Edward Teach (c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies. Although little is known about his early life, he was likely born in Bristol, England. He may have been a sailor on privateer ships during Queen Anne's War before settling on the Bahamian island of New Providence, a base for Captain Benjamin Hornigold, whose crew Teach joined sometime around 1716. Hornigold placed him in command of a sloop he had captured, and the two engaged in numerous acts of piracy. Their numbers were boosted by the addition to their fleet of two more ships, one of which was commanded by Stede Bonnet, but toward the end of 1717 Hornigold retired from piracy, taking two vessels with him.
Teach captured a French merchant vessel, renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge, and equipped her with 40 guns. He became a renowned pirate, his cognomen derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance; he was reported to have tied lit fuses under his hat to frighten his enemies. He formed an alliance of pirates and blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. After successfully ransoming its inhabitants, he ran Queen Anne's Revenge aground on a sandbar near Beaufort, North Carolina. He parted company with Bonnet, settling in Bath Town, where he accepted a royal pardon. But he was soon back at sea and attracted the attention of Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia. Spotswood arranged for a party of soldiers and sailors to try to capture the pirate, which they did on 22 November 1718. During a ferocious battle, Teach and several of his crew were killed by a small force of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.
A shrewd and calculating leader, Teach spurned the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and there is no known account of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive. He was romanticised after his death and became the inspiration for a number of pirate-themed works of fiction across a range of genres.
Little is known about Blackbeard's early life. It is commonly believed that at the time of his death he was between 35 and 40 years old and thus born in about 1680. In contemporary records his name is most often given as Blackbeard, Edward Thatch or Edward Teach; the latter is most often used today. However, several spellings of his surname exist—Thatch, Thach, Thache, Thack, Tack, Thatche and Theach. One early source claims that his surname was Drummond, but the lack of any supporting documentation makes this unlikely. Pirates habitually used fictitious surnames while engaged in the business of piracy, so as not to tarnish the family name, and this makes it unlikely that Teach's real name will ever be known.
The 17th-century rise of Britain's American colonies and the rapid 18th-century expansion of the Atlantic slave trade had made Bristol an important international sea port, and Teach was most likely raised in what was the second-largest city in England. He could almost certainly read and write; he communicated with merchants and when killed had in his possession a letter addressed to him by the Chief Justice and Secretary of the Province of Carolina, Tobias Knight. The author Robert Lee speculated that Teach may therefore have been born into a respectable, wealthy family. He may have arrived in the Caribbean in the last years of the 17th century, on a merchant vessel (possibly a slave ship). The 18th-century author Charles Johnson claimed that Teach was for some time a sailor operating from Jamaica on privateer ships during Queen Anne's War, and that "he had often distinguished himself for his uncommon boldness and personal courage". At what point during the war Teach joined the fighting is, in keeping with the record of most of his life before he became a pirate, unknown.
With its history of colonialism, trade and piracy, the West Indies was the setting for many 17th and 18th-century maritime incidents. The privateer-turned-pirate Henry Jennings and his followers decided, early in the 18th century, to use the then uninhabited island of New Providence as a base for their operations; it was within easy reach of the Florida Strait and its busy shipping lanes, which were filled with European vessels crossing the Atlantic. New Providence's harbour could easily accommodate hundreds of ships, and was too shallow for the Royal Navy's larger vessels to navigate. The island then was not the popular tourist destination it later became; the author George Woodbury described it as "no city of homes; it was a place of temporary sojourn and refreshment for a literally floating population," continuing, "The only permanent residents were the piratical camp followers, the traders, and the hangers-on; all others were transient." Law and order were unheard of; in New Providence, pirates found a welcome respite.
Teach was one of those who came to enjoy the island's benefits. Probably shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, he moved there from Jamaica, and with most privateers once involved in the war, became involved in piracy. Possibly about 1716, he joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold, a renowned pirate who operated from New Providence's safe waters. In 1716 Hornigold placed Teach in charge of a sloop he had taken as a prize. In early 1717, Hornigold and Teach, each captaining a sloop, set out for the mainland. They captured a boat carrying 120 barrels of flour out of Havana, and shortly thereafter took 100 barrels of wine from a sloop out of Bermuda. A few days later they stopped a vessel sailing from Madeira to Charleston, South Carolina. Teach and his quartermaster, William Howard, may at this time have struggled to control their crews. By then they had probably developed a taste for Madeira wine, and on 29 September near Cape Charles all they took from the Betty of Virginia was her cargo of Madeira, before they scuttled her with the remaining cargo.
It was during this cruise with Hornigold that the earliest known report of Teach was made, in which he is recorded as a pirate in his own right, in command of a large crew. In a report made by a Captain Mathew Munthe on an anti-piracy patrol for North Carolina, "Thatch" was described as operating "a sloop 6 gunns and about 70 men". In September Teach and Hornigold encountered Stede Bonnet, a landowner and military officer from a wealthy family who had turned to piracy earlier that year. Bonnet's crew of about 70 were reportedly dissatisfied with his command, so with Bonnet's permission, Teach took control of his ship Revenge. The pirates' flotilla now consisted of three ships; Teach on Revenge, Teach's old sloop and Hornigold's Ranger. By October, another vessel had been captured and added to the small fleet. The sloops Robert of Philadelphia and Good Intent of Dublin were stopped on 22 October 1717, and their cargo holds emptied.
On 28 November Teach's two ships attacked a French merchant vessel off the coast of Saint Vincent. They each fired a broadside across its bulwarks, killing several of its crew, and forcing its captain to surrender. The ship was La Concorde of Saint-Malo, a large French guineaman carrying a cargo of slaves. Teach and his crews sailed the vessel south along Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to Bequia, where they disembarked her crew and cargo, and converted the ship for their own use. The crew of La Concorde were given the smaller of Teach's two sloops, which they renamed Mauvaise Rencontre (Bad Meeting), and sailed for Martinique. Teach may have recruited some of their slaves, but the remainder were left on the island and were later recaptured by the returning crew of Mauvaise Rencontre.
Teach immediately renamed La Concorde as Queen Anne's Revenge and equipped her with 40 guns. In late November, near Saint Vincent, he attacked the Great Allen. After a lengthy engagement, he forced the large and well-armed merchant ship to surrender. He ordered her to move closer to the shore, disembarked her crew and emptied her cargo holds, and then burned and sank the vessel. The incident was chronicled in the Boston News Letter, which called Teach the commander of a "French ship of 32 Guns, a Briganteen of 10 guns and a Sloop of 12 guns." When or where Teach collected the ten gun Briganteen is unknown, but by that time he may have been in command of at least 150 men split between three vessels.
On 5 December 1717 Teach stopped the merchant sloop Margaret off the coast of Crab Island, near Anguilla. Her captain, Henry Bostock, and crew, remained Teach's prisoners for about eight hours, and were forced to watch as their sloop was ransacked. Bostock, who had been held aboard Queen Anne's Revenge, was returned unharmed to Margaret and was allowed to leave with his crew. He returned to his base of operations on Saint Christopher Island and reported the matter to Governor Walter Hamilton, who requested that he sign an affidavit about the encounter. Bostock's deposition details Teach's command of two vessels: a sloop and a large French guineaman, Dutch-built, with 36 cannon and a crew of 300 men. The captain believed that the larger ship carried valuable gold dust, silver plate, and "a very fine cup" supposedly taken from the commander of Great Allen. Teach's crew had apparently informed Bostock that they had destroyed several other vessels, and that they intended to sail to Hispaniola and lie in wait for an expected Spanish armada, supposedly laden with money to pay the garrisons. Bostock also claimed that Teach had questioned him about the movements of local ships, but also that he had seemed unsurprised when Bostock told him of an expected royal pardon from London for all pirates.
Bostock's deposition describes Teach as a "tall spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long". It is the first recorded account of Teach's appearance and is the source of his cognomen, Blackbeard.
Teach's movements between late 1717 and early 1718 are not known. He and Bonnet were probably responsible for an attack off Sint Eustatius in December 1717. Henry Bostock claimed to have heard the pirates say they would head toward the Spanish-controlled Samaná Bay in Hispaniola, but a cursory search revealed no pirate activity. Captain Hume of HMS Scarborough reported on 6 February that a "Pyrate Ship of 36 Guns and 250 men, and a Sloop of 10 Guns and 100 men were Said to be Cruizing amongst the Leeward Islands". Hume reinforced his crew with musket-armed soldiers and joined up with HMS Seaford to track the two ships, to no avail, though they discerned that the two ships had sunk a French vessel off St Christopher Island, and reported also that they had last been seen "gone down the North side of Hispaniola". Although no confirmation exists that these two ships were controlled by Teach and Bonnet, author Angus Konstam believes it very likely they were.
In March 1718, while taking on water at Turneffe Island east of Belize, both ships spotted a sloop from Jamaica, Adventure, making for the harbour. She was quickly stopped and her captain, David Harriot, invited to join the pirates. Harriot and his crew accepted the invitation, and Teach sent over a crew to run Adventure. They sailed for the Bay of Honduras, where they added another ship and four sloops to their flotilla. On 9 April Teach's enlarged fleet of ships looted and burnt Protestant Caesar. His fleet then sailed to Grand Cayman where they captured a "small turtler". Teach probably sailed toward Havana, where he may have captured a small Spanish vessel that had left the Cuban port. They then sailed to the wrecks of the 1715 Spanish fleet, off the western coast of Florida. There Teach disembarked the crew of the captured Spanish sloop, before proceeding north to the port of Charleston, South Carolina, attacking three vessels along the way.
By May 1718 Teach had awarded himself the rank of Commodore and was at the height of his power. Late that month his flotilla blockaded the port of Charleston (then known as Charles Town) in South Carolina. All vessels entering or leaving the port were stopped, and as the town had no guard ship, its pilot boat was the first to be captured. Over the next five or six days about nine vessels were stopped and ransacked as they attempted to sail past Charleston Bar, where Teach's fleet was anchored. One such ship, headed for London with a group of prominent Charleston citizens which included Samuel Wragg (a member of the Council of the Province of Carolina), was the Crowley. Her passengers were questioned about the vessels still in port and then locked below decks for about half a day. Teach informed the prisoners that his fleet required medical supplies from the colonial government of South Carolina, and that if none were forthcoming, all prisoners would be executed, their heads sent to the Governor and all captured ships burnt.
Wragg agreed to Teach's demands, and a Mr Marks and two pirates were given two days to collect the drugs. Teach moved his fleet, and the captured ships, to within about five or six leagues from land. Three days later a messenger, sent by Marks, returned to the fleet; Marks's boat had capsized and delayed their arrival in Charleston. Teach granted a reprieve of two days, but still the party did not return. He then called a meeting of his fellow sailors and moved eight ships into the harbour, causing panic within the town. When Marks finally returned to the fleet, he explained what had happened. On his arrival he had presented the pirates' demands to the Governor and the drugs had been quickly gathered, but the two pirates sent to escort him had proved difficult to find; they had been busy drinking with friends and were finally discovered, drunk.
Teach kept to his side of the bargain and released the captured ships and his prisoners - albeit relieved of their valuables, including the fine clothing some had worn.
Before sailing northward on his remaining sloop to Ocracoke Inlet, Teach marooned about 25 men on a small sandy island about a league from the mainland. He may have done this to stifle any protest they made, if they guessed their captain's plans. Bonnet rescued them two days later. Teach continued on to Bath, where in June 1718 - only days after Bonnet had departed with his pardon - he and his much-reduced crew received their pardon from Governor Eden.
He settled in Bath, on the eastern side of Bath Creek at Plum Point, near Eden's home. During July and August he travelled between his base in the town and his sloop off Ocracoke. Johnson's account states that he married the daughter of a local plantation owner, although there is no supporting evidence for this. Eden gave Teach permission to sail to St Thomas to seek a commission as a privateer (a useful way of removing bored and troublesome pirates from the small settlement), and Teach was given official title to his remaining sloop, which he renamed Adventure. By the end of August he had returned to piracy, and in the same month the Governor of Pennsylvania issued a warrant for his arrest, but by then Teach was probably operating in Delaware Bay, some distance away. He took two French ships leaving the Caribbean, moved one crew across to the other, and sailed the remaining ship back to Ocracoke. In September he told Eden that he had found the French ship at sea, deserted. A Vice Admiralty Court was quickly convened, presided over by Tobias Knight and the Collector of Customs. The ship was judged as a derelict found at sea, and of its cargo 20 hogsheads of sugar were awarded to Knight and sixty to Eden; Teach and his crew were given what remained in the vessel's hold.
Ocracoke Inlet was Teach's favourite anchorage. It was a perfect vantage point from which to view ships travelling between the various settlements of northeast Carolina, and it was from there that Teach first spotted the approaching ship of Charles Vane, another English pirate. Several months earlier Vane had rejected the pardon brought by Woodes Rogers and escaped the men-of-war the English captain brought with him to Nassau. He had also been pursued by Teach's old commander, Benjamin Hornigold, who was by then a pirate hunter. Teach and Vane spent several nights on the southern tip of Ocracoke Island, accompanied by such notorious figures as Israel Hands, Robert Deal and Calico Jack.
Maynard found the pirates anchored on the inner side of Ocracoke Island, on the evening of 21 November. He had ascertained their position from ships he had stopped along his journey, but unfamiliar with the local channels and shoals he decided to wait until the following morning to make his attack. He stopped all traffic from entering the inlet - preventing any warning of his presence - and posted a lookout on both sloops to ensure that Teach could not escape to sea. On the other side of the island, Teach was busy entertaining guests and had not set a lookout. With Israel Hands ashore in Bath with about 24 of Adventure's sailors, he also had a much-reduced crew. Johnson (1724) reported that the pirate had "no more than twenty-five men on board" and that he "gave out to all the vessels that he spoke with that he had forty". "Thirteen white and six Negroes", was the number later reported by Brand to the Admiralty.
At daybreak, preceded by a small boat taking soundings, Maynard's two sloops entered the channel. The small craft was quickly spotted by Adventure and fired at as soon as it was within range of her guns. While the boat made a quick retreat to the Jane, Teach cut the Adventure's anchor cable. His crew hoisted the sails and the Adventure manoeuvred to point her starboard guns toward Maynard's sloops, which were slowly closing the gap. Hyde moved Ranger to the port side of Jane and the Union flag was unfurled on each ship. Adventure then turned toward the beach of Ocracoke Island, heading for a narrow channel. What happened next is uncertain. Johnson claimed that there was an exchange of small-arms fire following which Adventure ran aground on a sandbar, while Maynard anchored and then lightened his ship to pass over the obstacle. Another version claimed that Jane and Ranger ran aground, although Maynard made no mention of this in his log.
What is certain though is that Adventure turned her guns on the two ships and fired. The broadside was devastating; in an instant, Maynard had lost as much as a third of his forces. About 20 on Jane were either wounded or killed and 9 on Ranger. Hyde was dead and his second and third officers either dead or seriously injured. His sloop was so badly damaged that it played no further role in the attack. Again, contemporary accounts of what happened next are confused, but small-arms fire from Jane may have cut Adventure's jib sheet, causing her to lose control and run onto the sandbar. In the aftermath of Teach's overwhelming attack, Jane and Ranger may also have been grounded; the battle thenceforth would have become a race to see who could float their ship first.
The lieutenant had kept many of his men below deck and in anticipation of being boarded told them to prepare for close fighting. Teach watched as the gap between the vessels closed, and ordered his men to be ready. The two vessels contacted one another as the Adventure's grappling hooks hit their target and several grenades, made from powder and shot-filled bottles and ignited by fuses, broke across the sloop's deck. As the smoke cleared, Teach led his men aboard, buoyant at the sight of Maynard's apparently empty ship, his men firing at the small group formed by the lieutenant and his men at the stern.
The rest of Maynard's men then burst from the hold, shouting and firing. The plan to surprise Teach and his crew worked; the pirates were apparently taken aback at the assault. Teach rallied his men and the two groups fought across the deck, which was already slick with blood from those killed or injured by Teach's broadside. Maynard and Teach fired their flintlocks at each other, then threw them away. Teach drew his cutlass and managed to break Maynard's sword. Against superior training and a slight advantage in numbers, the pirates were pushed back toward the bow, allowing the Jane's crew to surround Maynard and Teach, who was by then completely isolated. As Maynard drew back to fire once again, Teach moved in to attack him, but was slashed across the neck by one of Maynard's men. Badly wounded, he was then attacked and killed by several more of Maynard's crew. The remaining pirates quickly surrendered. Those left on the Adventure were captured by the Ranger's crew, including one who planned to set fire to the powder room and blow up the ship. Varying accounts exist of the battle's list of casualties; Maynard reported that 8 of his men and 12 pirates were killed. Brand reported that 10 pirates and 11 of Maynard's men were killed. Spotswood claimed ten pirates and ten of the King's men dead.
Maynard later examined Teach's body, noting that it had been shot no fewer than five times and cut about twenty. He also found several items of correspondence, including a letter to the pirate from Tobias Knight. Teach's corpse was thrown into the inlet while his head was suspended from the bowsprit of Maynard's sloop (so the reward could be collected)
Despite his infamy, Teach was not the most successful of pirates. Henry Every retired a rich man, and Bartholomew Roberts took an estimated five times the amount Teach stole. Treasure hunters have long busied themselves searching for any trace of his rumoured hoard of gold and silver, but nothing found in the numerous sites explored along the east coast of the US has ever been connected to him. Some tales suggest that pirates often killed a prisoner on the spot where they buried their loot, and Teach is no exception in these stories, but that no finds have come to light is not exceptional; buried pirate treasure is often considered a modern myth for which almost no supporting evidence exists. The available records include nothing to suggest that the burial of treasure was a common practice, except in the imaginations of the writers of fictional accounts such as Treasure Island. Such hoards would necessitate a wealthy owner, and their supposed existence ignores the command structure of a pirate vessel, in which the crew often served by free suffrage. The only pirate ever known to bury treasure was William Kidd; the only treasure so far recovered from Teach's exploits is that taken from the wreckage of the Queen Anne's Revenge, which was found and excavated in 1997. As of 2007 more than 15,000 objects have been rescued and preserved, some of which are on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum.
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