West Bay, 22 September 1997
Wherein the wench "teaches" us all about pirates ...
It's good to see you!
Sorry I've been too busy these past few months to be
sociable, but even an old wench living in Paradise has to earn her keep.
Sometimes when the opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage
of it or lose it forever.
Just like ol'
better known as Blackbeard,
the notorious pirate. Did I ever tell you about him? No? Well, sit a
spell and bear with this old wench while I try to recollect what I know
I never met him, of course. Best anybody can reckon, he was born in
Bristol, England, about 1680 - a bit before my time! Now, you have to
understand that piracy was an accepted way of life in those times. During
various periods of history, "civilized" nations employed pirates
(particularly during war) either as adjuncts to their navies or for
enrichment of the nation's coffers, in which case they were referred to as
Syndicates of merchants actually outfitted pirate vessels
and sent them out for profit, and in the colonies, they were welcomed as
something akin to black market merchants today. If the price was good, and
you wanted the merchandise, you didn't ask too many questions about where
it can from!
At one time, the Crown of Britain was entitled to a fifth of the profits
from all privateering enterprises carried out by her subjects, and there is
no doubt that this brought much wealth to the country, as well as
encouraging the emergence of a tough race of seamen, who were subsequently
of great benefit to the country in bringing about the downfall of Spain,
her principal enemy, and making her the proud mistress of the seas. (And
if you don't believe this old wench, read
Blackbeard The Pirate,
by Robert E. Lee. And no, he's not the same Robert E. Less as the U.S.
Anyhow, not a great deal is know about Blackbeard's early years. Most
pirates intended to become incredibly rich from their exploits and return
home without having tarnished their family names, to retire and live a life
of luxury and ease in the highest of society. They did not, therefore,
generally use their real names or write about themselves or their families.
The first we really know of Edward Teach, if that was his real name, is
that he served aboard privateer ships sailing out of Jamaica during Queen
Anne's War, somewhere between 1702 and 1713. At the end of the war, as was
customary for most privateers of that time, he became a pirate and thereby
joined the fraternity of the
Brethren of the Coast,
moving his base of
operations to New Providence, Bahamas, which was controlled by pirates at
Teach joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold, the fiercest and ablest
pirate then operating regularly out of New Providence. Teach became
Hornigold's protege as a result of his performance under fire, and
eventually was put in charge of a sloop taken as a prize after a fierce
battle in 1716. His daring exploits at sea and in the taverns became
legendary among the Brethren. Apparently he had an amazing capacity for
alcohol and was never know to pass out drunk.
In the latter part of 1717,
Hornigold and Teach captured the Concord, a large Dutch-built French
guineaman, which Teach was allowed to claim as a prize. She was a swift,
well-built vessel, which Teach converted into a pirate ship of his own
design and re-christened the Queen Anne's Revenge.
Shortly after this, Edward Teach began to develop his
"image," which he
determined to be essential if he were to become a successful pirate, while
minimizing the risk to his crew and ship.
Edward Teach became Blackbeard.
At a time when most men did not wear beards, Captain. Teach grew a coarse,
coal black beard that covered most of his face. He allowed it to grow
extremely long and usually plaited it into tiny braids tied with
Add to that visage inordinately bushy, bristly
eyebrows and place the whole atop a tall, vigorous, strong, broad
shouldered body, and you're beginning to get the picture.
Now add a broad
hat, outer garments, and knee boots all in black, and a sling across the
shoulders like a bandoleer, containing two or three pistols, as well an
enormous cutlass and an assortment of pistols and daggers stuck in the
broad belt he wore at his waist.
Finally, picture a pair of slow-burning,
pencil-thin-thin fuses tucked under the brim on either side of his hat,
from which curling wisps of smoke encircled his head. That was Blackbeard
in battle dress! When you combine his reputation with his appearance, it
is no wonder so many merchant ships surrendered without any pretense of a
fight. Superstitious sailors and pirates alike believed Blackbeard to be
the Devil incarnate.
Blackbeard, however, was never recorded as having killed or maimed his
captives. If they submitted to his authority, they had only theft of their
property to fear. The slightest resistance or argument prompted him to set
an example, though.
As Lee's manuscript says, "If a victim did not
voluntarily offer up a diamond ring, Blackbeard chopped it off, finger and
all. This nearly always impressed the victim, who could be counted on to
impress all to whom he related his experience. These tactics also saved
time, but their most important function was to help spread the word that,
while Blackbeard could be merciful to those who co-operated, woe to those
who did not."
Blackbeard's reputation was further enhanced by the captains
of the ships he defeated, who exaggerated the evil deeds of the pirates and
embellished the details of the battle to make themselves look better and
improve the chances of their gaining command of another ship.
After having taken such pains to create it, there is little doubt that
Blackbeard was fully aware of the public's image of him, and like the
consummate actor he was, he occasionally felt compelled to flesh out the
part. At times he engaged in daredevil antics with his crew for the
express purpose of impressing them with his authority and superiority.
This is, no doubt, how he came to shoot his first mate, Israel Hands, in
the knee while seated at the same table with him.
On land, a different side of Blackbeard came to life. There is no record
of his ever having committed any crime on land, and all reports indicate
that he was a ladies' man. Lee says that, "few pirates treated women or
girls with greater respect than he... He would not let a girl serve him a
drink; he preferred to serve the drink to the girl."
And he drank with a
great many of them, appreciating them all, until one in particular became
his favorite for the duration of his stay in port. As Lee says, "The great
Blackbeard, terror of the seas, was temporarily at the mercy of his
new-found love, and often actually proposed marriage. Such was
Blackbeard's nature, infatuated with every harbor-town girl who caught his
fancy." Blackbeard even married a number of them on the deck of the Queen
Anne's Revenge, standing before his first mate.
It was probable that
although none of them actually considered themselves legally married to
Blackbeard, to be know as "Blackbeard's wife" brought them a certain
prestige and enhanced their business dealing with other sailors and
Yes, my friend, that was Blackbeard, the quintessential pirate. A robber
and a rogue at sea, and a hard-drinking, fun-loving gentleman on shore. He
plundered ships and sailed throughout the West Indies (including the Cayman
Islands) and the Atlantic coast of North America, before he was finally
killed in a bloody battle at Ocracoke Inlet, off the coast of what is now
North Carolina, on Friday, November 22, 1718, by the crew of a pair of
sloops under the command of officers of the Royal Navy.
Having surrendered under the terms of a royal pardon, Blackbeard had been
living in retirement at Bath, North Carolina, for some time, and his
experienced officers and fighting men of his heyday were no longer with
him. He had no more than a crew of 25 on board and had recently been
hosting a pirate festival in the Inlet, with much eating, drinking, and
telling of tales. (A bit like
here in Cayman, actually.)
In fact, Blackbeard spent the better part of the night prior to the battle
entertaining visitors, the master of a trading sloop and three members of
his crew, in his cabin.
Although Blackbeard could have easily evaded the vastly superior force in
the shoals and inlets of the Outer Banks, he chose to carry on a running
battle. He was badly outgunned and outmanned, however, and finally fell
victim to the five pistol shots and at least twenty serious knife and sword
wounds that riddled his body.
Lt. Maynard, who was in command of the
expedition dispatched by Gov. Spotswood of Virginia to kill Blackbeard,
ordered Blackbeard's head severed and hung from the bowsprit of his sloop.
The remainder of the corpse was thrown overboard, and legend has it that
the headless body swam around the ship several times before disappearing in
the cold waters.
There are those who believe that Blackbeard's headless ghost can still be
seen and heard wandering about the area searching for his head.
Blackbeard, they say, does not want to meet his partner, the Devil, without
his fearsome head in place. He fears that neither the Devil, nor any of
his former cronies now in Hell will recognize him without it.
At times, it
is said, the headless ghost carries a lantern, and any unexplained light on
the seacoast is commonly referred to as "Teach's Light." Some say they
have heard the echoes of his booming voice or the tread of his heavy boots
on floor or steps.
In the dark of night, with the howling wind flinging
sand against the windowpane and branches scratching at the wall, it is easy
to imagine Blackbeard's headless ghost wandering the shores, ever in search
of his head.