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Privateers & Pirates: Blackbeard - Edward Teach

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Privateers & Pirates: Blackbeard - Edward Teach

Edward Teach, "Blackbeard"

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Blackbeard - Early Life:

The man who became Blackbeard appears to have been born in or around Bristol, England around 1680. While most sources indicate that his name was Edward Teach, various spellings such as Thatch, Tack, and Theache were used during his career. Also, as many pirates used aliases it is possible that Blackbeard's real name is unknown. It is believed that he arrived in the Caribbean as a merchant sailor in the last years of the 17th century before settling on Jamaica. Some sources also indicate that he sailed as a British privateer during Queen Anne's War (1702-1713).

Blackbeard - Turning to the Pirate's Life:

Following the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Teach moved to the pirate haven of New Providence in the Bahamas. Three years later, he appears to have joined the crew of pirate Captain Benjamin Hornigold. Demonstrating skill, Teach was soon placed in command of a sloop. In early 1717, they successfully operated out of New Providence capturing several ships. That September, they met with Stede Bonnet. A landowner turned pirate, the inexperienced Bonnet had recently been wounded in an engagement with a Spanish ship. Talking with the other pirates, he agreed to temporarily let Teach command his ship, Revenge.

Sailing with three ships, the pirates continued to have success that fall. Despite this, Hornigold's crew became dissatisfied with his leadership and by the end of the year he was forced to retire. Pressing on with Revenge and a sloop, Teach captured the French guineaman La Concorde on November 28 off St. Vincent. Discharging its cargo of slaves, he converted it into his flagship and renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge. Mounting 32-40 guns, Queen Anne's Revenge soon saw action as Teach continued capturing ships. Taking the sloop Margaret on December 5, Teach released the crew a short time later.

Returning to St. Kitts, Margaret's captain, Henry Bostock, detailed his capture to Governor Walter Hamilton. In making his report, Bostock described Teach as having a long black beard. This identifying feature soon gave the pirate his nickname Blackbeard. In an effort to look more fearsome, Teach later braided the beard and took to wearing lit matches under his hat. Continuing to cruise the Caribbean, Teach captured the sloop Adventure off Belize in March 1718 which was added to his small fleet. Moving north and taking ships, Teach passed Havana and moved up the Florida coast.

Blackbeard - The Blockade of Charleston:

Arriving off Charleston, SC in May 1718, Teach effectively blockaded the harbor. Stopping and plundering nine ships in the first week, he took several prisoners before demanding that the city provide him with medical supplies for his men. The city's leaders agreed and Teach sent a party ashore. After some delay, his men returned with the supplies. Upholding his promise, Teach released his prisoners and departed. While at Charleston, Teach learned that Woodes Rogers had departed England with a large fleet and orders to sweep pirates from the Caribbean.

Blackbeard - A Bad Time at Beaufort:

Sailing north, Teach headed for Topsail (Beaufort) Inlet, NC to refit and careen his ships. On entering the inlet, Queen Anne's Revenge struck a sandbar and was badly damaged. In trying to free the ship, Adventure was also lost. Left with only Revenge and a captured Spanish sloop, Teach pushed into the inlet. One of Bonnet's men later testified that Teach intentionally ran Queen Anne's Revenge aground and some have speculated that the pirate leader was seeking to reduce his crew in order to increase his share of the plunder.

During this period, Teach also learned of the offer of a royal pardon to all pirates who surrendered before September 5, 1718. Though tempted he was concerned as it only cleared pirates for crimes committed prior to January 5, 1718 and thus would not pardon him for his actions off Charleston. Though most authorities typically would waive such conditions, Teach remained skeptical. Believing that Governor Charles Eden of North Carolina could be trusted, he dispatched Bonnet to Bath, NC as a test. Arriving, Bonnet was duly pardoned and planned to return to Topsail to collect Revenge before sailing for St. Thomas.

Blackbeard - A Brief Retirement:

Arriving, Bonnet found that Teach had departed in a sloop after plundering Revenge and marooning part of his crew. Sailing in search of Teach, Bonnet returned to piracy and was captured that September. Having departed Topsail, Teach sailed for Bath where he accepted a pardon in June 1718. Anchoring his sloop, which he named Adventure, in Ocracoke Inlet, he settled in Bath. Though encouraged to seek a privateer's commission by Eden, Teach soon returned to piracy and operated around Delaware Bay. Later taking two French ships, he kept one and returned to Ocracoke.

Arriving, he told Eden that he had found the ship abandoned at sea and an Admiralty court soon confirmed Teach's claim. With Adventure anchored in Ocracoke, Teach entertained fellow pirate Charles Vane who had escaped Rogers' fleet in the Caribbean. New of this meeting of pirates soon spread through the colonies causing fear. While Pennsylvania dispatched ships to capture them, the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, became equally concerned. Arresting William Howard, the former quartermaster on Queen Anne's Revenge, he obtained key information regarding Teach's whereabouts.

Blackbeard - Last Stand:

Believing that Teach presence in the region presented a crisis, Spotswood financed an operation to capture the notorious pirate. While the captains of HMS Lyme and HMS Pearl were to take forces overland to Bath, Lieutenant Robert Maynard was to sail south to Ocracoke with two armed sloops, Jane and Ranger. On November 21, 1718, Maynard located Adventure anchored inside Ocracoke Island. The next morning, his two sloops entered the channel and were spotted by Teach. Coming under fire from Adventure, Ranger was badly damaged and played no further role. While the progression of the battle is uncertain, at some point Adventure ran aground.

Closing, Maynard hid the majority of his crew below before coming alongside Adventure. Swarming aboard with his men, Teach was taken by surprise when Maynard's men sprung up from below. In the melee that followed, Teach engaged Maynard and broke the British officer's sword. Attacked by Maynard's men, Teach received five gunshot wounds and was stabbed at least twenty times before falling dead. With the loss of their leader, the remaining pirates quickly surrendered. Cutting Teach's head from his body, Maynard ordered it suspended from Jane's bowsprit. The rest of the pirate's body was thrown overboard. Though known as one of the most fearsome pirates to sail the waters of North America and the Caribbean, there are no verified accounts of Teach having harmed or killed any of his captives.

Selected Sources

  • National Geographic: Blackbeard Lives
  • Queen Anne's Revenge
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