November 22, 2007

November 22 | Edward Teach

1680? - November 22, 1718: Age 38

Edward Teach was the notorious Blackbeard, the most famous pirate of all time. His real name is unknown, as is his precise background — it was not uncommon for professional pirates to keep their origins secret in order to protect their families at home.

His story reads like so many movies, and that's because every piece of pirate fiction owes something to the persona he himself created. He dressed... well, like Johnny Depp, very flamboyant and wearing half a dozen pistols at a time. A large man, he cultivated a massive scraggly beard and rasta locks, in which he wove strings of hemp and cannon fuses that could be lit with a match during battle to give him a diabolically smoky appearance.

In fact he was not a sadist nor a particularly violent man. He was interested in treasure, women (he "married" 14 times), and the freewheeling combination of chaos and discipline that made up a life at sea. After apprenticing with Benjamin Hornigold, the most feared pirate of the day, he took over his "practice" when Hornigold decided to retire (just like in The Princess Bride!). His reputation was greatly enhanced when he bested the English Man o' War Scarborough in a running duel. Rather than sink or take the Scarborough, he allowed it to withdraw when it became obvious the pirates would win.

Whether or not he intended it, the stories spread by the crew of the Scarborough were a goldmine of fearsome publicity. That, combined with his eccentric appearance, meant that simply seeing Blackbeard on the deck of a marauding ship was enough to make many prey ships surrender on the spot. This, of course, was the point.

In May 1718 Teach capped off his career with a complete blockade of the port of Charleston, South Carolina, during which he took a number of high ranking citizens prisoner in exchange for medical supplies. He got his supplies and nobody was harmed.

At this point, Blackbeard decided to retire. The British government (who had after all created all the pirates by hiring them as privateers during the war with Spain) offered a blanket pardon to any pirate captain willing to give himself up. He surrendered to the governer of North Carolina and settled down in Bath, marrying his 14th wife, this time legally (the other 13 had bee on-deck ceremonies at sea). It seems, however, that retirement didn't suit Teach, and he began to pirate here and there in a quiet sort of way. The Governor of Virginia, incensed that the infamous pirate was operating unhindered so close to his border, hired two sloops and a number men to back them up on shore to hunt out Teach in his hideout on the inland side of Ocracoke Island. They succeeded in engaging with Teach's two ships there and, although outgunned, were able to trick Teach onto the deck of one ship by hiding the men below decks, making it appear that most of them had died in the preceding heavy fire. Teach fell for it and boarded the sloop with a small force. The expedition's leader, Robert Maynard, burst from below decks with his men and a duel between the two worthy of any Hollywood movie ensued. From the National Geographic:

Maynard's men swarmed out of the hatches. Blackbeard went straight for Maynard, the two men firing pistols at the same time. The pirate's shot rang wide, but Maynard hit Teach square in the chest. Still, the pirate fought on, landing a cutlass blow so fierce it broke Maynard's sword. Just then, the pirate was staggered by a sword blow to his neck from behind. He pulled his last pistol but was too weak to fire. Blackbeard collapsed on deck, in the end having been shot five times and stabbed more than 20.

Teach's head was severed and hung from the bowsprit of the sloop. His body was thrown into the sea, and it is said the headless body swam around the ship several times before sinking. Legend has it that Blackbeard's ghost can still be seen in the neighbourhood, looking for his head.

Sources: Wikipedia, National Geographic, Edward Teach

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