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Blackbeard: Terror of the High Seas


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• Part 2: Fame and Defeat

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Part 1: A Legend Springs Up

In his heyday, in the early 18th Century, Blackbeard was one of the most feared names in North America and Europe, a symbol of terror on the high seas whose rumored achievements far outweighed his actual accomplishments.

It is difficult to find verifiable information about Blackbeard, since various sources differ so widely on such important details as his real name. Nevertheless, certain facts have been verified about this pirate known more for his facial hair and fiery demeanor than for anything else.

Most historical sources refer to him as Edward Teach (although even here, with his name, can be found disagreement — many sources of the time refer to him as Thatch). Although little concrete is known about him before 1716, he is thought to have been born in England. Like many other legendary figures, he comes fully to life in a flash. He was known for his long beard, and he was said by more than person who wrote about him to have routinely put lighted ropes in his hair to appear all the more deadly and dangerous.

Teach joined the crew of the pirate Benjamin Hornigold in 1716, serving with that crew on expeditions around the Caribbean, especially the island of New Providence, a pirate haven on which Teach lived for a time, after serving in the British navy during Queen Anne's War.

Within a year, Teach was captain of his own ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge (a ship seized from a French crew and manned with 40 guns). Working in tandem with other pirate captains, most notably Stede Bonnet and Hornigold, Teach made quite a name for himself by seizing French and Spanish trade ships, gaining followers and wealth.

Hornigold soon retired from the pirate's life. Teach and Bonnet carried on together, gaining more ships and wealth.

In 1717, Teach got the name by which he is more widely known. British Captain Henry Bostock was the captain of the ship Margaret, which was ransacked by Teach and his men. Bostock survived the encounter, possibly by telling Teach of an expected royal pardon for all pirates (which Bonnet eventually got but Teach never did), and wrote of Teach that he was a "tall spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long." This was beginning of the Blackbeard persona, one that had him described in variously terrifying ways, ruling his men with an iron fist and more the fear of reprisal than actual deadly violence. No account exists of Teach ordering any of his captives (and he took many) put to death. That did nothing to stop the fear his name struck into the hearts of many who heard it.

Blackbeard made a name for himself in the British American colonies as well, harassing crews and seizing cargo from ships off the coast of the colonies of Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. He had by this time moved his base to Ocracoke Inlet, off the Outer Banks of what is now the state of North Carolina.

One man who had finally had enough of Blackbeard was Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia. In 1718, the governor issued a proclamation that all pirates give themselves up to British authorities. Teach, naturally, refused, and Spotswood sent a group of ships to seize the feared Blackbeard.

Under the command of Lt. Robert Maynard, an expedition set out for Ocracoke Inlet, revealed as Blackbeard's hideout by one of his former men. On the night of November 21, Maynard's ships arrived and discovered that Teach and his fellow pirates were engaged in a spectacular party, unaware that they were being watched. The next morning, battle ensued.

After an exchange of gunfire, Teach's and Maynard's ships closed to within boarding range. Teach's firepower had the better time of it, with grenades blowing up large bits of the other ship's deck. Maynard ordered his men, most of whom had survived the blasts, below deck. Sensing what he thought was victory, Teach ordered his men to board.

The pirates were soon surprised at the arrival on top deck of Maynard's men. A fierce battle ensued, and Teach and Maynard ended up fighting each other. They exchanged shots from their guns (both missed), then fought with swords. Teach broke Maynard's sword, and the navy captain stepped back from the fray in an attempt to reload his gun. At that moment, one of Maynard's men broke free from his own furious struggle and slashed Teach across the neck.

Blackbeard was dead. Not long after, the fighting ceased. Maynard's men captured what remained of Teach's crew and examined their leader's body. They found five gunshot wounds and 20 severe cuts on his body.

In his life as a pirate, Edward Teach captured more than 50 ships and untold amounts of wealth. He is said to have buried a mound of treasure at an undisclosed location (although the only pirate known to have buried treasure rather than keep it with him was Captain Kidd). Blackbeard's story (such as the facts are) has been told in numerous books and films. His ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was found in 1997, and objects rescued from it are now on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum.

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