Blackbeard : biography
Edward Teach (c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies. Although little is known about his early life, he was likely born in Bristol, England. He may have been a sailor on privateer ships during Queen Anne’s War before settling on the Bahamian island of New Providence, a base for Captain Benjamin Hornigold, whose crew Teach joined sometime around 1716. Hornigold placed him in command of a sloop he had captured, and the two engaged in numerous acts of piracy. Their numbers were boosted by the addition to their fleet of two more ships, one of which was commanded by Stede Bonnet, but toward the end of 1717 Hornigold retired from piracy, taking two vessels with him.
Teach captured a French merchant vessel, renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge, and equipped her with 40 guns. He became a renowned pirate, his cognomen derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance; he was reported to have tied lit fuses under his hat to frighten his enemies. He formed an alliance of pirates and blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. After successfully ransoming its inhabitants, he ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on a sandbar near Beaufort, North Carolina. He parted company with Bonnet, settling in Bath Town, where he accepted a royal pardon. But he was soon back at sea and attracted the attention of Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia. Spotswood arranged for a party of soldiers and sailors to try to capture the pirate, which they did on 22 November 1718. During a ferocious battle, Teach and several of his crew were killed by a small force of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.
A shrewd and calculating leader, Teach spurned the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and there is no known account of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive. He was romanticised after his death and became the inspiration for a number of pirate-themed works of fiction across a range of genres.
With its history of colonialism, trade and piracy, the West Indies was the setting for many 17th and 18th-century maritime incidents. The privateer-turned-pirate Henry Jennings and his followers decided, early in the 18th century, to use the then uninhabited island of New Providence as a base for their operations; it was within easy reach of the Florida Strait and its busy shipping lanes, which were filled with European vessels crossing the Atlantic. New Providence’s harbour could easily accommodate hundreds of ships, and was too shallow for the Royal Navy’s larger vessels to navigate. The island then was not the popular tourist destination it later became; the author George Woodbury described it as "no city of homes; it was a place of temporary sojourn and refreshment for a literally floating population," continuing, "The only permanent residents were the piratical camp followers, the traders, and the hangers-on; all others were transient." Law and order were unheard of; in New Providence, pirates found a welcome respite.
Teach was one of those who came to enjoy the island’s benefits. Probably shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, he moved there from Jamaica, and with most privateers once involved in the war, became involved in piracy. Possibly about 1716, he joined the crew of Captain Benjamin Hornigold, a renowned pirate who operated from New Providence’s safe waters. In 1716 Hornigold placed Teach in charge of a sloop he had taken as a prize. In early 1717, Hornigold and Teach, each captaining a sloop, set out for the mainland. They captured a boat carrying 120 barrels of flour out of Havana, and shortly thereafter took 100 barrels of wine from a sloop out of Bermuda. A few days later they stopped a vessel sailing from Madeira to Charleston, South Carolina. Teach and his quartermaster, William Howard, may at this time have struggled to control their crews. By then they had probably developed a taste for Madeira wine, and on 29 September near Cape Charles all they took from the Betty of Virginia was her cargo of Madeira, before they scuttled her with the remaining cargo.