Little Known Facts About Blackbeard the Pirate

Facts, Myths, and Legends About Edward Teach and the Golden Age of Piracy

The period of the late 17th and early 18th centuries was known as the Golden Age of Piracy, and the most notorious of all the Golden Age pirates was Blackbeard. Blackbeard was a sea robber who plagued shipping lanes off North America and the Caribbean between 1717–1718.

By some reports, before he became a pirate Blackbeard served as a privateer during Queen Anne's War (1701–1714) and turned to piracy after the war's conclusion. In November of 1718, his career came to an abrupt and bloody end off Okracoke Island, North Carolina, when he was killed by the crew of Naval ships sent by the Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood.

According to the Boston newspaper report, before the final battle he "called for a glass of wine, and swore damnation to himself if he either took or gave Quarters." What we know of this man is part history and part public relations: here are a few of the known facts.

Blackbeard with sword
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

We don't know for sure what Blackbeard’s real name was, but the newspapers and other historical records called him Edward Thatch or Edward Teach, spelled in a variety of ways, including Thach, Thache, and Tack.

Blackbeard was an Englishman, and apparently, he grew up in a family wealthy enough to get him the education to be able to read and write--that may be why we don't know his name. Like other pirates of the day, he chose a frightening name and appearance to terrify victims and minimize their resistance to his plunder. More »

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Blackbeard Learned From Other Pirates

Pirate march
Frank Schoonover

At the end of Queen Anne's War, Blackbeard served as a crewman aboard the ship of the legendary English privateer Benjamin Hornigold. Privateers were people who were hired by one side of a naval war to do damage to the opposing fleet, and take whatever booty was available as the reward. Hornigold saw potential in young Edward Teach and promoted him, eventually giving Teach his own command as captain of a captured ship.

The two were very successful while they worked together. Hornigold lost his ship to a mutinous crew, and Blackbeard set out on his own. Hornigold eventually accepted a pardon and became a pirate-hunter.

Blackbeard
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In November of 1717, Blackbeard captured a very important prize, a large French slaving vessel called La Concorde. La Concorde was a 200-ton ship armed with 16 cannons and a crew of 75. Blackbeard renamed it "Queen Anne’s Revenge" and kept it for himself. He put 40 more cannons on it, making it one of the most formidable pirate ships ever.

Blackbeard used the Queen's Anne in his most successful raiding: for nearly a week in May 1718, the Queen's Anne and some smaller sloops blockaded the colonial port of Charleston, South Carolina, seizing several ships coming in or out. In early June 1718, she ran aground and foundered off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina. More »

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The Queen Anne's Revenge Was First a Slave Trader

Captives Being Brought On Board A Slave Ship On The West Coast Of Africa (Slave Coast) C1880
Print Collector / Getty Images

Before its life as a pirate ship, La Concorde was used by its captains to bring hundreds of captured Africans to Martinique between 1713 and 1717. Its last slave voyage began at the infamous slave port of Whydah (or Juda) in what is today Benin on July 8, 1717. There, they took on a cargo of 516 captive Africans and obtained 20 pounds of gold dust. It took them nearly eight weeks to cross the Atlantic, and 61 slaves and 16 crewmen died along the way.

They met Blackbeard about 100 miles from Martinique. Blackbeard put the slaves ashore, took a portion of the crew on and left the officers on a smaller vessel, that they renamed the Mauvaise Rencontre (the Bad Encounter). The French took the slaves back on board and returned to Martinique.

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Blackbeard Looked Like a Devil in Battle

Blackbeard attack
Frank Schoonover

Like many of his compatriots, Blackbeard knew the importance of image. His beard was wild and unruly; it came up to his eyes and he twisted colorful ribbons into it. Before a battle, he dressed all in black, strapped several pistols to his chest and put on a large black captain’s hat. Then, he would put slow burning fuses in his hair and beard. The fuses constantly sputtered and gave off smoke, which wreathed him in a perpetual greasy fog.

He must have looked like a devil who had stepped right out of hell and onto a pirate ship and most of his victims simply surrendered their cargo rather than fight him. Blackbeard intimidated his opponents this way because it was good business: if they gave up without a fight, he could keep their ship and he lost fewer men.

Who Shall be Captain?
Howard Pyle

Besides Hornigold, Blackbeard sailed with some famous pirates. He was a friend of Charles Vane. Vane came to see him in North Carolina to try and enlist his help in establishing a pirate kingdom in the Caribbean. Blackbeard wasn’t interested, but his man and Vane’s had a legendary party.

He also sailed with Stede Bonnet, the “Gentleman Pirate” from  Barbados. Blackbeard’s First Mate was a man named Israel Hands; Robert Louis Stevenson borrowed the name for his classic novel Treasure Island. More »

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Blackbeard Tried to Reform

Blackbeard approaching
Frank Schoonover

In 1718, Blackbeard went to North Carolina and accepted a pardon from Governor Charles Eden and settled in Bath for a while. He even got married to a woman named Mary Osmond, in a wedding that was presided over by the Governor.

Blackbeard may have wanted to leave piracy behind, but his retirement didn’t last long. Before long, Blackbeard had struck a deal with the crooked Governor: loot for protection. Eden helped Blackbeard appear legitimate, and Blackbeard returned to piracy and shared his takings. It was an arrangement that benefited both men until Blackbeard’s death.

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Blackbeard Avoided Killing

Actors Kevin Kline, Rex Smith and Tony Azito in a fight scene from the film 'The Pirates of Penzance', based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Pirates of Pinzance (1983).
Actors Kevin Kline, Rex Smith and Tony Azito in a fight scene from the film 'The Pirates of Penzance', based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Pirates of Pinzance (1983). Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

Pirates fought the crews of other ships because it allowed them to "trade up" when they took a better vessel. A damaged ship was less useful to them than an undamaged one, and if a ship sank in battle, the entire prize would be lost. So, to minimize those costs, pirates sought to overwhelm their victims without violence, by building a frightening reputation.

Blackbeard promised to slaughter anyone who resisted and to show mercy to those who surrendered peacefully. He and other pirates built their reputations on the acting out of these promises: killing all the resistors in horrible ways but showing mercy to those who did not resist. The survivors lived to spread the stories of mercy and implacable revenge, and expand Blackbeard's fame.

One significant upshot was that English privateer crews agreed to fight against the Spanish but to surrender if they were approached by pirates. According to some records, Blackbeard himself hadn't killed a single man before his last battle with Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

Capture of Blackbeard
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The end of Blackbeard's career came at the hands of the Royal Naval Lieutenant Robert Maynard, sent by the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood.

On November 22, 1718, Blackbeard was cornered by two Royal Navy sloops that had been sent to hunt him down, filled with crews from the HMS Pearl and HMS Lyme. The pirate had relatively few men, as most of his men were on shore at the time, but he decided to fight. He almost got away, but in the end, was brought down in hand-to-hand fighting on the deck of his ship.

When Blackbeard was finally killed, they found five bullet wounds and 20 sword cuts on his body. His head was cut off and fixed to the bowsprit of the ship as proof for the governor. His body was thrown into the water, and legend has it that it swam around the ship three times before sinking. More »

Dead Men Tell no Tales
Dead Men Tell No Tales. Howard Pyle

Although Blackbeard is the best known of the Golden Age pirates, he was not the most successful pirate ever to sail the seven seas. Several other pirates were far more successful than Blackbeard.

Henry Avery took a single treasure ship worth hundreds of thousands of pounds in 1695, which was far more than Blackbeard took in his whole career. “Black Bart” Roberts, a contemporary of Blackbeard, captured hundreds of ships, far more than Blackbeard ever did.

Still, Blackbeard was an outstanding pirate, as such things go: he was an above-average pirate captain in terms of successful raids, and certainly the most notorious, even if he wasn’t the most successful. More »

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Blackbeard's Ship Has Been Found

Blackbeard on Shore
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Researchers discovered what seems to be the wreck of the mighty Queen Anne’s Revenge along the North Carolina coast. Discovered in 1996, the Beaufort Inlet site has yielded treasures such as cannons, anchors, musket barrels, pipe stems, navigational instruments, gold flakes and nuggets, pewter dishware, a broken drinking glass and part of a sword.

The ship's bell was discovered, inscribed "IHS Maria, año 1709," suggesting La Concorde had been built in Spain or Portugal. The gold is thought to have been part of the loot taken by La Concorde at Whydah, where records say 14 ounces of gold powder came with the African slaves.

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Sources and Recommended Books

X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, by Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen
X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy, by Russell K. Skowronek and Charles R. Ewen. University Press of Florida