Beaufort: Blackbeard Loses Ship, Head Off Carolina Coast

Back in my days of lesser travel and spouting off about current events, I wrote a satirical piece that expressed my amazement of our current world, how we can do the most intricate things yet are somehow plagued by seemingly ancient problems, specifically that pirates are still successful at hijacking ships at sea (this was right after Somali pirates had captured a group of Americans back in February of 2011).

Blackbeard's head was bound to the bow as a warning to future pirates.

I threw in a few jokes and had some laughs, but then the next day the pirates killed all four of the hostages – talk about the music stopping when you walk into the room. I apologized and felt like a schmuck, to say the least.

For that and many other reasons, I’m not going to sit here and write a romanticized piece about them. We shouldn’t be oohing and aahing at these men, we should be giving them a taste of their own medicine. I’m happy to report that the Governor of Virginia (Alexander Spotswood) felt the same way about the infamous Blackbeard and his antics back in 1718, sending a party of soldiers and sailors to bring back his head.

There are a few different accounts of how the battle unfolded, but the general agreement is that Blackbeard and his fellow pirates were baited onto a ship after an initial battle, believing most of the crew to be dead. They were hiding below deck, however, and the ensuing engagement ended with Blackbeard’s body in the sea and his head tied to the bow of the boat – a warning to future would-be pirates.

While Blackbeard’s last battle took place about 60 miles north on Ocracoke Island, he has strong connections to Beaufort. His first ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, sank just off the coast, and he made his home on the waterfront, a house which still stands today.

Not that it makes his actions any better, but it turns out Blackbeard was somewhat of a fraud. While there are accounts of the pirate cutting off fingers, firing cannons, taking hostages, and killing innocent people, he – like many pirates – relied on his reputation and fierce appearance to intimidate others into surrender before a battle ever took place.

Artist's drawing of Blackbeard.

Blackbeard used tales of his previous conquests (some no doubt concocted) and gimmicks, such as burning rope under his beard, to scare his victims. A violent battle was looked upon as a means of last resort to capture vessels, as the pirates did not want to risk damaging a coveted ship and its cargo.

Another interesting thing: Even thought it’s true that pirates went after jewelry and other shiny things, most of the “treasure” came in the form of the tradable goods of the time: Clothing and medicine, for example. Governments were said to often tolerate or house pirates because of the access to such goods it provided.

Beaufort’s Maritime Museum has a great exhibit on Blackbeard as well as the rest of the town’s boating history, and it’s free to everyone. Divers rejoice: The area off the Carolina coast is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to the number of sunken ships.

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