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Blackbeard

Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was a frequent visitor to the Outer Banks, and was considered the devil by most seafaring men. He was a large man, very muscular, with long black hair and beard braided in piglets tied with colorful bows. Just before he boarded a prize, he inserted slow burning matches in the bows giving off wisps of smoke. He dressed in Black, from his cocked hat to his tall leather boots and wore a pistol, dagger and heavy cutlas on his belt, with a bandolier holding six cocked pistols on his chest. He would appear on deck with a cutlas in one hand, a pistol in the other and smoke curling from under his hat and his dark eyes flashing.

For several years, he captured and burned many ships off the eastern coast, from Maryland to Florida, retreating to the Outer Banks between raids. They stayed in the area of Pamlico Sound near Holiday Island, and on Ocracoke Island where he built a home called Blackbeard's Castle. Between raids, he became a familiar figure in Bath and New Bern and was considered a gentleman by Governor Eden and other high officials. It was said that he paid them handsomely to maintain his safety. Governor Eden married Blackbeard to a young lady, a relative of the Governor, his fourteenth bride even though ten of his wives were still living. History doesn't say what happened to her.

Just the sight of him sent chills down one's back. His flag was black and consisted of a devil-horned skeleton holding an hourglass in one and and a spear in the other pointing at a bleeding heart - and many times the crew of the captured vessel gave up without a fight when he came aboard; They said he was the devil himself and just hoped he would spare their lives.

Blackbeard had plans to build a fortress on Ocracoke Island to provide a safe haven for his cronies and a base for his operations. It was close to a deep inlet allowing for a fast get-a-way and also close to the shipping lanes for easy targets.

During one of his voyages to the Carribean, he met up with a new pirate named Stede Bonnet. He was probably the most inept pirate that sailed the Spanish Main. Stede was a retired British Army Major and gentleman plantation owner in Barbados. He became bored with plantation life, had a nagging wife, and decided that he needed some excitement. He bought a fast sloop ostensibly to trade among the islands, secured a crew and went "a pirating." He was different because he bought a ship instead of stealing one and paid his crew wages, unheard of in the pirates' world. He was considered the gentleman pirate, too soft for the scurvy crews that he commanded.

Blackbeard and Bonnet decided to join forces and with a flotilla of three other ships, they captured fourteen ships belonging to the British, French and Spanish. After plundering and burning most of them, they headed to the Outer Banks to hide out for a while.

Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet arrived at the Outer Banks area aboard his flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, a captured French slave ship refitted with forty cannons, three other ships, and more than three hundred men. Blackbeard had been to Bath many times before but this time he was coming in his prize ship, the best in the pirate fleet, capable of out gunning any British ship on the water. As they tried to go over the bar at the old Topsail Inlet near what is now Beaufort, the heavier Queen Anne's Revenge and the Adventure went hard aground and began to break up in the surf. They abandoned the two ships and surviving pirates continued on in the smaller ships.

They arrived in Bath and proceeded to make it their home base. They were welcomed by many of the merchants because they had much booty, particular gold and silver and a much needed commodity, sugar.

Blackbeard had made friends with Governor Eden and his secretary Tobias Knight during his earlier visits and now, in the dead of the night, Tobias allowed them to store their booty in his barn watched over by some of the pirates.

Governor Eden wanted to issue a pardon to the pirates if Blackbeard and Stede would give up their wicked ways. Some have said that Blackbeard bought the pardons so he could retire in comfort in New Bern to live the life of a rich gentleman. With many of their crew, they made it official and swore to quit. Now some of the pirate crews melted into the population, their sins forgiven.

But the pardon was soon forgotten. Stede Bonnet decided to leave with part of the crew on board the other ship and set sail for parts unknown. This left Blackbeard alone on Ocracoke with a small crew as many of his old crews had now left the area with their pardons in hand, possibly going to the other islands and joining the salvagers.

Now while all this was going on, the two governors of adjoining states, South Carolina and Virginia decided that pirating had to end, because it was paralyzing shipping up and down the coast. Virginia Governor Spotswood outfitted two sloops, unarmed but with room for many armed soldiers and fast enough to catch the Pirate ships. They sailed from Portsmouth Virginia, but one ship lost a mast and had to turn back.

The "Ranger" under the command of Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard continued toward Bath and New Bern. The cozy arrangement between Governor Eden and Blackbeard was well known and a former crew member told the Virginia Governor that Blackbeard was back at his home on Ocracoke Island. They arrived at Ocracoke Inlet near dusk on the evening of November 21, 1718 and spotted Blackbeard's ship anchored on the far side, near Blackbeard's Castle. Blackbeard saw them but decided that the sloop was unarmed and too small for him to worry about.

During the night, men aboard the sloop offloaded its ballast so it could maneuver, making a small fast target, difficult to hit with cannon fire. The next morning, Lt. Maynard raised the Union Jack battle Flag and Blackbeard raised the black flag with the skull. The fight was on, at first, it was cannons against small arm fire. Blackbeard could not see any crew members or cannon on the top deck and decided that he could easily take this ship.

Both ships were now maneuvering to get into boarding position in the middle of the bay.

Blackbeard was dressed for battle, hair smoking and a cutlas in his hand. Lt. Maynard allowed him to board with his men, but much to Blackbeard's surprise, a small army of armed men came out of the hold with their guns blazing. Catching the pirates off guard, it was now hand to hand fighting. Blackbeard finally came face to face with Lt. Maynard and broke Lt. Maynard's sword with his heavy cutlass. Blackbeard was ready to run him through or commit the "coup de grace" when a stout Scott came from behind and slit his throat.

Blackbeard continued to fight on, blood streaming down his chest as he attempted to reload his pistol, he finally collapsed in a heap, dead. Lt. Maynard severed his head with a borrowed sword and carried it forward to the bowsprit. One of his men tied it on with some hemp rope.

The dreaded pirate had taken five bullets and twenty sword and knife wounds. They threw his headless body overboard and some said it swam around the ship three times before it sank.

So ended the pirate's rein on the Outer Banks. Pirating on the east coast continued for some years but most pirates steered clear of the Outer Banks.

Stede Bonnet was captured some months later near the town of Southport or Smithville as it was then known and with most of his crew was taken to Charles Town and hung on the public gallows. As was the custom in those days, the bodies were left hanging for quite some time as a lesson to pirates.

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