The life of a pirate is more adventurous than most, but even amongst pirates, few have led a career as adventurous as that of Edward Teach. Better known as Blackbeard (circa 1680 – 1718), he is probably the best-known pirate of all time. Blackbeard’s early life is shrouded in mystery. What is known is that he started his seafaring career as a privateer – private citizens issued letters of marque by their sovereigns, authorizing them to prey on enemy shipping.
In 1716, Blackbeard joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, who mentored Blackbeard and taught him the ropes of piracy. The protégé showed himself capable and rose rapidly to become the older pirate’s first mate. Soon, he rose even further, and became second in command, entrusted with his own sloop to operate in conjunction with Hornigold’s main ship. Before long, Hornigold’s fleet had grown to four ships. Operating out of the Bahamas, the pirates fell upon and terrorized the sea lanes.
2. Centuries Before Modern Advertising, Edward Teach Knew How to Build and Maintain a Brand
Blackbeard’s collaboration with Hornigold lasted until late 1717 when Hornigold retired from piracy. By then, Blackbeard had established his reputation as a fearsome pirate in his own right. In no small because Blackbeard paid great attention to establishing and maintaining his brand. He went out of his way to ensure that his appearance was both noticeable and terrifying to his opponents. His greatest defining feature, and the source of the name by which he became famous or infamous, was a thick and long black beard. Blackbeard was in the habit of plaiting his beard into braids, and decorating each braid with colorful ribbons.
His already ferocious appearance was made even more intimidating by the plethora of weapons he carried around. Blackbeard slung six pistols across his chest, thrust a variety of knives and daggers into his belt and boots, and wielded a wicked looking cutlass. To top it off, he attached slow burning matches to his beard, which sputtered and emitted clouds of thick smoke, and made him appear even more demonic. It was a psychologically effective display, and many ships surrendered as soon as they caught sight of the ferocious, crazy looking, and smoke spewing pirate.
1. Edward Teach’s End Was Worthy of His Adventurous Life
Blackbeard continued his piratical career after his mentor Benjamin Hornigold retired from piracy in 1717. Soon thereafter, he seized a French ship, which he remodeled. Equipped with 40 cannons, Blackbeard renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge, and made her his flagship. He then formed a pirate alliance, and used it to commit his most notorious act: a successful blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. He held the city hostage, and wreaked havoc on the seaborne trade and commerce upon which its economy depended until he was paid a ransom. Blackbeard accepted a royal pardon in 1718. However, earning an honest living did not agree with him, so he reneged on the pardon and went back to piracy.
As a result, Virginia’s governor ordered an expedition, led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy, to hunt Blackbeard down. Maynard, commanding two sloops, tracked the infamous pirate and found him on November 22nd, 1718, at anchor on the inner side of Ocracoke Island, off North Carolina. Most of Blackbeard’s men were ashore, so he found himself severely outnumbered when Lieutenant Maynard’s expedition hove into view. Nonetheless, the notorious pirate refused to surrender and met an end worthy of his adventurous life. Blackbeard put up a ferocious before he finally went down on the deck of his ship after taking five bullets and over twenty sword cuts.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading