Old Sea Legends For Crew is our monthly blog that takes you through the lore and tales of the sea. In this article, we take a look at Blackbeard.

Blackbeard, whose presumed name was Edward Teach, is arguably the best-known pirate from the Golden Age of Piracy. This period of history stretched from the late 1600s to the mid-1720s. Reportedly, he served as a privateer during the War of Spanish Succession (1701 – 1713), and turned to piracy sometime after the war’s conclusion. In death, he lives on as an infamous pirate legend! 

Please note: There remains a lot of speculation – as well as theories and versions – about Blackbeard’s life and the exact details surrounding his piratical deeds.

Early Life & Pirating

During the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713), Blackbeard may have plundered Spanish ships in the West Indies for the British government.

After the war, under the instruction of pirate Captain Benjamin Hornigold, his privateering turned to piracy. Rising through the ranks due to his naval skill, Teach soon became a captain in his own right.

Image sourced from: Smithsonian Magazine

Queen Anne’s Revenge

In 1716, Captain Hornigold appointed Teach to command a captured sloop (a one-masted sailing boat with a mainsail and jib rigged fore and aft). A year later, Teach seized control of a frigate, possibly the stolen Concord, renamed La Concorde by French privateers who used it as a slave ship. Subsequently, Teach acquired the vessel and named it Queen Anne’s Revenge, his flagship.

In a year of active use, Teach sailed the ship to the Caribbean, capturing numerous vessels, expanding his fleet, and amassing wealth. With 40 guns and a 300-member crew, Queen Anne’s Revenge was unrivaled.

In 1718, Blackbeard deliberately sank the ship near Charleston, North Carolina, and transferred his crew to a smaller sloop called the Adventure.

In 1996, the wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered off Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

Image sourced from: ThoughtCo

His Frightening Notoriety

Blackbeard struck fear into those who encountered him, his intimidating presence highlighted by an immense black beard that reached his waist. To enhance his menacing image, Teach reportedly ignited fuses in his long hair, creating a wild and terrifying appearance.

As tales of his exploits circulated, a blend of truth and fiction emerged. Stories of torturing prisoners and unpredictably turning on his own crew circulated widely, providing an effective means for the pirate captain to maintain control and instill fear among both his crew and adversaries. After all, among other dastardly deeds:

  • He had a habit of shooting his crew: All 300 of his crew were hard-drinking pirates, likely to kick off at the slightest provocation. It was probably a task keeping them all in check, which is why Blackbeard started this habit.
  • He fired bags of glass, nails, & lead at enemy ships: In his desire to preserve a ship to loot it, he opted for a more ruthless approach. Blackbeard kept canvas bags filled with glass, nails, and lead on his ships, which he would load into his cannons instead.

In January 1718, Blackbeard established a base on Ocracoke Island off North Carolina, part of the British Colonies on the eastern seaboard. Here, he engaged in acts of piracy, including obtaining a royal pardon by bribing Governor Charles Eden and securing the title ‘privateer’ for legal justification.

In a bold move, Blackbeard blockaded Charlestown port in South Carolina with his fleet, plundering nine vessels over a week. Threatening beheadings and ship burnings, he coerced the colonial government into delivering medical supplies. The siege showcased Blackbeard as a formidable and ruthless leader, extending his notoriety beyond the sea and solidifying his reputation.

What Did His Flag Look Like?

Allegedly, his flag featured a depiction of a skeleton stabbing a heart with a spear, raising a glass to the Devil with the other hand. 

However, in more recent years there have been some challenges to this popular assertion. The flag very well might have resembled a jolly roger.

How Did He Meet His End?

Edward Teach met his demise on November 22, 1718.

His audacious exploits caught the attention of Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia, who organised a private pirate-hunting mission to overpower Blackbeard’s forces. The key vessels in this pursuit were the HMS Pearl and HMS Lyme, commanded by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

Upon discovering Teach and his pirates on Ocracoke Island, Maynard strategically blocked all exits and entered the inlet, aiming to surprise Teach and his crew. However, Teach, noticing the ships, swiftly cut his anchor and launched a relentless cannon assault, annihilating a third of the opposing force within seconds.

As the ships closed in, grappling hooks, smoke, and explosive grenades were deployed. This lead to a fierce boarding encounter. Anticipating this, Maynard had concealed the majority of his troops below deck, successfully ambushing the pirate boarders. The ambush overwhelmed the pirates.

Teach and Maynard engaged in a reported man-to-man battle using pistols and swords. Teach succumbed to wounds inflicted by one of Maynard’s soldiers and the combined efforts of the rest of the crew.

Following the battle, it was documented that Edward Teach had sustained at least five gunshot wounds and over twenty blade wounds, making it challenging to identify the fatal blow. The notorious Blackbeard’s severed head was displayed from the mast, and all but two of the captured pirates were eventually executed by hanging.

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