The History of Black Beard – The Most Famous Pirate

Black Beard (also, Blackbeard) is regarded to be one of the most devious and ruthless pirates who tormented the waters of the Atlantic and the Caribbean, in the early part of the 18th century (1716-1718). And while his pirating activities might not have extended for decades, the history of Black Beard is one that is recounted and embellished with much fervour.

Born in England in the latter part of the 17th century, the most famous pirate in maritime history started his career as a privateer in Jamaica under his given birth name of Edward Teach. Accounts however vary about his last name, deviating between Thatch, Tache and Thach. 

blackbeard pirate
Representation image

Pirating Activities

Privateers were vessels that were under the government orders but were commandeered and operated independently by private seamen – also known as privateers.

Used to pose attacks against enemy naval forces, the trend of privateers soon started to recede after the culmination of the Spanish Succession War, resulting in the pirating activities of many erstwhile privateer seamen.

One of the many such privateer-turned-pirates was Benjamin Hornigold of whose crew Edward became a part of in the year 1713. The name Black Beard was, however, not initially taken by the pirate but was later assumed as his horrifying pirating activities grew in number.

As per the most reliable accounts of the story of Black Beard, most of his pirating activities were carried out under the command of Ben Hornigold.

His temerity, steadfastness and loyalty to the captain helped him gain a lot of faith with Hornigold who as proof of this faith in him granted the now re-named Edward, the opportunity to skipper the captured ship Revenge in 1717.

The most highlighting conquest in the pirating endeavour of Blackbeard however, was his capture of the French vessel La Concorde in November 1717. As a validation of his overwhelming pirating superiority, he renamed the vessel to Queen Anne’s Revenge and went on to inflict more heinous piracy acts on hapless mariners till his death in 1718.

Appearance and Modus Operandi

The significance of the pseudonym was not just because of the abundant growth of facial hair on the pirate but because of the way he projected this growth onto his potential captives.

As per the history of pirates, he used to ribbon his beard and plait them to terrify the innocent. Furthermore, he used to light a fire to ropes and place them on his head, giving the aura of his head and face being wreathed in fumes and in unholy light.

These facts are thus responsible for the many varied pictures of Blackbeard being painted with bright and devilish halo-like rings around his head with eerie growth of beard surrounding his face. As regards his arsenal, Blackbeard used to wear slings and holsters equipped to stash as many pistols and knives as he could carry, while carrying out a pirating operation.

In terms of the pirate’s modus operandi, it was well-planned and thought of. Monitoring an incoming vessel’s nationality was the very first objective, following which a similar flag used to be raised in the pirate’s vessel.

This ensured that the incoming vessel was fooled till the pirates raised the pirate’s colours and mounted an attack on the unsuspecting crew either forcing them to surrender or be captured.

Redundancy of Piracy and Death

Blackbeard entered into a very strategic and shrewd alliance with the North Carolinian governor, Charles Eden. Under the guise of quitting piracy and gaining pardon from the governor, the most famous pirate began an unorthodox Mafiosi type business.

On account of this disturbing practice, the Virginian governor, Alexander Spottswood mounted an unsuspecting attack on the pirate stronghold of the Island of Ocracoke.

A naval entourage was led by skipper Lt. Robert Maynard and the pirate was brought down and not with utmost ease. Blackbeard battled his way even while he was in the throes of losing his life and it took over 20 strikes to his body to end his life.

As proof of his execution, his head was cut from his body and mounted on the prow of Lt. Maynard’s vessel while his body was thrown into the waters. At that time, such a display was also intended as an act of intimidation to other pirates to cease their nefarious activities.

The story of Black Beard is often recounted along with intriguing tales of buried treasures and plunders. These exciting tales however do not have a basis in fact as Blackbeard’s piracy involved plundering of commodities like cloth, tea and other mercantile goods.

And while the pirates did indeed plunder seamen of their precious jewellery, no records have been found about these stolen goods stashed in secret hide-outs.

The wreck of the pirate’s vessel Queen Anne’s Revenge has however been found after an extensive search. The search was carried out by the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the North Carolinian Cultural Resources Department in collaboration with a private research organisation Intersal, Inc.

It can be hoped that the findings aboard the wreck will go a long way in helping enthusiasts in understanding and unravelling the mystery behind the pirate in a better way.

Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.

2 Comments

  1. I agree that for all of the hysteria over Blackbeard there seems to be no documented account of any great haul. Thirty-two years later at Ocracoke, the same place the fearful brute was killed, another buried treasure story was born. A man named Owen Lloyd stole 52 chests of silver from a Spanish galleon and buried it on Norman Island in the BVI on November 13, 1750. Exactly one hundred years later Robert Louis Stevenson was born. He would write Treasure Island which was a story about returning to a caribbean island to recover a treasure buried in 1750. Owen Lloyd clearly out did the legendary Blackbeard.

  2. Norman Island, home of Pirates Bight Bar, Restaurant, and Gift Shop, is perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. However, Norman Island also has a rich documented history of acting as a hiding spot for Pirate booty.Documented history for the island dates back to the early 18th century when a Spanish galleon called Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe buried 55 chests of silver coins after the crew mutinied aboard the ship.

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