Edward Thatch, the pirate who came to be known as
Blackbeard, is believed to have been born around 1680
in the vicinity of Bristol, England’s second most
important port. Historians have speculated that Thatch
(also recorded as “Teach,” “Tache,” and “Thach”) may
have not have been his real name, a theory bolstered by
a review of the Bristol tax records for that period, which
show nobody of that name.
Thatch was a likely a career mariner, and ultimately
traveled to Jamaica, where he served as a privateer
during the War of Spanish Succession. When the war
ended, many privateers and other sailors found
themselves out of work, and some began dibbling in
piracy. Blackbeard joined the crew of Benjamin
Hornigold, the founder of the Flying Gang’s Bahamian
pirate republic, sometime between 1714 and 1716.
While under Hornigold’s command, Blackbeard served
with several men who would later become pirate
captains, including Sam Bellamy, Paulsgrave Williams,
and Olivier La Buse. Blackbeard was exceptionally loyal
Blackbeard, in an early 18th century engraving
made by an artist who had never seen him.
to Hornigold, remaining in his pirate band after many others defected. He was given control of
various prizes in 1716, but didn’t receive his first truly independent command in September 1717.
This was the Revenge, the sloop of the wayward gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet, who had shown up
in Nassau grievously wounded. Blackbeard used her to attack shipping off the Carolinas, Virginia,
and Delaware, then took a direct, offshore passage to the outer rim of the eastern Caribbean, where,
on November 28, 1717, he made his most famous capture.
Blackbeard’s capture of the 250-ton French slaver La Concorde made him one of the most
dangerous pirates in the Americas. Blackbeard’s gang mounted her with 22 guns and renamed her
the Queen Anne’s Revenge, possibly suggesting they were sympathetic to the Stuart claim to the
British throne. (His fleet – which also included a brigantine and Bonnet’s Revenge – had a
substantial number of Africans aboard, at least some of whom were equal members of the crew,
though it remains unclear what the status was of the 61 slaves the pirates kept when they seized La
Concorde.) Thus fortified, Blackbeard’s gang brought a wave of terror to the eastern Caribbean in
late November and early December 1717, burning Guadeloupe town and most of the vessels at St.
Kitts, and leaving the Governor of the British Leeward Islands terrified for his safety, even while
aboard the frigate HMS Seaford. According to A General History of the Pyrates, Blackbeard fought
the HMS Scarborough to a draw, a legend disproven in The Republic of Pirates: the frigate’s logs
confirm the encounter never took place, though the book offers an alternate explanation.
Blackbeard’s gang spent the winter of 1717-1718 in Central American waters, before sailing to
Nassau and, ultimately, the Carolinas. By this time Blackbeard was aware of the existence of the king’
s pardon and, disgusted with the behavior of some of his men, devised an elaborate plot to jettison
the rabble. After an outrageous multi-day blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, Blackbeard
intentionally wrecked the Queen Anne’s Revenge in North Carolina’s Beaufort Inlet. Giving Bonnet
the slip – and abandoning the malcontents on a sandy island – Blackbeard led a favored subset of
his crew to North Carolina’s village capital, Bath, where they took the king’s pardon from Governor
Charles Eden. He married a local girl – a fact confirmed by Admiralty documents found while
researching The Republic of Pirates – and set himself as a sort of pirate mafia don under the
protection of Governor Eden. Unfortunately, his piracies incensed Virginia Governor Alexander
Spottswood, who orchestrated an illegal military invasion of North Carolina. A naval detachment
under Lt Robert Maynard engaged Blackbeard at Ocracoke Island on November 22, 1718, killing him
in an epic hand-to-hand struggle.
Although he cultivated a terrifying reputation, going to battle with burning fuses tied into his signature
beard, there is no recorded evidence of Blackbeard killing anyone prior to his final battle with Lt.