Black Beard (also Blackbeard) is regarded as 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, also referred to as the golden age of piracy.
It is said that merchants and merchant ships were frightened by his name. While his pirating activities might not have extended for decades, Black Beard’s history is recounted and embellished with much enthusiasm.
Born in Bristol, 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/Edward Thatch/Edward Thache. Accounts vary about his last name, deviating between Thatch, Tache and Thach.
Privateers were vessels under 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.
Blackbear served as a privateer during Queen Anne’s War and turned to piracy sometime after the war ended. One of the many privateer-turned-pirates was Stede Bonnet and Captain Benjamin Hornigold, whose crew Edward became a part of in 1713. The name Black Beard was 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 arrogance, steadfastness and loyalty to the captain helped him gain a lot of faith in 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.
However, the most highlighting conquest in Blackbeard’s pirating endeavour was his capture of the French vessel La Concorde in November 1717. As a validation of his overwhelming pirating superiority, he renamed the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge. He 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 how 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 wreathed in fumes and 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 and eerie beard growth 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. 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 until the pirates raised the pirate colours and mounted an attack on the unsuspecting crew, forcing them to surrender or be captured.
Redundancy of Piracy and Death
Blackbeard entered a strategic and intelligent 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.
Because of this disturbing practice, the Virginian governor, Alexander Spotswood, mounted an unsuspecting attack on the pirate near Ocracoke island, led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.
Skipper Lt. Robert Maynard led a naval entourage, and the pirates were brought down, not with swords and pistols. 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 bowsprits of Lt. Maynard’s vessel while his body was thrown into the waters. His death account was written after 12 years and scared America for a long time.
He initially vanished when the British naval expedition funded by Virginia Governor Alexander Spotwood lured him into their trap. Most of his men died in a battle on 22nd November 1718. The deadly pirate was finally caught, and his head was mounted as a warning for others engaging in such notorious activities. Ho ever, his story that had been forgotten became popular once again in the 20th century when the movie Blackbeard, released in 1952, became popular.
The story of Black Beard is often recounted along with intriguing tales of buried treasures and plunders. However, several exciting tales do not have a basis as Blackbeard’s piracy involved the 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.
However, the wreck of the pirate’s vessel Queen Anne’s Revenge was 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.
Blackbeard’s fleet sailed east and crossed the Cayman islands, where they captured a Spanish vessel off the Cuban coast. Then Blackbeard sailed towards Charleston, South Carolina and went through the Bahamas to reach the coast of North America. Blackbeard blocked the port of Charles town with three sloops and the Queen Anne’s Revenge. They even took passengers as hostages who were released after he was given a chest of medicine as ransom. Once the drugs were delivered, he released the hostages and continued his voyage.
As per records, Blackbeard left North Carolina and attempted to enter the Old Topsail Inlet, also called the Beaufort Inlet. Under this task, Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Sloop Adventure were grounded on a sandbar and had to be abandoned. Research has brought to the forefront two eyewitness records that tell us how the two pirate ships of the fleet were lost.
It can be hoped that the findings aboard the wreck will go a long way in helping enthusiasts understand and unravel the mysteries.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is Blackbeard so famous?
He is famous for his blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. He instilled fear among the residents and kept the passengers of a vessel hostage before leaving them in exchange for a chest of medicine.
2. Who was Blackbeard?
He worked as a privateer and was a part of the Queen Anne’s War, after which he took to piracy for unknown reasons. He was probably born in Bristol, England and came from a well-off family.
3. Why were people afraid of Blackbeard?
Besides terrorising the waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic, Blackbeard was known for having a scary appearance. Per accounts, he tied a ribbon around his long beard to terrify captives, set fire to ropes, and placed them on his head, giving the aura of a devil. He did not show any mercy and was on the lookout for merchant ships.
4. How did Blackbeard die?
A British naval expedition funded by Virginia Governor Alexander Spotwood lured him into their trap. However, most of his men died in a battle on 22nd November 1718. The notorious pirate was finally caught, and his head was mounted as a warning for others engaging in such activities.
5. Who chopped off his head mercilessly?
Lieutenant Maynard cut his head and hung it from his bow. The pirates tried their best. However, their leader was killed, and the battle concluded. Blackbeard was shot five times, and his body was stabbed over 20 times before he died, and then he was decapitated brutally.
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Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.