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22 Jun 2022
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History & Culture

Blackbeard: The Fearsome Pirate of Ocracoke

Canons. Sword fighting. Smoke billowing out from his beard, which was decorated with burning fuses and bright ribbon. 

When you mention the name “Blackbeard,” these images, and many more often frightening images come to mind. But just how accurate are they and where did they come from? Who was this mysterious pirate, remembered now for his terrifying legacy? What other pirates did he sail with? And what is his connection to the Outer Banks? 

Keep reading for a swashbuckling journey back to the 1700s and the Golden Age of Piracy.

Who was Edward Teach (or Thatch…or Tach)?

Unfortunately, not a lot is known about Ed’s life before the two years that comprised his reign of terror. It’s believed that he was born in Bristol, England, and new evidence suggests that his family may have lived in Jamaica. Some historians believe that he may have been a member of the British Navy before sailing under Captain Benjamin Hornigold and becoming a pirate. Most historians believe that Blackbeard's real name was Edward Teach, though the spellings of his last name vary.

The Blackbeard we all know and love, or fear, depending on who you ask, took control of what is believed to have been a French slaving ship and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge in 1717. This vessel became his flagship, mounted with 40 guns and 300 crew, and used it to sail the Caribbean, building his own fleet of ships.

During this time period, Blackbeard is also believed to have sailed with another infamous pirate, Stede Bonnet, who famously paid for his own pirate ship out of a desire for adventure and named it…wait for it…RevengeBonnet notoriously used the inlets of North Carolina to his navigational advantage and, at some point during the latter half of 1717, Bonnet was injured and Blackbeard took over command of the Revenge. It’s still unclear whether or not Blackbeard tricked Bonnet into surrendering his vessel.

In 1718, Queen Anne’s Revenge was moved to Charleston, North Carolina when Blackbeard changed his flagship to the Adventure. Nearly 280 years later, in 1996, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was found in the waters off of Ocracoke Island in Beaufort Inlet after the discovery of a cluster of cannons and anchors by a private research firm. A decade later, a total of 24 canons have been raised from the site of the wreck and research continues at the ECU West Research Campus in Greenville, NC.

Blackbeard Becomes Blackbeard

During this two-year period of sailing the Caribbean, Blackbeard became a legend…and some historians believe that that is exactly what he was trying to do. Charles Ewen, an archaeologist at East Carolina University, believes that Blackbeard “cultivated” the image of himself as a violent and terrifying figure as a means of attack. “Scaring people was a better option than to damage what you are trying to steal.”

Eventually, Blackbeard became known for ruthless violence, a thick beard, and fuses lit under his hat to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. The question of whether or not he really was as terrifying and ruthless as we are led to believe is still up for some debate. Some historians now believe that it was his reputation, the character of Blackbeard, that is responsible for his success as a pirate.

The Beginning of the End

Blackbeard is also believed to have been very intelligent and sophisticated, as evidenced by his relationship with North Carolina governor Charles Eden who turned a blind eye to Blackbeard's piracy off the North Carolina coast. It was eventually the Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood who decided to do something about the pirate menace haunting the waters of the Atlantic Coast.

On November 22, 1718, Lieutenant Robert Maynard met Blackbeard off the coast of Ocracoke Island in what is now known as Teach’s Hole for the pirate’s final battle. It is believed that Blackbeard was shot five times and stabbed twenty times before finally being beheaded and his body thrown overboard. Legend says that he was so evil that his body swam around the boat three times before sinking. 

Since his death in 1718, there have been many reports of a headless body swimming around Teach’s Hole and reports of a headless Blackbeard walking the beaches of Ocracoke looking for his long, lost head. You can read more about how Blackbeard haunts the coast of Northeastern North Carolina along with several other spooky places on the Outer Banks by checking out this page on our website!

Blackbeard’s Legacy

Whether or not Edward Teach was as murderous and terrifying as he led us to believe, the fact still stands that his stories and infamy set the stage for centuries of pirate tales and his legacy created the golden standard of who a pirate is supposed to be. He symbolizes the lawlessness of travel on the high seas during the Golden Age of Piracy and the often deadly adventures that awaited those on this side of the Atlantic. 

Come experience the excitement and adventures of your own at the Outer Banks Pirate Festival sponsored by Seaside Vacations August 10-11. And don’t miss Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree, held every year during the last weekend of October at the Berkley Manor Grounds in Ocracoke, N.C. And if you’re brave enough, come walk the beaches at night to try get a glimpse of the famous brigand himself.

So what are you waiting for? Book your Outer Banks vacation today. Adventure is calling.

Sources:

Andrew, L. (2018, November 13). Three centuries after his beheading, a kinder, gentler blackbeard emerges. Smithsonian.com. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/three-centuries-after-his-beheading-kinder-gentler-blackbeard-emerges-180970782/ 

Carroll, E. (2017, September 22). In late September... when bonnet met Blackbeard. Queen Anne's Revenge Project. Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.qaronline.org/blog/2017-09-22/late-september-when-bonnet-met-blackbeard 

Queen Anne's Revenge Project. Queen Anne's Revenge Project. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2022, from https://www.qaronline.org/history/discovery-shipwreck