Edward Teach is maybe the most famous pirate of all time. Haven't heard of him? Well, he's mostly known by his other name: Blackbeard. He’s been portrayed many times in books, films, television, and comics. He’s faced off against Long John Silver, Jack Sparrow, and even the Time Warp Trio. But underneath this legend, there lie several mysteries and unanswered questions. These facts have been gleaned from what little is actually known about Blackbeard, and hopefully they'll shiver your timbers.
42. No Origin Story?
Nothing is really known for sure about Teach's life before he turned to piracy, but there is a lot of speculation. Many theories cite that Blackbeard was raised in the busy port city of Bristol, which would explain how he got into sailing. Charles Johnson, writing in the 18th century, claimed that Blackbeard had been a sailor on privateering ships during the Wars of the Spanish Succession. Sadly, it will be guesswork until we find that authentic autobiography that he left with all his buried treasure.
41. From Privateer to Pirate
If it is indeed true that Blackbeard was a privateer during the war, it means that he was a pirate with a license. Privateers were authorized by a nation’s government in time of war to wreak havoc among their enemies. When a privateer like Blackbeard would turn to piracy, they’d be going rogue, raiding anyone they pleased. Of course, the line between pirate and privateer was a bit blurred at times, even without Robin Thicke around to make a creepy song about it.
40. Sign Aboard with Hornigold
Blackbeard got his start as a pirate in 1716 when he joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold had helped establish a republic of pirates in the town of Nassau on New Providence in the West Indies.
39. You’ll Go Far
Blackbeard must have endeared himself to Hornigold very quickly, because he became Hornigold’s second-in-command almost alarmingly fast. In fact, when Hornigold took command of a powerful ship, which he dubbed Ranger, he gave command of his former ship to Blackbeard. This took place in 1717, barely a year after Blackbeard had joined Hornigold’s crew.
38. Famous for Fifteen Minutes
Surprisingly, the infamous pirate known as Blackbeard, whose reputation would linger for centuries after his death, only had a pirating career which lasted from about 1716 to 1718. Frankly, it speaks volumes for Blackbeard’s legacy that such a short amount of time was enough to cement him in human history.
37. We’re Bread Enthusiasts
If you think that Blackbeard was only after gold and jewels, you might be surprised to learn that, in 1717, Blackbeard and Benjamin Hornigold, each commanding their own ship, worked together to capture 120 pounds of flour coming from Havana. No doubt that treasure would have been difficult to bury!
36. Why is He Talking Like That?!
The first actor to play Blackbeard in a film was Robert Newton. Newton was a very popular British actor whose partying lifestyle would go on to inspire the likes of The Who’s Keith Moon. However, it was his role as Blackbeard (and as Long John Silver in an adaptation of Treasure Island) which would cement his longest-lasting legacy on the world. Newton exaggerated his West Country accent when playing his pirate characters. This proved so popular that his manner of speech became the go-to voice for pirates on film, even up to the Pirates of the Caribbean films. In fact, Newton is still hailed as the patron saint of Talk Like a Pirate Day. No doubt Blackbeard would have had some complaints about his portrayal.
35. Don’t Tell Them About California Wine Country
In 1717, Blackbeard and his crew attacked a ship sailing from Madeira to South Carolina. However, this led to trouble for ol' Blackbeard, as his crew got a taste for Madeira wine. When they raided another ship called the Betty shortly after, they only took its cargo of Madeira wine, letting all the rest of her valuable cargo sink with the ship!
34. Get Your Head Out of the Sand!
Contrary to the popular myth, Blackbeard was never reported to have buried any treasure. The only pirate who’s ever reported to have buried treasure was William Kidd, who died 15 years before Blackbeard ever emerged as a pirate. It was writers like Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe who pushed the narrative of pirates burying their treasure in overly elaborate hiding spots and then never coming back for it.
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33. Sure, Go Ahead and Take My Ship
While Captain Blackbeard was still working together with Captain Hornigold, his friend and benefactor, they came across a pirate ship Revenge, which was captained by a former military officer-turned-pirate named Stede Bonnet (those damn military pensions). However, Bonnet wasn’t much liked by his crew, and things were looking bad for the man. Amazingly, after meeting and spending time with Blackbeard, he willingly let Blackbeard take control of his ship. Must have been a really understanding sort of fellow.
32. Competing Mini-Series
In 2005, BBC released a miniseries on the life of Blackbeard, starring renowned British actor James Purefoy as the title character. Not to be outdone, the Hallmark Channel produced its own miniseries on Blackbeard, getting fellow Brit actor Angus MacFadyen to play the role. Neither miniseries has had much staying power, taking a lot of liberties with the source material and generally falling by the wayside. Certainly not something one would have said about the real Blackbeard!
31. Do I Look Scary to You?
Like many before and after him, Blackbeard knew that a fearsome appearance could really take the fight out of one’s enemies. He was said to be tall, heavily bearded (obviously) and had a look which frightened anyone who came across it. Blackbeard actually preferred to use imagery rather than force to get what he wanted, as killing unnecessarily would lead to too much trouble.
30. Arr, I Be Having a Dream…
It seems that when you’re outside of a prejudiced society, prejudices don’t always have staying power. Blackbeard’s crew was a diverse one, with several men of African descent. In fact, when Blackbeard’s surviving crew were later put on trial, there was a movement to segregate the pirates and sentence them differently. While there’s no surviving record of the punishments, we do know that the movement failed, and the pirates were almost all sentenced equally guilty. So that’s something for progress, right?
29. A Ruthless Man?
Despite the tyrannical-pirate-captain image that people continue to use in their portrayals of Blackbeard, the real man was not at all in a position to command absolute power. Blackbeard’s captaincy hinged on the consent of his ships’ crews, and while he was certainly terrifying to face in battle, no historical source can attest to Blackbeard mistreating the prisoners he kept on his ships.
28. I Want Your Better Ship, You Can Keep My Old One
Blackbeard obtained his signature ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, in November 1717, when she was a French merchant vessel named La Concorde carrying a cargo of slaves. Blackbeard recruited several of the slaves into his crew, renamed the ship, and fitted her with 40 guns. As for the surviving crew, Blackbeard gave them the smallest of his previous two ships so they could sail to the nearest French port. Not ideal, but I bet it could've been a lot worse.
27. I Trademarked That Nickname!
Blackbeard wasn’t the only pirate or privateer to get a famous nickname based on the color of his facial hair. Two Ottoman brothers, Hayreddin and Oruç, shared the name Barbarossa (which means Redbeard in Italian). Both served either as corsairs or privateers at different points in their lives. Sadly, they were alive nearly two centuries before Blackbeard, meaning that they never bumped into each other and had a showdown over whose beard was better.
26. Trouble in Paradise
Blackbeard, like many other pirates of the 18th century, would have made great use of the island of New Providence in the West Indies, which was perfect for pirate operations. It was near the Florida Strait, which was used by many ships crossing the Atlantic. New Providence also had a natural harbor which could hold hundreds of ships while also being too shallow for the large ships of the Royal Navy to try and brave. This meant that the island was a blind spot where pirates like Blackbeard could make a haven for themselves. So Black Sails ended up getting some things right after all!
25. I’m Commodore Blackbeard!
At the height of his power, Blackbeard awarded himself the title of Commodore. We’re starting to think that Jack Sparrow was a little underplayed.
24. Don’t Worry, I Mean You Harm. No, You Didn’t Mishear
During the Golden Age of Piracy, the port of Charles Town, in the province of South Carolina, decided that it didn’t need a guard ship. Blackbeard showed his support for this thinking by blockading the port with his pirate ships in May 1718.
23. Anything for Some Medication!
For just under a week, Blackbeard’s fleet held the harbor hostage, plundering nine ships trying to get in and out of the port. One of these ships was the Crowley, whose crew and passengers were taken hostage. Blackbeard used the lives of his prisoners to bargain for the medical supplies that his crews needed.
22. Talk About a Misunderstanding!
When the authorities of Charles Town agreed to the trade of medical drugs for the hostages, Blackbeard sent a man named Mr. Marks and two of his pirates ashore to collect the medication. Blackbeard and the others waited offshore with the hostages. When several days had gone by without any sign of the landing party returning with the medical supplies, Blackbeard sailed a number of ships into the harbor, terrifying the populace. Mr. Marks was found, and he explained what had caused the delay; while the city had quickly prepared the collection of supplies for the ships, the two pirates who were sent to collect it had disappeared. They were eventually found in a drunken stupor while partying with their friends in the town!
21. I Never Said No Stealing!
Surprisingly, Blackbeard proved true to his word when he received the ransom payment from Charles Town, releasing all the hostages he held aboard his ships. Of course, there was a catch; Blackbeard first had the hostages give up their valuables, and in some cases, their expensive clothes! We’re hoping that they were at least allowed to keep their underwear for the voyage back to shore.
20. Imagine That Kind of Reunion!
In a strange twist of fate, Blackbeard’s old benefactor, Benjamin Hornigold, found out that a pardon was being offered to pirates who changed their ways, and he jumped at the chance. Hornigold received his pardon, though he had to agree to become a pirate hunter for the Crown. He was even commissioned to find and hunt down his old buccaneer buddy, Blackbeard, though the two men never crossed paths again (the jury’s out on whether Hornigold deliberately ensured that or not).
19. Arr, It be a Small World
Blackbeard’s ideal anchorage was a place known as Ocracoke Inlet. Its location on the Outer Banks of North Carolina gave Blackbeard a good view of passing ships, and he could use it as a hideout from authorities. Interestingly, it was at Ocracoke where Blackbeard encountered another famous pirate, Charles Vane. The two men and their associates—including Israel Hands and Calico Jack Rackham—would spend over a week hanging out together, presumably comparing battle scars and trying to out-snarl each other.
18. A Powerful Enemy
While Blackbeard was hanging out with Charles Vane, their meeting gained the attention of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood. He was convinced that the Carolinas wouldn’t ever stop piracy, and so he decided a crackdown was necessary, especially since several of Blackbeard’s old crew were living in Virginia. He arrested William Howard, Blackbeard’s former quartermaster aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in order to find out where exactly Blackbeard was hiding out.
17. The Beginning of the End
Unfortunately for Spotswood, his plan with William Howard turned into a circus in court, with Howard’s legal representative claiming that the arrest was unlawful. Spotswood fought back, and eventually Howard was sentenced to hang for his former acts as a pirate. He was saved, however, by a London delegation that ordered Spotswood to issue pardons to surrendering pirates (can’t take away the incentives to stop pirating, after all). However, in the midst of all this chaos, Spotswood got the information that he was looking for, and sent out two ships under the command of Lt. Robert Maynard, who would prove to be Blackbeard’s doom.
The fate of Queen Anne’s Revenge wasn’t a glorious one, or even an infamous one. In May 1718, the ship ran aground while Blackbeard was trying to enter Beaufort Inlet. Historians still disagree on whether it was an accident, or whether Blackbeard did this intentionally as part of a plan to divide his crew when he went to get his pardon. Either way, no blaze of fire and blood for this ship, despite all the hype surrounding her legacy.
15. I Get Bored Easily
Blackbeard managed to get a pardon for his crimes as a pirate in June 1718. After settling down in North Carolina and getting a commission to be a privateer, he began pirating again in August 1718. About two months was about as long as Blackbeard could go before turning back to a life of piracy.
14. An Unbiased Court
As soon as Blackbeard fell off the straight and narrow, North Carolina Governor Charles Eden issued a warrant for his arrest. When Blackbeard and his crew captured a French ship and brought it back to his base in Ocracoke, he claimed to Eden that the ship had been abandoned at sea and was thus free pickings. Amazingly, the court headed by Tobias Knight ruled in favor of Blackbeard’s claim, though given that Knight awarded himself and Governor Eden ample shares in the ship’s loot, who can be truly surprised at the outcome?
13. As Long as You Have a Good Reason
The final hunt for Blackbeard, begun in November 1718, was personally paid for by Governor Spotswood (he really didn't like the guy, eh?). It wasn’t all for justice, though. He, like so many people, was convinced that Blackbeard and his fellow pirates had vast treasures stashed away somewhere, so maybe the myth is older than we thought.
12. Fair Odds
When Lt. Robert Maynard found Blackbeard at Ocracoke Inlet, he could not have shown up at a better time. Half of Blackbeard’s crew was ashore, away from their ship, and Blackbeard was entertaining guests at the time of Maynard’s arrival. None of that phased Blackbeard though, and he immediately went on the attack when Maynard’s ships closed in.
11. A Bloody Day to Die
According to the sources, Blackbeard personally led a boarding of Maynard’s ship and engaged Maynard himself in combat. Despite breaking the Lieutenant’s sword, Blackbeard’s crew was beaten back by Maynard’s crew, leaving Blackbeard to be surrounded and cut off from support. When Blackbeard was overcome and killed, the battle ended in the surrender of his crew. Around ten of Maynard’s men and 12 of Blackbeard’s pirates were killed.
10. I’ve Seen Better Days
By the time the battle was over, Blackbeard’s body was revealed to have been shot five times and slashed another 20 times. Safe to say he may have been reconsidering retirement after the first three shots.
9. Love and Marriage?
According to one account, Blackbeard did one notable thing while he was trying to live the straight life after receiving a pardon in 1718; He married Mary Ormond, the 16-year-old daughter of a plantation owner. The wedding was attended by Tobias Knight, the Royal Secretary for North Carolina, and was allegedly conducted by the Royal Governor himself! There's no documentation which reveals what happened to her when Blackbeard took up pirating again, so we’re hoping that she pulled an Elizabeth Swan and became the pirate king (queen?) of the Brethren Court.
8. So He was a Chicken?
After his death, Blackbeard’s severed head was hung from the bowsprit of Lt. Maynard’s ship as proof that Blackbeard was no more (can’t miss out on collecting that reward, after all). As for the rest of Blackbeard, a legend sprung up that his headless body swam around in three circles before finally sinking.
7. That’s a Nice Proposition
In the spring of 1718, Blackbeard’s ships pulled over a sloop which went by the name of Adventure (an ironic name if ever we’ve heard one). Amazingly, however, Blackbeard managed to persuade her captain, David Harriot, that a pirate’s life was for him instead. Harriot went on to serve under Blackbeard’s command. That one seems a little unlikely, but who am I to say, I wasn't there.
6. All’s Well that Doesn’t End Well
So, you might be asking, what became of the man whose actions led to the death of Blackbeard? Since two ships’ crews were involved in the death of Blackbeard, they all split the prize money of 400 pounds between them, despite the fact that it was Lt. Maynard and his men who did the fighting. Maynard complained loudly about this division of wealth, but then it was revealed that he and his men had secretly taken some of Blackbeard’s wealth for themselves on the sly. This destroyed any goodwill which Maynard might have enjoyed as the man who defeated Blackbeard. He not only didn’t get any promotion for his efforts, his career fizzled out. Not to mention the fact that he was probably haunted by a headless ghost for the rest of his life.
5. Those Were the Days!
In more modern times, the defeat of Blackbeard by Lt. Maynard has become celebrated, at least by a specific group of people. One of the ships that Maynard had command over in his lifetime has a modern equivalent by the same name. The modern crew of the HMS Ranger allegedly still celebrate Maynard’s victory with a mess dinner held on Blackbeard Night at the Sussex University Royal Navy Unit. It must be an awkward time for any bearded raven-haired sailors in attendance, though!
4. Sir, Your Hair’s on Fire
In order to scare his enemies even more than he already did, Blackbeard would allegedly tie lit fuses into his hair and beard to put on a minor pyro spectacle when he entered battle. His intention was allegedly to look like a demon from the pits of Hell, and by all accounts it seems to have done the trick.
3. How Do You Spell That?
We will probably never know Blackbeard’s real name. He's often referred to as Edward Teach, but there are two problems with that name. Firstly, the surname is spelled differently depending on which source you’re using. Secondly, it’s a fact that many pirates wanted to avoid bringing unwanted attention to their families, so they would use fake names. This means that Edward Teach could have been the equivalent of “James Bond” or “Keyser Söze” in the Golden Age of piracy.
2. … But Then I Took a Bullet in the Knee!
One of the many pirates who served under Blackbeard was a man named Israel Hands. When Blackbeard was killed, and a number of his surviving crew were put on trial for their part in the battle, Hands was one of only two men who weren’t found guilty. Hands got out of a conviction by arguing that he didn’t take part in the battle because Blackbeard had shot him in the knee. Hands later lent his name to a minor character in Treasure Island who probably wished a bullet to the knee was his worst problem.
1. Rich Boy
When Blackbeard was killed, he was carrying a letter which the Secretary of the Province of Carolina, Tobias Knight, had written to him. This bit of trivia strongly implies that Blackbeard was literate, which has led several historians to suggest that he was from a reasonably wealthy family. We can only assume that Blackbeard never mentioned this fact, since it would have destroyed his street cred among the crew.