The Legend of Blackbeard

By Moina Arcee, Oct 31, 2013 Edited July 7 2018

Blackbeard the Pirate

Ocracoke Island lies off the coast of North Carolina. There are no highways to Ocracoke, so tourists come by boat or plane. The fishing is excellent. The beaches feature white sand and warm blue-green ocean waters. Everything is fine, even idyllic – until night falls and the haunting begins.

With night comes a headless pirate’s body floating on the waves, emitting an eerie light. Sometimes the headless body comes onto the island, walking without leaving footprints in the sand. Locals believe the headless pirate buried treasure in the cove of Ocracoke Island (also known as Teach’s hole) and comes ashore to scare away anyone who gets too close to his booty. Witnesses are convinced it is Blackbeard’s ghost.

Blackbeard was the alias for pirate captain Edward Teach. Nowadays when ghostly lights are seen in the cove they are called Teach’s light, and it is assumed the ghost is still looking for its head. How Blackbeard lost his head is an interesting tale.

According to legend, Edward Teach was an Englishman born around 1690. Teach grew up to be a seaman on a British privateer. Privateers were independent ships employed by governments (in this case the British government) to harass the enemy. In Teach’s day the enemies were France and Spain. In this form of legal piracy, Teach’s privateer plundered French and Spanish ships and got to keep the booty.

After the war Teach discovered it was a small step from privateering to running his own pirate business. He joined the crew of notorious pirate Benjamin Hornigold and refined his craft. Teach soon had his own ship, stolen of course (pirates, you know), and began developing the persona of Blackbeard. Most legends depict Teach as tall and lean with a fierce glare and a large, full beard braided with bright ribbons. He placed slow burning fuses in his beard that wreathed his head in smoke that smelled like sulfur from hell. When preparing for battle Teach loaded his body with weapons: daggers and a large cutlass around his waist, and a sling across his chest full of loaded pistols.

Blackbeard prepared for battle

Blackbeard knew his persona intimidated normal folk. He thought it good business to scare his enemy into surrendering rather than resorting to a firefight. When he captured the French ship La Concorde, Blackbeard renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge. He equipped it with forty cannons and ran up his colors: a horned skeleton holding a spear over a red heart dripping blood.

Blackbeard's flag

In May 1718 Blackbeard was at the height of his power. He and several other pirate ships sailing under his command blockaded Charleston Harbor. He stopped every ship leaving or arriving and ransacked them. He chose not to fire on the harbor, and did not injure any of his temporary prisoners. After a week the blockade ended, and legends about Blackbeard grew.

Blackbeard’s infamy reached the ears of Alexander Spotswood, the governor of neighboring Virginia. Alarmed that some of Teach’s crew were settling in his state, Spotswood hired two sloops from the British navy to end Blackbeard’s career. Spotswood offered a public reward for Blackbeard’s capture, and nursed a private hope to claim Blackbeard’s vast treasure.

To that end Lieutenant Robert Maynard was given command of two sloops of the British Royal Navy. He found Blackbeard hiding in a cove off Ocracoke Island, throwing a party on his ship Adventure. The two sloops, Jane and Ranger, closed in for the kill.

Even though Teach was caught by surprise, he maneuvered Adventure to fire a broadside at the two sloops. Cannonballs ripped through the wooden hulls of the sloops. Ranger was totally destroyed. Jane, the sloop Maynard commanded, was badly damaged. Maynard ordered the surviving crew below deck. The Adventure closed on the Jane and attached itself with grappling hooks. Teach’s men threw grenades onto the deck of theJane. Amidst smoke and fire Blackbeard and his pirates boarded the sloop.

They were surprised by sailors of the British navy, who swarmed out from below deck and met Blackbeard and his crew in mortal combat. Blackbeard and Maynard shot at each other. Blackbeard missed, Maynard didn’t. Blackbeard brandished his broad, heavy cutlass and swung with evil intent. His cutlass snapped the blade of Maynard’s sword. Blackbeard brought the cutlass back to deliver a death stroke to the stricken Maynard. A British sailor leapt up onto Blackbeard’s back, reached forward and slit the pirate captain’s throat.

Blackbeard's last battle

Blackbeard fought on but now he was surrounded by angry sailors who shot and stabbed him. Weakened by loss of blood, Blackbeard finally fell. His crew immediately surrendered. Maynard examined Teach’s body. He reported later that Blackbeard had been shot five times and stabbed at least twenty times.

Blackbeard’s head was sawed off his body and hung from Jane’s bowsprit. His body was thrown overboard. Legend has it that Blackbeard’s headless corpse swam around the Jane three times while his suspended head shrieked.

Blackbeard's head

So Blackbeard is most assuredly dead. But his ghost lives on in novels and movies, such as Blackbeard the Pirate (1952), the Disney movie Blackbeard’s Ghost, and Blackbeard: Terror at Sea (2005). There was even a Hallmark miniseries called Blackbeard. And Blackbeard’s spirit still haunts Ocracoke Island. Villagers report hearing volleys of gunfire and cannon fire from the battle site. Others see Teach’s ghost ship gliding through the mists of Teach’s Hole.

Meanwhile, the real ship Blackbeard sailed was discovered in 1996. Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) ran aground in 1717 at Beaufort Inlet. Submerged under a protective blanket of sand for centuries, a private research company named Intersal discovered the wreck about a mile off the beach named and began exploring it. The location matched historical accounts of the grounding. As for the ship itself, well, it had a lot of cannons.

Intersal discovered other weapons of English origin, and money, and a ship’s bell that was cast in 1705. In the ensuing fifteen years at least thirteen cannons have been pulled up to the surface, along with thousands of artifacts that are compatible with QAR and the places it was known to have traveled to. There was no direct link, but the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming.

After fifteen years of hemming and hawing historians finally decided all the evidence conclusively confirmed the ship was the Queen Anne’s Revenge. In 2011 North Carolina Maritime Museum displayed artifacts it advertised as from Queen Anne’s Revenge. The exhibit has become quite the tourist attraction. The ghost of Blackbeard may be displeased not to have been given a portion of the profits. But the exhibit ensures the legend of Blackbeard will live on for quite some time.

Blackbeard (Edward Teach)


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