Blackbeard: Myths About The Infamous Pirate Who Was (Almost) Impossible To Kill
Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was one of the most feared reavers in the Caribbean and east coast of North America during the golden age of piracy. Naturally, many of Blackbeard's myths were exaggerated, but the facts remain that he was menacing criminal. He was rumored to be impossible to kill---and it did take some effort---but all men must die, and he met his end on November 22, 1718. Let's take a look at the notorious life, brutal death, and many myths of Blackbeard, the pirate who plundered the West Indies.
The Pirate Life
Much of Edward Teach's early life and background has been lost to history, but we do know that his pirating operation was headquartered in the West Indies as early as 1716. He may have been a crew member working for other pirates while he earned his chops, but sometime around 1717, Teach captured a French merchant vessel that he renamed Queen Anne's Revenge and outfitted with guns and cannons. He later added more ships to his fleet, established a formidable reputation, and formed an alliance between other pirates. Within a relatively short period in pirate time, he became the lord of the sea.
Blackbeard Totally Looked The Part
Many of the myths of Blackbeard's thirst for violence can be chalked up to his frightening appearance. Teach was a tall man with broad shoulders and piercing eyes, but his most stunning attribute was his long, thick, jet-black beard, and he made good use of it. To enhance its intimidating appearance, he waxed the ends of his beard and lit them on fire. He also lit slow-burning matches under his hat so smoke smoldered out of it. It wasn't the safest beauty routine, but the effect was devilish. In reality, he was ...
A Gentle Pirate
Although Blackbeard had built a reputation for being a ruthless monster, there's actually no evidence that he ever killed anyone. He was not above stealing from the merchant ships he preyed upon, but he seemed to abstain from physical violence. Even when he took prisoners, he treated them well.
Blackbeard and his "Motley Crew"
When Edward Teach seized the cargo ship that would become his main ride, it was filled with African trafficking victims en route to the island of Martinique, where they were to be sold as slaves. He offered them a choice: They could join the pirates and live as free outlaws, or they could continue onto their destination. Not surprisingly, most of them opted for freedom. Many left to join other pirate ships, but many others stayed with Blackbeard until he met his watery doom. Blackbeard's diverse group of seamen were dubbed a "motley crew."
The Question of Blackbeard's Flag
The pirate flag is an iconic symbol even today, scraps of fabric hanging from a pirate ship's mast to let neighboring vessels know that trouble is on its way. The most recognizable one is the skull-and-crossbones design also known as the Jolly Roger, but many pirates had their own flag designs. You'd think Blackbeard's would be the most famous, but no one actually knows what it looked like, although plenty of people think they do. That's because a 1718 newspaper article described Blackbeard's pirate flag simply as "black," and then, in the early 1900s, an article in The Mariner's Mirror featured a black pirate flag bearing the image of a horned skeleton with an hourglass in one hand and a long spear pointed at a red heart and dripping with blood in the other. Although the article made no claim that the flag belonged to Blackbeard, this flag became attributed to him over the ensuing decades. Even some of the experts at the Smithsonian incorrectly identified it as Blackbeard's flag, a claim that has never been substantiated.
Where is Blackbeard's Treasure?
During his years of piracy, Blackbeard was said to have amassed a considerable fortune, but according to his ledger, he had a shockingly small amount of money to his name at the time of his death. The ledger contained a cryptic note, however, indicating that the majority of his riches, his real treasure, "lay in a location known only to him and the devil." This has led to speculation that Blackbeard buried his treasure and that it's still hidden, just waiting to be found. Unfortunately, Blackbeard did not leave behind a neat treasure map with a convenient X to mark the spot of his hidden booty. Blackbeard's most likely hiding place is on Ocracoke Island off the coast of North Carolina, but the careful scrutiny of every inch of the island that's taken place over the last three centuries has proven otherwise.
Blackbeard Held a Whole Town Hostage
In 1718, Edward Teach and his alliance of pirates anchored their ships off the coast of South Carolina, forming a blockade around the port of Charles Town. They held the entire town for ransom, and all earned a healthy profit from crime. Following the blockade, Blackbeard ran his ship aground and fled in a different one.
Blackbeard Accepted a Royal Pardon but Returned to his Criminal Ways
At one point in his piracy career, Edward Teach tried to settle down in the town of Bath, North Carolina. He was arrested on piracy charges, but he was offered a royal pardon if only he would give up the pirate life. Teach agreed and received the pardon, but it didn’t stick. In no time at all, Teach was back to business, raiding and looting merchant ships.
An Ambush was Planned
After Edward Teach reneged on his deal, the governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, decided it was time to end Blackbeard's reign of terror and sent two ships filled with soldiers, commanded by Lieutenant Robert Maynard, to seek out the infamous pirate. Knowing that Ocracoke Island was a favorite hideout of Blackbeard, Maynard anchored both ships at the island's southern point and waited for sunrise. The ambush of Blackbeard began on the morning of November 22, 1718.
Blackbeard's Brutal End
When dawn broke, Blackbeard and his crew spotted the two ships under Maynard's command, and with the element of surprise lost, Maynard ordered his men to attack. Both of Maynard's ships ran aground, giving Blackbeard the opportunity to escape, but at the last moment, the crew managed to free one of the ships. As Blackbeard unleashed a volley of cannonballs on the ship, all hope seemed temporarily to be lost.
Maynard knew he couldn't out-fire the pirates, so he would have to outsmart them. He ordered all his men to go below deck just as Blackbeard and his men approached. When they saw that the deck was clear, they assumed the crew of Maynard's ship had fled, so they maneuvered their ship alongside to lash the two ships together. No sooner had they boarded the "abandoned" ship than the crew rushed up from below. The pirates were stunned and outnumbered but fought to the end.
Hard to Kill
The soldiers were skilled swordsmen and trained in hand-to-hand combat, but Edward Teach lived up his reputation as hard to kill. Five bullets and about 20 stab wounds couldn't slow him down, and he reportedly didn't stop fighting until someone slit his throat. After he breathed his last, Maynard ordered his men to cut off Blackbeard's head and toss his headless corpse into the water. He then hung Blackbeard's severed head from the bowsprit of his ship so that everyone could see the prize of his victory (and so he could collect the reward money). It was a ... less civilized time.