Edward Teach (or sometimes Thatch) shipped out of Bristol, England. He sailed as a privateer in the Caribbean during the early 1700s and attacked French and Spanish ships with whom England was at war. In the American Colonies, this was known as the French and Indian War and helped determine the balance of power in the New World. Perhaps you’ve never heard of Captain Teach. Neither had the inhabitants of the coastal cities and towns along the Atlantic seaboard and the Caribbean islands. But like you, they would come to know the name of Blackbeard, the infamous pirate and brute. He’d likely set your town on fire just for spite, and that was after he had looted all the treasure and goods he could find. His name struck fear in the hearts of many, and his legend for ferocious behavior has followed him down the centuries. Although some of his deeds may be only the stuff of fanciful stories or nightmares today, Blackbeard terrorized the Atlantic Coast from Caribbean waters to New England bays from about 1716 to 1718. It was even said that when he finally died in battle and his body was thrown overboard, it swam three times around the ship despite the fact that it was missing its head.
Blackbeard was so called because he wore his dark beard exceptionally long. Then he tied it in bows much like the towering, fancy wigs that were so popular among the upper classes at the time. In fact, it’s been said that Blackbeard’s appearance was much like a feared comet that foretold or brought evil upon European society. Blackbeard was so fierce that he tucked slow-burning fuses beneath his hat so that fire and smoke surrounded his huge form. In battle, he looked and behaved like a devil. I don’t know about you, but I would hate to meet him at sea or on land, far from the safety of a modern police force, or at that time, the officers of governor and king.
Fear of Blackbeard was crucial to his authority on ship, as one story demonstrates. One night, in a savage humor, Blackbeard took up and cocked his pistols and held them beneath a table where sat himself, his first mate (Israel Hands), an unspecified man, and the ship’s pilot. Blackbeard discharged his pistols beneath the table and shot Israel Hands through the knee. This shot crippled Hands, who could no longer go to sea. When asked why he did it, Blackbeard gave a reply that if he didn’t keep them in fear of him, they’d forget who he was. This indicates that if his crew wasn’t afraid of him, there might be chaos on board as each pirate strove to be leader himself. Not all pirates were such devils, but on the other hand, they weren’t Robin Hood either. If you ever meet a real pirate, be sure to give him a lot of space. Maybe only a real pirate’s mother loved him, but you can be pretty sure no one else in the world did.
Two stories reveal something of the legend that Blackbeard has become. It’s said that Blackbeard once wanted to try out hell before he got there in person. Maybe since some would say he really was on his way there, it wasn’t such a foolish idea. In order to recreate the experience of damnation, Blackbeard took and burned brimstone (sulfur) and other noxious agents in a pot. He took that pot and his crew below deck and shut up the hold to see how they would fare in the burning pit of perdition. Soon his crew was calling out for fresh air and relief. However, Blackbeard proved himself to be in league with the agents of evil. He lasted the longest of his motley mates below deck and only came up for moist sea air after his shipmates, who lacked his fortitude to withstand burning up in the hold.