Blackbeard is perhaps the most notorious pirate in history, wreaking havoc through the Caribbean and British Colonies in the beginning of the 18th Century. Like many figures in the Golden Age of piracy, however, the facts have commingled with fanciful legend, and while almost everyone knows Blackbeard's name, few are familiar with his life and deeds. He left an indelible stamp on history, and his death in 1718 marked the effective end of the Golden Age of piracy.
Blackbeard's exact identity has never been definitively proven, though he was British and likely born sometime before 1690. Most historian believe that his real name was Edward Teach, and that he served as a privateer for the British in Jamaica during the War of the Grand Alliance at the end of the 17th Century.
The Queen Anne's Revenge
As a privateer, Blackbeard enjoyed the protection of the British crown, plundering only the ships of enemy powers, such as Spain. He eventually came under the tutelage of a man named Benjamin Hornigold, who also served as a privateer. When Hornigold balked at changing to flat-out piracy, Blackbeard took command of the crew, leaving his former teacher to sail away with just a small ship. Blackbeard claimed a seized French vessel and renamed it The Queen Anne's Revenge to serve as his flagship.
As a pirate, Blackbeard felt he could save a lot of fuss if he just scared his victims into submitting. He began to cultivate a reputation for cruel and horrifying behaviour, which was exaggerated by news accounts at the time. Stories persist of running battles with British ships throughout 1718, as the Royal Navy attempted to curtail his activities. Few of these stories can be definitively confirmed, however.
Blackbeard's success attracted other pirate ships to his flag, and in May of 1718, he engineered his most infamous act of piracy: a blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. He and his fleet seized five ships attempting to enter or leave Charleston's harbour and took a number of prominent hostages. The town entered into negotiations, only to receive an unusual demand: medicine instead of gold. They brought a chest of medicine to Blackbeard, and the pirates then left Charleston after releasing their hostages.
Prompted by plantation owners fearful of Blackbeard's piracy, the governor of Virginia dispatched forces to hunt the man down. A pair of ships commanded by Lt. Robert Maynard arrived at Ocracoke Island, where the pirate apparently had a hideaway. A battle ensued on November 22, 1718, and though it was quite ferocious, Maynard eventually triumphed. Blackbeard was killed in the battle, and according to some reports, his severed head was taken back to Virginia and mounted on a pike as a warning to other pirates.
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