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Blackbeard's Shipwreck
JULY 2006
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Blackbeard Lives (continued)
By Joel K. Bourne, Jr.
Photographs by Robert Clark

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The time for treachery was at hand. Blackbeard convinced Stede Bonnet to take some of his men and sail to Bath, where North Carolina's governor had a plantation, to accept the King's pardon, which had just been extended. While he was gone, Blackbeard gathered 40 loyal pirates and 60 captured slaves and stripped Adventure and Queen Anne's Revenge of anything of value—cheating his fellow brigands of their share of the booty. When David Herriot, Adventure's captain, demanded restitution, Blackbeard marooned him and 16 others on a barrier island "a league from the main." He then sailed to Bath to take the pardon for himself.

North Carolina was a perfect hideout. Wracked by Indian wars, yellow fever, and political upheaval, the poor colony could barely muster a weak militia and had no jails. Its shallow sounds and barrier islands were ideal for light pirate craft to prey on merchant ships from its wealthier neighbors.

Teach's retirement was short. He was soon back to his old ways, plundering local vessels in the rivers and sounds, and seizing a French sugar ship off Bermuda. At one point he even rendezvoused with pirate Charles Vane at Teach's favorite honey-hole on North Carolina's remote barrier island of Ocracoke. Some say as many as 200 pirates partied for a week before Vane sailed off.

It was all too much for Virginia's Governor Alexander Spotswood to bear. When rumors reached him that pirates were building a fort at Ocracoke, Spotswood sent both a land and sea expedition to hunt down Blackbeard.

Near sunset on November 21, Lt. Robert Maynard, commanding two sloops and 60 men, found Teach anchored at Ocracoke. With the King's pardon in hand and only 20 pirates aboard, Blackbeard showed little concern, drinking heavily with a local trader deep into the night. His crew, sensing trouble, asked him where the booty was buried. Only the devil and he knew where it was, he reportedly barked, "and the longest Liver should take all." Despite 300 years of hunting, no treasure has ever been found.

At sunrise Maynard sailed right for him, Union Jacks flying, and the pirate's blood began to boil. "Damn you for villains, who are you? And from whence come you?" he is said to have bellowed at Maynard, who supposedly coolly replied: "You may see by our colors we are no pirates!" Blackbeard then raised his drink, called them "cowardly puppies," and swore his final oath: "Damnation seize my Soul if I give you Quarters, or take any from you!"

"I expect no quarter from you, nor shall I give any!" Maynard shot back.

No one knows what actually happened in the melee that followed. But according to published accounts, Blackbeard unleashed a crippling broadside from his cannon that killed or wounded nearly half of Maynard's men. Knowing he had no hope of capturing the pirate ship, Maynard ordered his remaining men below to lure the pirates on board. Blackbeard fell for the ruse. He and his crew hurled homemade grenades onto the sloop and rushed aboard.

Maynard's men swarmed out of the hatches. Blackbeard went straight for Maynard, the two men firing pistols at the same time. The pirate's shot rang wide, but Maynard hit Teach square in the chest. Still, the pirate fought on, landing a cutlass blow so fierce it broke Maynard's sword. Just then, the pirate was staggered by a sword blow to his neck from behind. He pulled his last pistol but was too weak to fire. Blackbeard collapsed on deck, in the end having been shot five times and stabbed more than 20.

Maynard cut off Blackbeard's head, hung it from his bowsprit, and tossed the corpse into the water, where locals say it can be seen to this day on certain moonlit nights, searching for its head. That head, which Johnson wrote "frightened America more than any Comet," Maynard took back to his base at Hampton and stuck on a pike there. Thus the town's modern festival.

And that, of course, was the pirate's evil genius, enabling him to capture so many ships with so little trouble. "Blackbeard's image was so horrific it made his job easier," says historian Lindley Butler. "Pirates would much rather take a prize without a fight, and there were enough psychopaths around at that time to make merchantmen believe the image was true." It was this same image that finally caught up with him, Butler says. Spotswood was not going to let the fiercest pirate in the world retire in his backyard.

"He was probably a better actor than I am," admits Ben Cherry, taking a break in a waterfront watering hole. "And I'm pretty damned good!" He slaps his hand on the table, and that booming laugh echoes around the bar.

There's another theory about Blackbeard's legacy here and in North Carolina. Of the pirates who sailed with him into Beaufort Inlet back in 1718, some 200 were never captured, never tried, never heard from again. To this day, echoes of their voices are heard in bait shops and marinas on nearby Harkers Island or Ocracoke, where locals chatter with a distinctive Elizabethan patois. Don't be surprised during your next visit if they take your silver, and feed you full of beans.

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