Blackbeard: Terror of the High Seas

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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.

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David White