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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' Edward Teach, 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 about Blackbeard.

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 "privateers."

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. Confederate general.)

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 that time.

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.

a dashing figure 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 multi-colored ribbons.

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 pirates.

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 Pirates Week, 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.

lose your head? 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.

[For more information about how Cayman celebrates its Pirate history, check out our Pirates Week section. You might also want to check out the pirate warning reported by the wench earlier this month.]

Please send your comments and/or suggestions for future articles to the The wench apologizes that she really doesn't have enough time to answer personal requests for recommendations on where to stay and what to do in Cayman, but she does try to read all her email when time permits.

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