Edward Thatch, the pirate who came to be known as Blackbeard, is believed to have been born around 1680 in the vicinity of Bristol, England’s second most important port. Historians have speculated that Thatch (also recorded as “Teach,” “Tache,” and “Thach”) may have not have been his real name, a theory bolstered by a review of the Bristol tax records for that period, which show nobody of that name.
Blackbeard, in an early 18th century engraving made by an artist who had never seen him
Thatch was a likely a career mariner, and ultimately traveled to Jamaica, where he served as a privateer during the War of Spanish Succession. When the war ended, many privateers and other sailors found themselves out of work, and some began dibbling in piracy. Blackbeard joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, the founder of the Flying Gang’s Bahamian pirate republic, sometime between 1714 and 1716.
While under Hornigold’s command, Blackbeard served with several men who would later become pirate captains, including Sam Bellamy, Paulsgrave Williams, and Olivier La Buse. Blackbeard was exceptionally loyal to Hornigold, remaining in his pirate band after many others defected. He was given control of various prizes in 1716, but didn’t receive his first truly independent command in September 1717.
This was the Revenge, the sloop of the wayward gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet, who had shown up in Nassau grievously wounded. Blackbeard used her to attack shipping off the Carolinas, Virginia, and Delaware, then took a direct, offshore passage to the outer rim of the eastern Caribbean, where, on November 28, 1717, he made his most famous capture.
One Of The Most Dangerous Pirates
Blackbeard’s capture of the 250-ton French slaver La Concorde made him one of the most dangerous pirates in the Americas. Blackbeard’s gang mounted her with 22 guns and renamed her the Queen Anne’s Revenge, possibly suggesting they were sympathetic to the Stuart claim to the British throne. (His fleet – which also included a brigantine and Bonnet’s Revenge – had a substantial number of Africans aboard, at least some of whom were equal members of the crew, though it remains unclear what the status was of the 61 slaves the pirates kept when they seized La Concorde.)
Thus fortified, Blackbeard’s gang brought a wave of terror to the eastern Caribbean in
late November and early December 1717, burning Guadeloupe town and most of the vessels at St. Kitts, and leaving the Governor of the British Leeward Islands terrified for his safety, even while aboard the frigate HMS Seaford. According to A General History of the Pyrates, Blackbeard fought the HMS Scarborough to a draw, a legend disproven in The Republic of Pirates: the frigate’s logs confirm the encounter never took place, though the book offers an alternate explanation.
Wrecking Anne’s Revenge
Blackbeard’s gang spent the winter of 1717-1718 in Central American waters, before sailing to Nassau and, ultimately, the Carolinas. By this time Blackbeard was aware of the existence of the king’s pardon and, disgusted with the behavior of some of his men, devised an elaborate plot to jettison the rabble. After an outrageous multi-day blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, Blackbeard intentionally wrecked the Queen Anne’s Revenge in North Carolina’s Beaufort Inlet.
Giving Bonnet the slip – and abandoning the malcontents on a sandy island – Blackbeard led a favored subset of his crew to North Carolina’s village capital, Bath, where they took the king’s pardon from Governor Charles Eden. He married a local girl – a fact confirmed by Admiralty documents found while researching The Republic of Pirates – and set himself as a sort of pirate mafia don under the protection of Governor Eden. Unfortunately, his piracies incensed Virginia Governor Alexander
Spottswood, who orchestrated an illegal military invasion of North Carolina. A naval detachment under Lt Robert Maynard engaged Blackbeard at Ocracoke Island on November 22, 1718, killing him in an epic hand-to-hand struggle.
Although he cultivated a terrifying reputation, going to battle with burning fuses tied into his signature beard, there is no recorded evidence of Blackbeard killing anyone prior to his final battle with Lt. Maynard.