Piracy is as old as the sea itself … or at least since there’s been some loot to be plundered. But the pirate legacy has since been high-jacked by Hollywood and romantic fiction. And pirates have been told as being faintly noble, selfless, independent, and with a great degree of charm. But the real pirate story is much darker. Pirate life was nasty, brutal, and – especially – short. And for a brief moment in time, each of these lives terrorized the oceans and demanded the attention of the navy. Mercy and honesty were rarely in any pirate’s vocabulary. Today we’ll be taking a look at what made the real pirates the most feared “predators” on the high seas.
10. Blackbeard’s Reign of Terror
Born sometime around 1680, Blackbeard’s real name was probably Edward Teach. Some documents, however, refer to him as Edward Thatch or even Edward Drummond, and he is believed to have been either from Bristol, New York, California, Philadelphia, or even as far away as Denmark. Not much is known about his origins, it would seem. But regardless, he became among the most notorious pirates to have ever terrorized the Caribbean and the American East Coast. From a very young age he went to sea and served on an English ship during the War of the Spanish Succession by privateering along the Spanish Main. With the end of the war in 1714 he, like many others, turned to piracy.
Initially serving under another pirate who later retired, Blackbeard became captain in 1717, and commandeered a French merchant vessel which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. He fitted it with 40 cannons, made it his flag ship, and together with three other smaller vessels (sloops) under his command, Teach plagued the West Indies and the Atlantic coast. In May 1718 he blockaded the Charleston harbor in South Carolina for four days, plundering several ships trying to get in or out, and held the local magistrate and his son for ransom. He then headed north, where he ran two of his vessels aground, the Queen Anne’s Revenge included, marooning most of his crew, in order to get a larger share of the loot. Having the governor of North Carolina in his pocket, he was secured a pardon under the royal Act of Grace and retired himself.
His best weapon of all was fear. He made himself appear ferocious, like a psychopath addicted to violence. He always had at least six loaded pistols, a cutlass, and a musket with him, and wore a big feathered tricorn on his head. He sported a huge black beard in which he would tie hemp and light it during battle. Together with lit cannon fuses tied under his tricorn, those who saw him fighting said that he “looked like the devil” with his fearsome appearance and the smoke cloud around his head.
Regardless of his retirement, he was soon back at sea. The governor of Virginia then put a bounty on his head and on November 21, 1718 a small group of men ambushed him and nineteen others within an inlet on Ocracoke Island, in North Carolina. Following a fierce battle the following day, Blackbeard was dead. He was reportedly shot five times and stabbed more than twenty times before being finally decapitated. His head was hung from a pike in Bath, the town he was supposed to retire in. Blackbeard’s reign of terror lasted a little over 2 years, even though he was among the most feared pirates of the 18th century.