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Blackbeard’s Terror in the Outer Banks and Virginia

From his initial privateering mission to his captivatingly violent death, Blackbeard is the pirate whom most remember.  Due to his unorthodox yet alluring appearance, it seems as if Jack Sparrow modeled himself physically most after Blackbeard.  The ultimate pirate of the New World, he was ruthless, perhaps a bit psychotic, and so feared that enemy crews would immediately surrender upon seeing his black flag (as seen above).

Born somewhere before 1690, Edward Teach was an Englishman.  However, it is suspected that he was born in Jamaica, yet Teach has referred to a variety of birthplaces.  It was Queen Anne who helped Teach find his taste for blood, thus turning the Englishman into the mercurial Blackbeard.  The Queen commissioned a privateer ship, which Blackbeard served on, and continued to pillage his way up to captain on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, an impressive ship holding forty cannons.

Besides his vengeful pirating, Blackbeard’s fashion sense also played a large part in his terrifying presence.  With the idea of costuming before warfare, used in tribal rituals and beyond, Blackbeard used his pitch black beard as a visual weapon by braiding the hair into pigtails usually tied with black ribbons.  In these braids, he lit and inserted long-lasting matches, often used for igniting the cannons aboard.  Underneath his hat was smoking rope, which burned on both ends.  His face had the crude roughness of a man at sea, while his strong and lengthy body structure contributed to the trepidation of his enemies.  Blackbeard’s gun belt alone included a multitude of pistols, daggers and a cutlass–6 of the pistols were loaded and ready to be fired at any given moment.

Finding the perfect place for refuge was a crucial point in a captain’s decision-making process.  For instance, Calico Jack chose unwisely to rest in Negril, Jamaica, thus leading to his capture and execution.  Blackbeard embraced the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which are a 100-mile string of islands off the North Carolina coast.  Due to the islands’ sounds, hiding places were abundant and convenient for a wanted pirate.  Blackbeard’s favorite place of discretion was Ocracoke Island, known as the area where the infamous buccaneer repaired his ships.

During his time in NC, he settled in the town of Bath and married his 14th wife, a young girl of only sixteen years old.  Wanting others to turn a blind eye to his illicit lifestyle, the menacing corsair morphed into a “politician” of sorts by bribing his gentrified neighbors with gifts of Caribbean rum and sugar.  On land his reputation as a rum-loving partier was harmless, yet on the high waters, Blackbeard’s love for the cruel and unusual was a constant during his voyages.

On one seafaring mission, a sailor refused to give Blackbeard his diamond; therefore, the pirate captain simply chopped off the man’s finger, taking the bloody stump as well as the coveted jewel.  Other tales varied from Blackbeard shooting one of his own crew under a table and permanently injuring the man to holding a cargo ship hostage, with children on board, and upon receiving the ransom, Blackbeard released the hostages, but not before stealing all of their clothing and jewelry.

However, the domineering pirate went too far.  He terrorized the waters of Virginia.  As George Humphrey Yetter recounts:

Because valuable cargoes traveled through the Chesapeake Bay, trade in Virginia often came to a standstill when pirates patrolled sea lanes and threatened vessels could not leave the safety of ports.  During one six-week period, not a single ship dared to leave the safety of Virginia shores.

Blackbeard was the main cause of this maritime panic.  Using a summit, now referred to as Blackbeard’s Hill, the pirate and his watchmen had an open view of the Chesapeake Bay, which the British navy ineffectively protected.

The governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, had had enough.

In a fate of good timing, Spotswood received word that the horrid pirate captain and other infamous swashbucklers were indulging in a wild days-long party on the pirate’s favorite refuge, Ocracoke Island.  The governor spent weeks strategizing the attack, finally sending two tiny ships to the raging fiesta.  In November 1718 commanded by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy, he and his crew sailed through the night.  Blackbeard, seeing the oncoming attack from a distance, was not fazed, however, his crew assumed impending death.

When morning came and Maynard began approaching for destruction, Blackbeard oddly began steering his ship to crash into the beach.  After a clumsy series of events, in which both Maynard and Blackbeard’s vessels were stuck on sandbars, the pirates boarded the Navy ship, expecting all passengers to be dead.  Instead, Maynard had ordered his crew to hide and shocked the pirates as they rushed the deck.  Maynard and Blackbeard shot at one another, yet the pirate missed while the Lieutenant did not.  Shot and bleeding, Blackbeard was about to kill Maynard with his cutlass when a Navy sailor slashed the pirate’s throat from behind.  In the end, Blackbeard had suffered 25 wounds from this battle, yet fighting to his well-plotted death.

As a sign to other pirates, Blackbeard’s head was cut off and hung from the bow of a ship.  Meanwhile, his corpse was simply thrown overboard.  Then the head was transferred to a point on the James River, merely hanging by a pole, also known as Blackbeard’s Point.

Today, Ocracoke still maintains a history of piracy and maritime warfare.  Now a quiet island famous for vacationing tourists, the citizens of Ocracoke still continue to speak in the old English dialect, known as brogue.

Teach’s Hole, the inlet where Blackbeard repaired his ships, remains.

Even more intriguing is the legend of the pirate’s skull, which was said to have been taken off the pole many years before and sculpted into either a punch bowl or drinking cup.  According to legend, Blackbeard’s skull cup still exists around the island, even spurring accounts such as locals and visitors sipping from the head of the South’s deadliest pirate.