Unquestionably the most infamous of all the pirates who terrorized the eighteenth-century coasts of North America and the blue-green waters of the Caribbean is the tyrannical Edward Teach, known popularly as Blackbeard. It may come as more of a surprise that almost everything we know about the man comes from accounts—both legendary and factual—regarding the last year or so of his life.
Edward Teach (some records have the name “Thatch”) shows up in piracy history as late as 1717, although he apparently spent several years prior to that as a royally-approved privateer in Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713). Sometime after the war, Teach became the Blackbeard we all know him to be. By the fall of 1717 he was pirating ships just outside Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and then left for the warmer waters of the Caribbean as winter approached. It was there, 100 miles out from the French island Martinique, that Blackbeard made one of his best catches: the great French slave ship La Concorde.
The ship was huge by contemporary standards, sporting forty cannon, two rows of ten on each side. By comparison, Blackbeard and his fellow pirates had two much smaller sloops with which to attack her, having only twelve and eight cannon respectively. Fortunate for the pirates, the powerful slave ship was undermanned due to a deadly sickness on board. Almost as soon as the attack had begun, it ended with La Concorde’s surrender.
Blackbeard deposited the French crew and their cargo of African slaves on one of the Grenadine islands, leaving them one of his smaller sloops. Renaming his newest prize the Queen Anne’s Revenge, he then began a six-month sweep of the Caribbean, plundering ships, amassing treasure, and building his disreputable reputation. Having gone throughout all of the Lesser and Greater Antilles and into the Bahamas, by mid-spring 1718 Blackbeard had his own personal flotilla of four warships, manned by over 300 pirates and laden with gold and jewels and weapons and all of the other things that make a pirate feel he has been successful.
One bright and sunny morning in May of that year the happy citizens of Charleston, South Carolina, woke up to find the small bit of Atlantic Ocean just beyond their harbor choked up with the king of pirates and his hideous entourage. In the most daring move of his short-lived career, Blackbeard literally blockaded the Charleston harbor for an entire week, attacking, boarding, and plundering nearly every ship that attempted to enter or leave the wealthy Southern port. Before parting, Blackbeard took captive the crew and all passengers of one unfortunate ship, the Crowley, demanding a ransom for their release. The ransom was paid by the city: a chest full of medicine, the one thing the pirates desperately needed but could not come by on the open seas.
Leaving the looted Charleston behind, Blackbeard made his way slowly up the Carolina coast until he inadvertently grounded the Queen Anne’s Revenge on an ocean bar as he attempted to sail through Old Topsail Inlet near Beaufort, North Carolina. Taking plunder and a few hand-picked pirate-fellows, the legendary captain abandoned the ship and lived luxuriously at Bath, North Carolina, for the summer. Later that fall, he was targeted by Governor Spotswood of Virginia as a public menace and was finally killed in battle with the Royal Navy at Ocracoke Inlet off the coast of North Carolina.
But it was not the last to be heard of the old pirate. As it turns out, the wreckage of Blackbeard’s prize Queen Anne’s Revenge has been haunting the waters at Beaufort, North Carolina, these past nearly three hundred years. Discovered in 1995, marine archeologists have extracted a bell cast in 1705, several cannon, anchors, cask rings, and even a bit of gold hidden in a barrel of lead shot. You can visit the Queen Anne’s Revenge exhibit at Beaufort’s North Carolina Maritime Museum and see it all for yourself—relics of another age, the Golden Age of Piracy, from which Edward “Blackbeard the Pirate” Teach emerged as the dominant image for all things pirate to this day.