Ocracoke's Most Famous Visitor
Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard, served England gallantly as a privateer in Queen Anne’s War. English naval forces were often assisted by pirate ship crewmen. These privateers were paid to plunder rival merchant vessels. After the war ended in 1713, many privateers turned to piracy including Teach.
His energetic career began in the Caribbean with pirate Benjamin Hornigold. Blackbeard set off on his own in 1717 when Hornigold rewarded him with a ship they had hijacked. Renaming the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, he outfitted her for pirating, including 300 men and 40 cannons. Blackbeard sailed the Caribbean and the Atlantic along coastal waters of American colonies, torturing merchant ship crewmen and passengers, stealing valuable cargo and leaving destruction in his wake.
Artistic Credit: Glenn Eure, Glenn Eure's Ghost Fleet Gallery, Nags Head, NC
In battle, Blackbeard was a savage butcher with almost inhuman strength. He intimidated foes by wrapping slow-burning lighted coils in his long, black hair and beard. Wearing two gun belts across his chest and carrying six pistols into battle, he was an unforgettable enemy. Feared by everyone sailing the seas, including his peers, he was without conscience. “Kin to the devil,” he showed no mercy as he stole from and often murdered those unfortunate enough to cross his path.
Piracy was as much a state of mind as an occupation. Pirate built their reputations with actions and symbolic gestures. Flags were an important part of creating the total pirate image. Blackbeard’s flag, depicting a heart dripping blood while a skeleton held an hourglass and spear, was designed to strike fear in the hearts of his victims. Outlandish names like “Blackbeard” were as important as the manner of dress.
Despite the giant-sized legend his life and times provoked, the golden age of Blackbeard was short-lived and ended in waters near Ocracoke.
Piracy was prevalent in North Carolina since the Colonial Governor, Charles Eden, had been bribed by Blackbeard to ignore the criminal activities. With commercial ships using Ocracoke Inlet to access inland ports, Blackbeard and several other pirates found the coastal waterway ripe for easy pickings. Though pirates anchored in the deep inlet channels and came ashore occasionally on the southern tip of Ocracoke Island, there is no evidence that they built homes or buried treasure here.
After tolerating Blackbeard’s terrorism for eighteen months, North Carolina residents and shipping merchants prevailed upon Governor Spotswood of Virginia for help. Acting with the utmost secrecy, he arranged for ships and men to battle Blackbeard and strike a blow against piracy for all time. Knowing that the lure of piracy might turn his men’s heads, Spotswood offered a bonus to his crewmen for the death of Blackbeard and his band of cutthroats.
Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard was chosen to battle Blackbeard. Cautiously heading down the coast, he hoped to catch the pirate unaware but, when Maynard entered Ocracoke Inlet, Blackbeard was already there preparing his ship Adventure for battle.
On November 22, 1718, the heated battle took place. Maynard’s two ships, Jane and Ranger, were both fired upon by Blackbeard. Ranger was badly damaged and several of Maynard’s crew died instantly. When Jane was hit, Maynard instructed his crewmen to go below and the entire ship took on the illusion of death. In the smoke and fire of battle, Blackbeard was fooled into leading a charge aboard Maynard’s vessel. Maynard and his men surprised the pirates and proceeded to cut them down one by one.
After suffering twenty-five stab wounds and five bullets from the vicious battle, Blackbeard died. His head was taken and, like atrophy, hung on the Ranger’s bowsprit. His body was tossed overboard. Legend holds that the body swam several times around the ship before finally sinking from sight in the channel now known as Teach’s Hole.