Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for November: 11/2 Lois Winston 11/9 Christin Brecher 11/16 Laurie Lowenstein 11/23 M.V. Byrne

Sunday, September 12, 2010


My paranormal-romance mystery novel, TOASTING FEAR, is set on the Outer Banks and includes Blackbeard, the islands’ only celebrity, as a character. He still haunts these waters, the Graveyard of the Atlantic, where he lived and died nearly three hundred years ago.

What amazes me about Blackbeard is that he became a legend in his own time. He awed Benjamin Franklin. At the time of Blackbeard’s death, 1718, Ben was twelve years old and apprenticed to his brother, a printer, who lived in Boston. Reading the type he set, Ben learned of Blackbeard’s death in the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet, and wrote a poem, which he printed, about the battle. In his autobiography, (The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Frank Woodworth Pin, Garden City N. Y., 1916, p.23), Franklin laughed about trying to sell the poem on the streets of Boston and reflected that he “escaped being a poet, most probably a very bad one.”

Benjamin Franklin is one of my heroes. If Blackbeard caught his imagination, I wanted to find out more about this pirate, especially since I know his hide-out, Ocracoke, well and his character fit my story.

His choice of Ocracoke as a hide-out shows his intelligence because of its surrounding shoals and its fresh water. The shifting shoals surrounding the Outer Banks made navigation difficult, enabling him to elude the authorities and takeover ships, whose crews were unfamiliar with the channels, by running them aground or sinking them in the strong currents. Blackbeard needed fresh water readily available at Silver Lake, which eliminated his need to go inland. Silver Lake is navigable directly from Pamlico Sound, not far from the Atlantic Ocean, via Ocracoke Inlet.

His real name wasn’t Edward Teach (which has several spellings). The name was a pseudonym he used, presumably to protect his family back in Bristol, England. No one knew his real name. The year of his birth, 1680, is merely an estimate since documentation of his birth is nonexistent. His family couldn’t have been poor since Blackbeard was apparently articulate and literate. He corresponded with governors and merchants, entertained Tobias Knight, who held the positions of North Carolina’s Secretary of the Colony, Collector of Customs and Chief Justice. Blackbeard kept captain’s journals, which no longer exist. He communicated and managed his uneducated crew, proving he dealt equally well in the company of the rich and the poor. His skills in navigation were evident through his exploits. As a captain, he had the foresight to keep a physician on board to treat his crew.

Blackbeard served his apprenticeship as a privateer, monarch-sanctioned pirating of Spanish enemy ships in the War of the Spanish Succession, more commonly known as Queen Anne’s War. Through privateers, Spain helped to finance England’s war costs. The English monarchy took about one ninth of the bounty from privateers while the privateers eliminated Spanish ships. Privateering was a win-win situation for England, but after the war, the crown reversed its policy, no longer sanctioning privateers, and those who kept up the practice became outlaw pirates. Most headquartered in Free Town, in what is now Nassau.

The pirate life in the Caribbean appealed to many young men, consisting of rum, music and women (and resulting in STDs, which I will return to shortly). During these enjoyable years, he developed the fear-based persona of Blackbeard, much like today’s PR experts creating brand names, calculated to boost his reputation. This persona enabled him to capture ships without loss of life, manage a crew that multiplied to over three hundred spread among three ships, and in the end, cost him his life.

He invented, what we now call, a grenade, but one that mostly produced smoke, allowing him to board ships while their crews were blinded, almost like a magician. Enhancing his persona, he grew his beard long, sometimes tying candles or threading fuses through it and lighting them. He looked crazy.

His blockade of Charleston’s harbor and hostage-taking forced the monarchy’s government to capitulate to his demands, which were medicines to treat his sickly crew and those infected by STDs. This single incident boosted his reputation so much, the authorities, especially the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, put him on the precursor of American’s Most Wanted list.

Blackbeard knew his days were numbered. He sank his flagship and man of war, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Beaufort Inlet (the wreck has been discovered), discharging the crew and cutting his responsibilities by one third. He kept The Adventure, a smaller and more easily maneuvered ship for sailing on Pamlico Sound. Settling in Bath N. C., he obtained a pardon for his pirating, which the English Crown had extended several times but Blackbeard had failed to garner. He took his fourteenth wife (he took marriage vows casually), supposedly settled down and became friendly with people in power.

Spotswood would buy none of Blackbeard’s new fa├žade. In an act later protested by North Carolina’s Governor Eden, Spotswood sent two ships to Ocracoke, a location outside of his jurisdiction, to kill an unsuspecting and pardoned Blackbeard. Before the fight, Blackbeard was attributed as having said, “Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarter or take any from you.” Blackbeard died in the fight, suffering from five pistol shots at close range and over twenty knife cuts, two of which were fatal. His severed head hung in Hampton, VA harbor, now Hampton Roads, as a warning to those defying Spotswood’s authority and as proof for the reward given to his henchmen. Ironically, the crown later pardoned one of Blackbeard’s condemned men.

The stories are too numerous to relate. His exploits and his ability to elude English law enthralled pre-revolutionary colonists, another reason for Blackbeard’s celebrity status. His mockery of the English law incited admiration by those, many native born who had never set foot on English soil, chafing against the English. The revolution was in its infancy, and Blackbeard became an example of defying English law. He became an outlaw hero, a theme that many Americans to this day hold dear. This pirate, an intelligent outlaw, still captures imaginations, mine included. His character belongs in my novel and is one that I never could have invented.

For more information about Blackbeard, read Blackbeard The Pirate: A Reappraisal of His Life and Times by Robert E. Lee, Dean and Professor of Law Emeritus, Wake Forest University, John F. Blair, publisher, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1974.


Ellis Vidler said...

How interesting. I had quite a different image of him. Blackbeard has always been a fascinating character, and there are such differing stories about him. I remember the Disney movie, Blackbeard's Ghost, with Peter Ustinov. This makes me want to know more.

E. B. Davis said...

I found him a fascinating character and, because he is the one celebrity of the Outer Banks, wanted to include him in my novel since it is set there. What is frustrating is that little is known about Blackbeard until a year before his death, when he became notorious.
The work I cited by Lee, is a comprehensive review of all other books written about Blackbeard. His footnotes and citations take up the last third of the book, but go so far as original documents from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
There are some discrepancies among the "authories" on Blackbeard. The Queen Anne's Revenge website states that The Adventure was also grounded at Beaufort Inlet with the QAR, but since other authorities swear the Battle of Ocracoke Inlet had Blackbeard in The Adventure, I can only assume that although grounded, Blackbeard must have been able to get it off the sandbar.

Jim Jackson said...

As a kid, my two favorite pirates were Blackbeard and Jean Lafitte (of New Orleans fame.)

I have to say, the books I read in grammar school did not mention the 14 wives -- which does get one to wondering what happened to wives 1-13.

~ Jim

E. B. Davis said...

It was said that he was a bit of a dandy, loving women of all races and creeds. Among his crew were slaves he'd freed from slave ships. Blackbeard didn't discriminate, rather free thinking of him for his time. I'm sure Blackbeard's other wives were left alive and well, just discarded. Robert E. Lee, the author of the book I cited, suspected that he had lineage to Blackbeard, but since I'm sure most of the "marriages" weren't legal, little documentation exists. Having had 14 wives, he must have left a few little Blackbeards to run wild. He moved around a lot and women weren't taken on-board for obvious reasons. He was a love'm and leave'm type of guy.

Pauline Alldred said...

I'm fascinated by the character of Blackbeard. It's too bad there aren't more documents about him. He must have been an early entreprenuer to keep three ships supplied and pirating. There had to be a lot of characters who arrived in the new country and felt suddenly freed from English rule. They were miles away from it and no rule existed in the new land so they could do what they liked. The characters who made the most of their freedom have to stand out against all those who simply tried to survive in the new country. I bet we'd all like a little freedom from rules and regs to day.

E. B. Davis said...

The monarchy's colonial government was present in the colonies, which Americans rebelled against. Taxes were levied and resulted in the Boston Tea Party, as well as others. English Trade laws were not popular. Lee goes onto say on page 67 of the cited work, that "Piracy was a fashionable vice...Blackbeard became a star of the melodrama." (There's that word again, Ramona!)

However, you are partly right. The contention between Viginia's Governor Spotswood and North Carolina's Governor stemmed from the fact that Virgina was considered a "Crown Colony" whereas North Carolina was started by Sir Walter Raleigh and at first was governed by the trading company he had represented. Later those governing were appointed by those in power. North Carolina had very little to do with the monarchy and the populace was quite independent. And that was why Spotswood claimed jurisdiction. His was the closest "Crown Colony" and since N.C. wasn't he felt entitled to lay down the law for the crown in that jurisdiction. Eden didn't buy that argument, but was dead shortly after Blackbeard's demise so hadn't time to pursue the matter in court. My reading says that the case is still open.

Ricky Bush said...

Great research you've done there, E.B. Should be a whale of a story.

E. B. Davis said...

Hope so Ricky, but whales were not Blackbeard's bounty, to much work, not enough fun. I know the Donkey Riding Song though...