Battle of Ocracoke Inlet: Royal Navy Tracks Down, Kills Blackbeard

 
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250px-Capture-of-Blackbeard Today in Military History: November 22, 1718 Of all the pirate leaders that have come down to us from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, perhaps the most famous is the man known as Blackbeard. He terrorized the southern coasts of the American colonies, and died suddenly and violently in a sea battle with the “King’s Men.” Much of his early life is unknown, but of course, that didn’t stop the novelists and the modern-day scriptwriters from exercising their prodigious imaginations. Background Very little is known of the birth and early days of Blackbeard. Modern historians speculate that he was born in one of the major seaports of England, possibly Bristol. He was known as Edward Thatch or Teach (with various spellings such as Thach, Thack and Tack). He was also apparently known by the name of Drummond; however, many pirates used assumed names, some so as not to embarrass their families. At the time of his death, Teach was thought to be between 35 and 40 years of age, yielding a possible birth date of around 1680. Blackbeard may have come from a fairly well-to-do – perhaps even wealthy – family. It is known that he could read and write, as he communicated extensively with government officials by writing. When and how he arrived in the New World is, again, pure speculation; it is thought he came as a common seaman on a merchant ship (possibly a slave ship) in the last years of the seventeenth century. Teach may have served on privateers operating out of Jamaica during Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), where he gained valuable experience in sea-going larceny. When that war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, he was likely out of a job and decided to make the jump from privateering (attacking the vessels of your country’s enemies) to out-and-out piracy (taking the ships of any nation). 170px-Blackbeard_the_Pirate Shortly after the termination of hostilities, the island of New Providence in the Bahamas was transformed into a pirate haven. It boasted a huge harbor and deserted interior which allowed the island to become a base. New Providence was also very close to the Florida Strait, a major seaborne highway from the Indies to Europe. Teach, along with hundreds of other out-of-work sailors, made their way to this island. Before long, the pirate haven rivaled old Port Royale in Jamaica (before that unfortunate city had been destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1692). In about 1716, Teach joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, a well-known pirate captain operating out of the safe harbor of New Providence. Hornigold gave Teach command of a sloop, the “Revenge” with six cannon and about 70 men. Over the course of the next year, the two vessels made several captures, adding to their pirate fleet. [It was during this time that Stede Bonnet became entangled with Teach. For more information on Bonnet, please see my post of September 29, “Battle of Cape Fear River: Stede Bonnet and his Pirates Captured.”] Sometime in late 1717, Teach was elected captain of the small flotilla that included his sloop “Revenge.” Hornigold’s demotion was likely a result of his insistence on attacking non-English vessels. As a result, Hornigold “retired” from piracy; the next year he accepted a pardon from the English crown. He would later become a pirate-hunter, and would die in a shipwreck in 1719. Teach and his fleet continued their activities, ranging the Caribbean from the Gulf of Honduras, to the Cayman Islands, to Havana and the island of Hispaniola. On November 28, 1717 Teach and his flotilla captured the French merchant vessel “La Concorde” of the island of Saint Vincent in the Grenadines, carrying a cargo of slaves. He may have recruited some of the slaves to his crew, then left the remainder and the ship’s crew on the nearby island of Bequia. Teach also left them one of his sloops for their own transportation, then sailed off with his new prize. He refitted the French vessel, adding a large number of guns, and renamed it “Queen Anne’s Revenge.” QARposterlarg Blackbeard the Pirate: The Man, the Legend Most of the information we have about Edward Teach the pirate comes from contemporary sources. In 1724, an English author named Charles Johnson published a book entitled, “A General Historie of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates.” [Literary historians believe that “Charles Johnson” was actually the renowned English writer Jonathan Swift.] How much of “A General Historie” is factual and how much is fiction is up to the individual. However, some accounts do give physical descriptions of the man known as “Blackbeard.” 220px-Edward_Teach_Commonly_Call'd_Black_Beard_(bw) Blackbeard is described as being quite tall, with broad shoulders but somewhat thin-ish (“spare” one victim called him), with a large black beard which he wore very long. Charles Johnson said he tied his beard with small colored ribbons, which was a bit of an affectation at that time period. He wore knee-length boots and dark clothing, topped with a wide hat, and sometimes a long coat of brightly-coloured silk or velvet. Johnson also described Teach in times of battle as wearing "a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoliers…" Also, Teach is described as taking slow-burning matches (long cords used to fire cannon), lighting them, and either sticking them under his hat or wrapping several matches in his luxuriant beard. The resulting smoky pall that surrounded Blackbeard made him look like a demon from Hell. Obviously, Teach understood the value of psychological warfare. From contemporary sources, it seems that Blackbeard never physically mistreated his captives. If a victim surrendered, his ship was emptied of its cargo and allowed to go on its way. However, if the victim resisted, he could expect no quarter from Mr. Teach and friends. 220px-Pirate_Flag_of_Blackbeard_(Edward_Teach)_svg Prelude to Battle In late May of 1718, Blackbeard's flotilla blockaded Charleston, South Carolina, one of the largest ports in the American colonies. All vessels entering or leaving the port were stopped. Over the next five or six days, about nine vessels were stopped and ransacked as they attempted to sail into Charleston. One of these ships, headed for London with a group of prominent Charleston citizens, was the “Crowley.” Its passengers were questioned about the vessels still in port, before being locked below decks for about half a day. Teach informed the prisoners that his fleet required medical supplies from the colonial government of South Carolina, and that if none were forthcoming all the prisoners would be executed, their heads sent to the Governor, and that all captured ships would be burnt. Teach's demands were agreed to. However, various delays conspired to cause a general panic in Charleston. Finally, after several days a Charleston citizen and two of Teach’s pirates returned with the promised drugs, and Blackbeard and his men left the port in relative peace. Teach kept to his side of the bargain, and released the captured ships and his prisoners, relieved of their valuables, including the fine clothing worn by some of them. 300px-Ocracoke_inlet_north_carolina_1775 The pirate flotilla sailed north to Beaufort Inlet on the coast of North Carolina, where the ships were to be beached and careened. However, the “Queen Anne’s Revenge” ran aground on a sandbar, cracked its main-mast and badly damaged the ship. In attempting to pull the larger ship off the obstruction, the “Revenge” also ran aground and was damaged. Blackbeard decided to abandon his damaged flagship, marooned a portion of his crew, and sailed away on one of the smaller sloops in his fleet. Sailing to North Carolina, Teach and his much-reduced crew in May 1718 received a pardon from Governor Richard Eden Teach temporarily settled in the town of Bath, near Ocracoke Inlet where he had moored his ship. Author Johnson claims that he married the daughter of a local plantation owner, but this information appears nowhere else. However, evidently the boredom of married life pushed him back to piracy. He took his sloop “Adventure” north to Delaware Bay and continued to range the southern American coast. 200px-Alexander_Spotswood_by_Charles_Bridges_(Colonial_Williamsburg_copy) Soon, his acts came to the attention of Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood. The Virginia executive was worried that Teach and his associates would wreak havoc in his coastal waters. Consequently, Spotswood was determined to send an expedition to Okracoke Inlet and capture Blackbeard and his crew, then bring them back to Virginia for trial. [Spotswood was also intent on embarrassing Carolina Governor Eden, as he felt Eden would be unable to control the former pirates, who would then attack Virginia shipping once their money ran out.] Spotswood financed the entire operation, perhaps enticed by rumors of treasures Blackbeard had hidden away. engaged the services of a Lieutenant Robert Maynard of HMS “Pearl” would take charge of two commandeered sloops, and approach the town of Bath from the sea. Extra incentive for Teach's capture was given by the offer of a reward from the Assembly of Virginia, over and above any that might be received from the Crown. Lieutenant Maynard took command of the two armed sloops on 17 November. He was given 57 men – 33 from “Pearl” and 24 from HMS ”Lyme.” Maynard and the detachment from HMS “Pearl” took the larger of the two vessels and named her “Jane;” the rest took the other vessel named “Ranger” commanded by one of Maynard's officers, a Mister Hyde. Some of the civilian crews of the two ships remained aboard. They sailed out from the James River on 17 November. Some representatives of Gov. Spotswood went ahead to warn N.C. Gov. Eden of the imminent appearance of foreign soldiers in his colony. [Evidently, Spotswood was not bothered by the overt illegality of his action, seeking to kidnap the resident of one colony then transporting him to another to face legal action.] The Battle Lt. Maynard found the pirates anchored on the inner side of Ocracoke Island on the evening of 21 November. He had ascertained their position from ships he had stopped along his journey, but unfamiliar with the local channels and shoals, he decided to wait until the following morning to make his attack. He stopped all ship traffic from entering the inlet, preventing any warning of his presence, and posted a lookout on both sloops to ensure that Blackbeard could not escape out to sea. Teach, on the other side of the island, was busy entertaining guests, and had not set a lookout. With about 25 of “Adventure's” sailors ashore in Bath, he now had a much-reduced crew. Johnson reported that the pirate had "no more than twenty-five men on board", and that he "gave out to all the vessels that he spoke with that he had forty.” At daybreak Maynard's two sloops entered the channel, just behind a small boat taking soundings for the two larger vessels. It was quickly spotted by “Adventure,” and fired upon as soon as it was within range of her guns. Seeing two vessels approaching Teach cut his ship’s anchor cable. As his crew hoisted the sails, the Adventure maneuvered to point her starboard guns toward Maynard's sloops, which were now slowly closing the gap. Mr. Hyde moved the “Ranger” to the port side of “Jane,” and the British Union flag was unfurled on each ship. “Adventure” then turned toward the beach of Ocracoke Island, heading for a narrow channel. What happened next is uncertain. Johnson claimed that there was an exchange of small-arms fire before “Adventure” ran aground, while Maynard anchored and then lightened his ship to pass over an intervening sandbar. Another version claimed that “Jane” and “Ranger” ran aground, but Maynard made no mention of this in his log. d6a3a1d6-2b03-48fe-b66c-ec9d6b836d1f What is certain though is that Blackbeard’s vessel turned her guns on the two ships, and fired. The broadside was devastating; in an instant, Maynard had lost as much as a third of his forces. About 20 men on “Jane” were either wounded or killed, and 9 on “Ranger.” Hyde was dead, and his second and third officers were either dead or seriously injured. His sloop was so badly damaged that it played no further role in the attack. Again, contemporary accounts of what happened next are confused, but small-arms fire from “Jane” may have cut ‘Adventure's’ jib sheet, causing her to lose control and run onto the sandbar. In the aftermath of Teach's overwhelming attack, both of Maynard’s sloops may also have been grounded; the battle thenceforth would have become a race to see who could float their ship first. The lieutenant had kept many of his men below deck, and in anticipation of being boarded told them to prepare for close fighting. Teach watched as the gap between the vessels closed, and ordered his men to be ready. The two vessels contacted one another as the “Adventure's” grappling hooks hit their target, and several grenades – made from powder and shot-filled bottles and ignited by fuses – broke across “Jane’s” deck. As the smoke cleared, Teach led his men aboard, buoyant at the sight of Maynard's apparently empty ship, his men firing at the small group formed by Maynard and his men, at the sloop’s stern. As Blackbeard’s men boarded, the rest of Maynard's men burst from the hold, shouting and firing. The plan to surprise Teach and his crew worked; the pirates were apparently taken aback at his assault. Teach rallied his men and the two groups fought across the deck, which was already slick with blood from those killed or injured by Teach's initial broadside. Maynard and Teach fired their flintlock pistols at each other, before throwing them away. Teach drew his cutlass, and managed to break Maynard's sword. The battle raged for long minutes, cutlasses and daggers, belaying pins and musket butts were wielded with deadly efficiency. Against superior training and a slight advantage in numbers, the pirates were pushed back toward the bow, leaving Teach and Maynard isolated, and allowing the “Jane's” crew to surround them. As Maynard drew back to fire once again, Teach moved in to attack him, but was slashed across the neck by one of Maynard's men. Badly wounded, Teach was then attacked by several more of Maynard's crew, and killed. The remaining pirates quickly surrendered. Those left on the “Adventure” were captured by the crew of “Ranger,” including one who planned to set fire to the powder room, blowing up the ship but was restrained. Aftermath Varying accounts exist of the battle's list of casualties; Maynard reported that 8 of his men and 12 pirates were killed. Another account reported that 10 pirates and 11 of Maynard's men were killed. Spotswood claimed ten pirates were dead, and ten of the King's men. Maynard later examined Teach's body, and noted that he had been shot no fewer than five times, and had about twenty severe sword cuts on his body. Blackbeard’s decapitated corpse was then thrown into the inlet, and his head suspended from the bowsprit of Maynard's sloop (to enable the reward to be collected). 220px-Blackbeard's_head Footnote #1: Much of Blackbeard’s loot was confiscated by Gov. Spotswood. Maynard’s crew had to wait four years to obtain reward money for the operation, and Maynard himself expected a promotion which never came. The lieutenant then faded from history. Footnote #2: Local Carolinian maritime legends say that the ghost of Blackbeard roams the shores of Ocracoke Inlet, looking for his missing head. Footnote #3: Wreckage of the “Queen Anne's Revenge” was found In 1997 and excavated. As of 2007, more than 15,000 objects have been rescued and preserved, some of which are on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Excavations and research are continuing. Footnote #4: Blackbeard has been the subject of numerous cinematic treatments; one of the most outrageous was the 1952 film "Blackbeard the Pirate," starring Robert Newton. Newton also portrayed Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney version of "Treasure Island." Because of his rather exaggerated British accent, Newton is also considered the "patron saint" of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, observed every September 19. BB04
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Among the superior articles or blog posts We've learn not long ago, awesome issue.

Great write-up of a forgotten incident. Not many people remember the Virginian "invasion" of North Carolina.

One footnote. If you ever get out to the Outer Banks, keep an ear-out for the local "Okra-cockney" accent. It will amaze you.

Ockracoke is one of my favorite places on the planet :)

But apparently, my fingers keep insisting on misspelling "Ocracoke" My Apologies.

Found your webblog on AskJeeves, great subject material, but the site looks awkward during my browser setup, but works out fine in IE. move figure.

Cats man cats

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.