Blackbeard: The Man, the Myth, the Beard

Blackbeard the Pirate: this was published in Defoe, Daniel; Johnson, Charles (1736 - although Angus Konstam says the image is circa 1726) "Capt. Teach alias Black-Beard" in A General History of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers, &c. to which is added, a genuine account of the voyages and plunders of the most notorious pyrates. Interspersed with several diverting tales, and pleasant songs. And adorned with the Heads of the most remarkable Villains, curiously engraven on Copper, London: Oliver Payne, pp. plate facing p. 86

As one of the most notorious and well-remembered Caribbean pirates, Blackbeard succeeded in capturing over 40 ships in his relatively brief career.

Blackbeard the pirate seemed to have a name for every occasion. Apparently he was born in England as Edward Drummond in an unknown year, and at some point during his pirate days, he became known as Edward Teach, or else Thatch, Tache or Tatch. In any event, it was the name Blackbeard that stuck.

Blackbeard, strong as a bull, was an imposing figure, standing well over six feet tall –striking terror not just in the hearts of his enemies but also in his crew. Being psychotic will have that effect on people. On one occasion he shot his first mate to show to the crew that he was not to be trifled with. It is said that during battle Blackbeard would set fire to hemp he had woven into his beard. He was customarily outfitted with two swords, a kitchen-drawerful of knives and an assortment of pistols. His size and fierce, demonic expression as well as the pyrotechnic display in the beard (never underestimate the value of a good beard where legend-making is concerned) were often enough to give his enemies the runs in their pantaloons and yield up their ship and contents to Blackbeard.

Blackbeard’s terms to his enemies were straightforward, and came from the resistance-is-useless branch of piratical philosophy. Yield up your ship’s treasure, weapons, knickknacks and maybe your stash of rum, and you could expect to walk away with your life intact. Resist and you would be killed or marooned somewhere on an island with no forwarding address.

Blackbeard cut his sailing teeth during Queen Anne’s War, which lasted from 1701 to 1713, during which time he was regarded as an honest seaman.

It’s unlikely that he would be remembered today for being an honest seaman or a good family man or as someone who helped old ladies across the street, so at some point he turned pirate. That point came in 1713, when he sailed under the pirate Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold knew executive pirating material when he saw it, and in 1716 gave Blackbeard a pirate ship of his own to command, and for the next year or so, the two worked in unison as a winning pirate team, spreading terror throughout the, if not seven, certainly at least one sea.

In 1717 Hornigold accepted a British general amnesty for all pirates. Blackbeard, however, continued with his pirating ways. That same year he captured the French vessel Concorde, and re-christened it the Queen Anne’s Revenge, bolstering its guns from 26 to an even 40, and using it as his flagship. By 1718 Blackbeard had captured three more ships, and with these four ships and 300 crewmen was able to attack and plunder the choicest ships in the Caribbean.

The end of Blackbeard and his beard came in November, 1718, when he was surprised by a fleet of royal-navy ships in the Ocracoke Inlet off the coast of Florida.

As might be expected, Blackbeard did not give up easily or quietly. It took 20 sword cuts and five bullets before loss of blood caused him to collapse. A royal-navy captain then cut off his head and, thinking it would make an attractive ornament, hung it in his ship’s rigging– beard and all.

No doubt the expression on Blackbeard’s decapitated head was not a sweet or serene one.