Just the name Blackbeard conjures up images of seagoing villainy and bloodshed. He would have enjoyed that legacy. A man of considerable height and build, he’s reported as wearing a long, brightly coloured coat, knee-length boots and a sling over his shoulder containing six pistols. There was also the exceptional beard, of course, in which he twisted bits of coloured ribbon; he knew the theatrical value of a fearsome appearance.
Records say Blackbeard’s name was Edward Teach, although most pirates used fake names. He was born in the city of Bristol around 1680, a famous port from which the slave trade was booming at that time. He could read and write and it’s thought he fought against the French in Queen Anne’s War as a privateer – an independent sailor authorised to attack enemy ships during wartime.
Four years after the war ended, however, he was still attacking the French, seizing the merchant vessel La Concorde, equipping her with 40 guns and renaming her Queen Anne’s Revenge. From the deck of his floating fortress he built a flotilla of at least eight vessels, crewed by loyal followers and plundering ships that crossed his path.
One of his most notorious gambits was the blockade of Charleston, a port town in South Carolina, United States, in 1718. Blackbeard’s flotilla ransacked nine ships in a single week as they attempted to enter or leave the harbour, holding the passengers of one of them hostage and demanding ‘medical supplies’ in exchange for not sending their heads to Charleston’s governor. Drugs received, Blackbeard kept his word and released the prisoners, although he kept their valuables.
Later that year the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground and Blackbeard accepted a royal pardon. But he was soon back to his old tricks and fought his final battle a year later off Ocracoke, North Carolina. He was killed by the crew of HMS Jane, which sailed under Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard. He was shot five times, suffered more than 20 sword cuts and his head was hung from Maynard’s bowsprit.
Discover more about plundering pirates in issue 14 of All About History.