19 November 2013

The Black Heart of Blackbeard! (Tuesday Talk)

The Fourth of my Sea Witch Voyages, Bring It Close, is based around the true story of Blackbeard - one of the best known of all pirates, probably because we have a full account of his demise, recorded at the trial of the remains of his crew. In my story, my ex-pirate, Captain Jesamiah Acorne is responsible for Blackbeard’s end – but he makes it quite plain that he wanted no mention of his assistance in the recorded logs. Which is why the name Acorne is not there! (Don’t you just love plausible fiction!)

Blackbeard was described as a tall man with a black beard which he wore very long. Other descriptions mention that his thick black beard was braided into pigtails and sometimes tied in with small coloured ribbons. He wore knee-length boots and dark clothing, topped with a wide hat and a long coat of brightly coloured silk or velvet. In times of battle he was described as wearing a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters, and placed lighted fuses under his hat.

His real name is believed to have been Edward Teach or Thatch, and he was born around 1680 in or near Bristol, an important shipping port at that time. ‘Thatch’ has been recorded as 'Teach', 'Tache', and 'Thach' – the discrepancy, I personally believe, being caused by an inconsistent spelling of that time, and the broad West Country accent he must have had. There is no tax record of any of these names – but then who is to say Blackbeard paid taxes! One early source claims his surname was Drummond, but there is no supporting documentation for this.
He obviously had a career as a mariner, for he knew his job when it came to sailing a ship, very possibly he was either a merchant seaman or a Tar in the Royal Navy before he turned pirate. He served as a privateer during the War of Spanish Succession but when the war ended, as with many privateers and sailors, he found himself out of work, and turned to a more profitable line of business. Almost certainly he could read and write for he communicated by letter 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.

He joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold between 1714 and 1716, and while under Hornigold’s command, served with several other men who also become notable pirate
Captains – men such as Sam Bellamy and Jack Rackham. Teach and Hornigold joined up with Stede Bonnet, a landowner and military officer from a wealthy family who had turned to piracy. Teach took control of his first command in September 1717 when Bonnet's crew of about 70 men were dissatisfied with his command, so with Bonnet's permission, Teach took control of Revenge. The pirate flotilla now consisted of three ships; Teach on Revenge, Teach's old sloop, and Hornigold's Ranger, then another vessel was 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. In a report made by Captain Mathew Munthe on an anti-piracy patrol for North Carolina, "Thatch" was described as operating "a sloop 6 gunns [sic] and about 70 men".

Hornigold only attacked his old enemies, but the sight of British vessels filled with valuable cargo became too much for his crew, and toward the end of 1717 he was demoted and he retired from Piracy. Whether Teach had any involvement in this decision is unknown.

Blackbeard's flag
On November 28 1717 Blackbeard took his most famous prize, the 250-ton French slaver La Concorde, which then made him one of the most notorious pirates in the Americas. Renaming her the Queen Anne’s Revenge – which may have indicated Blackbeard had a leaning towards the Jacobite movement and the re-instatement of the Stuart King, James, over George of Hanover. She was mounted with twenty-two guns and became the flagship of a deadly fleet which included a brigantine and Stede Bonnet’s Revenge. There were a number of Africans aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, most of whom appear to have been equal members of the crew, but it is not known what happened to the slaves who had been aboard La Concorde when it was seized. Very probably they were sold.

Blackbeard and his crew brought terror to the Caribbean attacking and burning Guadeloupe town and destroying most of the vessels at St. Kitts, leaving the Governor of the British Leeward Islands in fear of his life. Teach's movements between late 1717 and early 1718 are not known, but he and Bonnet were probably responsible for an attack off St Eustatius in December 1717 and it is likely that the crew spent the winter of 1717-1718 in Central American waters, before sailing to Nassau and the Carolinas.

Blackbeard was aware of the King’s pardon – an opportunity for amnesty offered by Governor Woodes Rogers of Nassau in an attempt to put an end to the piracy in the Caribbean and Bahamas, which was affecting the sugar and tobacco trade (and thus hitting the pockets of wealthy Englishmen). At this point, he does not seem to have been lured by the promise of a pardon, though, for he launched a raid on Charleston, South Carolina, blockading the town for many days and kidnapping the Governor’s son for a demand of ransom. Which was paid, and was, surprisingly, not money but medical supplies, including mercury which was the common-used cure for syphilis.

Teach thought that Governor Charles Eden of North Carolina was a man to be trusted (or more probably, manipulated) but to make sure he sent Bonnet ahead to surrender to and plead a pardon. Bonnet returned to the small fleet with the pardon but Teach had stripped his vessel of valuables and provisions, and marooned its crew. Bonnet set out for revenge, but was unable to find Teach, so he and his crew returned to piracy. They were captured on 27 September 1718 at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and all but four were tried and hanged in Charleston.
For some reason Blackbeard also deliberately scuppered the Queen Anne’s Revenge on a sandbank in North Carolina’s Beaufort Inlet (or was it just bad sailing?) abandoning the majority of his crew to their own fate. Was the ship too much of a liability, or did he not want Bonnet to have her?

Blackbeard decided to ‘retire’ and settled in Bath Town, North Carolina, taking pardon from Governor Charles Eden. There, he married a local girl and established himself as an apparently respectable man, while secretly undertaking pirate raids on incoming shipping – probably in league with Governor Eden.

This ‘nice little earner’ however, enraged Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia who initiated a military and naval invasion of North Carolina – which was, strictly speaking, illegal as it was out of his area of jurisdiction.

 Under the command of Lt Robert Maynard Blackbeard and his crew were engaged at Ocracoke Island on November 22, 1718, where a sensational fight to the death ensued. Blackbeard had deliberately cultivated a terrifying reputation by going into battle with burning fuses tied into his hair and beard, and it is said that he had five gunshot wounds and over twenty other wounds before finally dying by a pistol shot fired by Maynard himself. He was beheaded after death and his head hung from the bowsprit – his body thrown overboard, where it was said to swim around the boat three times before sinking beneath the sea (a probably explanation is that the tide was coming in). The remainder of his crew were taken for trial to Williamsburg, Virginia where they were all hanged.

 For an excerpt from Bring It Close, where Jesamiah encounters Blackbeard – click here

There is a reasonable fuller account on Wikipedia

further information about the discovery of the remains of the Queen Anne's Revenge wreckage :
archaeology news network.blogspot.co.uk

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  1. My favorite of all your Sea Witch novels.....I love when fiction meets historical characters.....Well Done!!

    1. thanks Kelly, I did very much enjoy writing Bring It Close!


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