The Pirate Blackbeard: Man Or Myth?

Was the fearsome pirate Blackbeard a real man or merely a myth? Amidst the folklore and the facts, we find that he was both.

Blackbeard did exist and is reputed to have been the fiercest pirate who ever lived. His real name is reported to be Edward Teach, though some documents of the period suggest the pirate's true surname was Thatch. It is widely believed that Blackbeard was born in England around 1680. Other than that, even the most basic information about Blackbeard before he launched his pirating career is either vague or unsubstantiated.

The most renowned Blackbeard biographer was Captain Charles Johnson, who described the pirate as having an extravagantly long black beard that came up to his eyes. Johnson reported that Blackbeard would twist the beard into tails, tie the tails with ribbons and then turn the tails toward his ears. Johnson further states that when engaged in battle, Blackbeard wore "a sling over his Shoulders; with three brace of Pistols, hanging in Holsters like Bandaliers." Johnson was perhaps the first person to describe the practice Blackbeard had of putting lit matches (lengths of hemp cord dipped in lime and saltpeter) under his hat to give his face and eyes an unnaturally fierce glow.

Blackbeard apparently used this hat trick along with many other machinations to project an terrifying image. Biographers are unsure which atrocities rumored to have been committed by Blackbeard are true and which were merely circulated to enhance the pirate's notorious reputation.

Blackbeard began his nefarious career sometime after 1713 as a crewman aboard a Jamaican sloop commanded by Benjamin Hornigold. In 1716, Hornigold appointed Blackbeard to command a captured vessel, and the two pirates formed an allegiance. Blackbeard went on to captain the flagship he named Queen Anne's Revenge. Using this ship, he and his crew terrorized the coast from Trinidad to Maine. Though Blackbeard's solo career as a pirate lasted only twenty-seven months (from 1716 to 1718), he is believed to have amassed a great fortune and as many as fourteen wives.

In 1718, the governor of Virginia sent a naval expedition to attack Blackbeard at his favorite hideout on Ocracoke Island, just south of Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. "Teach's Hole" was a six-mile long trench between a sandbar and the Ocracoke Island. From the "hole," Blackbeard could escape attack coming in from either side by going toward the nearby inlet or evading capture by way of Pamlico Sound. What Blackbeard had failed to count on was the possibility of two attacking ships, and by using two ships, the navy caught Blackbeard by surprise. Cornered, the pirate and his crew fought mightily. Captain Johnson reports that it took twenty-five wounds to Blackbeard's body, including five pistol balls, before he was dead. As King George I of England had offered a reward for Blackbeard dead or alive, Lieutenant Maynard (head of the naval expedition) cut off Blackbeard's head and anchored it on the bow of the ship--proof that the mighty Blackbeard had been slain. Blackbeard's body was tossed overboard.

Remains of a ship thought to be Queen Anne's Revenge was found off the coast of North Carolina in November of 1996. Divers are still investigating the wreckage today.

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