksops put together!"[81]

Despite his infamy, Teach was not the most successful of pirates. Henry Every captured a fortune and retired on the proceeds, and Bartholomew Roberts stole an estimated five times what Teach did.[82] Since his death however, treasure hunters have long busied themselves searching for any trace of his rumoured hoard of gold and silver, to no avail. Nothing found in the numerous explored sites along the east coast of the US has ever been connected to Teach. Some tales suggest that pirates often killed a prisoner on the spot where they buried their loot, and Teach is no exception in these stories,[83] but that no finds have been made is not exceptional—buried pirate treasure is often considered a modern myth for which almost no supporting evidence exists. In the available records about pirates there is nothing to suggest that they ever buried treasure, except in the imaginations of the writers of such fictional accounts as Treasure Island. Such hoards would necessitate a wealthy owner, and their supposed existence ignores the command structure of a pirate vessel, in which the crew often served by free suffrage.[84]

Various stories of Teach's ghost exist, spread by the credulous. Unexplainable lights at sea are often referred to as "Teach's light", and some recitals claim that the notorious pirate now roams the afterlife searching for his head, for fear that his friends, and the Devil, will not recognise him.[85] A North Carolinian tale holds that Teach's skull was used as the basis for a silver drinking chalice. A North Carolina judge claimed to have drank from it one night in the 1930s.[86]

Blackbeard's name and persona have featured heavily in literature. He is the main subject in Matilda Douglas's fictional 1835 work Blackbeard: A page from the colonial history of Philadelphia.[87] In Gregory Keyes' work of fiction, The Age of Unreason, Blackbeard appears as the governor of a colony, and Tim Powers' 1988 novel On Stranger Tides sees him building an navy of pirates for a quest. Teach appeared as the enemy of the comic series Fantastic Four, and Spider-man.[citation needed] Film renditions include Anne of the Indies (1951), Blackbeard the Pirate (1952), Blackbeard's Ghost (1968), Blackbeard: Terror at Sea (2005), and the 2006 Hallmark Channel miniseries Blackbeard.[citation needed] His cognomen is also used in several amusement parks and rides, such as Blackbeard's Cove in Charleston.[88]

See also


  1. ^ Lee (2002) describes these matches as "fuses made of hemp cord about the thickness of a pencil and dipped in a solution of saltpeter and lime water."[21]
  2. ^ For Teach, at least, this policy paid off. According to historian Angus Konstam, until Teach's final battle with HMS Pearl, he had not so much as killed a single man.[23] According to economist Peter Leeson at the University of Chicago, he apparently did not need to.[24]
  3. ^ Owing to the use of the Julian Calendar by England, January 1717 would, after 1752, be written as January 1718. All dates in this article are presented in the old-style calendar.
  4. ^ Lee (2002) theorises that this vessel, whose crew was transferred to another French ship, was taken to North Carolina, and kept in a cove at Ocracoke Inlet.[41]
  5. ^ Colonial Governers were given the power to try pirates outside England by their monarch, but that authority was said to have ended with the death of that monarch. Spotswood did not receive a new commission, from George I, until December 1718.
  6. ^ No separate account of this exchange exists, and Johnson's account may be considered a literary decoration.[58]
  1. ^ Perry 2006, p. 14
  2. ^ Konstam 2007, pp. 10–12
  3. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 3–4
  4. ^ Wood, Peter H (2004), "Teach, Edward [Blackbeard (d. 1718)"], Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press),, retrieved 2009-06-09 
  5. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 4–5
  6. ^ Johnson 1724, p. 45
  7. ^ Lee 2002, p. 9
  8. ^ Woodbury 1951, pp. 71–72
  9. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 9–11
  10. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 11–12
  11. ^ Konstam 2007, pp. 68–69
  12. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 13–14
  13. ^ Konstam 2007, p. 64
  14. ^ Lee 2002, p. 14
  15. ^ Woodbury 1951, p. 155
  16. ^ Lee 2002, p. 18
  17. ^ Woodard 2007, pp. 222–223
  18. ^ Lee 2002, p. 19
  19. ^ a b Johnson 1724, p. 57
  20. ^ Konstam 2007, p. 155
  21. ^ Lee 2002, p. 21
  22. ^ Lee 2002, p. 20
  23. ^ Konstam 2007, p. 157
  24. ^ Leeson, Peter T. (2009), Pirational Choice: The Economics of Infamous Pirate Practices, p. 21, 
  25. ^ Konstam 2007, pp. 154–155
  26. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 27–28
  27. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 28–30
  28. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 30–33
  29. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 36–37
  30. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 39–42
  31. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 42–47
  32. ^ Lee 2002, p. 47
  33. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 50–51
  34. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 52–54
  35. ^ Cobbett, Howell & Howell 1816, p. 1249
  36. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 51–52
  37. ^ In Shipwreck Linked to Pirate, State Sees a Tourism Treasure, The New York Times, hosted at, 9 November 1997, p. 134, 
  38. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 52–53, 56
  39. ^ Lee 2002, p. 62
  40. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 74–75
  41. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 79–80
  42. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 77–80
  43. ^ Lee 2002, p. 80
  44. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 85, 88–90
  45. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 94–95
  46. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 98–101
  47. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 104–105
  48. ^ Lee 2002, p. 105
  49. ^ Lee 2002, p. 106
  50. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 108–110
  51. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 111–112
  52. ^ Woodard 2007, pp. 289–290
  53. ^ Lee 2002, p. 113
  54. ^ Johnson 1724, p. 52
  55. ^ Lee 2002, p. 210
  56. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 115–117
  57. ^ Johnson 1724, p. 53
  58. ^ a b Konstam 2007, p. 4
  59. ^ Lee 2002, p. 118
  60. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 119–120
  61. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 120–123
  62. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 122, 124
  63. ^ a b Lee 2002, pp. 125–126
  64. ^ Lee 2002, p. 139
  65. ^ Lee 2002, p. 127
  66. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 127–135
  67. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 136–138
  68. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 143–153
  69. ^ a b Matson, John (26 November 2008), What Would Blackbeard Do? Why Piracy Pays,, p. 2,, retrieved 20 February 2010 
  70. ^ Lee 2002, p. 5
  71. ^ Lee 2002, p. 168
  72. ^ Woodbury 1951, pp. 201–208
  73. ^ Woodard 2007, p. 325
  74. ^ a b Lee 2002, pp. 8–9
  75. ^ a b Konstam 2007, pp. 1–2
  76. ^ Woodbury 1051, p. 198
  77. ^ Lee 2002, pp. 24–25
  78. ^ Lee 2002, p. 74
  79. ^ Johnson 2009, p. 49
  80. ^ Woodard 2007, p. n/a
  81. ^ Pendered 1975, p. n/a
  82. ^ Konstam 2006, p. viii
  83. ^ Ross, I. (October 1974), Blackbeard, United States Naval Institute Proceedings, pp. 72–74 
  84. ^ Woodbury 1951, pp. 131–133
  85. ^ Lee 2002, p. 174
  86. ^ Whedbee 1989, pp. 32–33
  87. ^ Douglas 1835, p. 34
  88. ^ Blackbeard's Cove,, 2007, 

Further reading

  • Shomette, Donald G. (1985), Pirates on the Chesapeake: Being a True History of Pirates, Picaroons, and Raiders on Chesapeake Bay, 1610-1807, Maryland: Tidewater Publishers 

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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Proper noun




  1. The archetypal pirate, who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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