Blackbeard often fought with, or simply showed himself wearing, multiple swords, knives, and pistols, and was notorious for weaving hemp and lighted matches into his enormous black beard during battle. This image, which he cultivated, has made him the premier image of the seafaring pirate.
Little is known about his early life, though it is believed he was born in Bristol, England in 1680. His career began as a seaman on privateers sailing out of Jamaica during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713), and later served aboard a Jamaican ship commanded by the pirate, Benjamin Hornigold, whom he met at New Providence in 1716. He was eventually made a captain while serving under Hornigold when, near the island of Martinique, they captured the French slave ship La Concorde out of Nantes, on November 28, 1717. According to the French governor of the island, "Edoard Titche" commanded two boats of English pirates, one of 12 and the other of 8 guns, with 250 men. La Concorde was a prize: a 300-ton frigate armed with 40 cannons, which had ranged the west coast of Africa, taking English, Dutch and Portuguese ships. Teach renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge.
Hornigold now retired, taking advantage of an amnesty extended to privateers.
In the following two years Teach acquired a fearsome reputation for cruelty after repeatedly preying on shipping and coastal settlements of the West Indies and the Atlantic coast of North America. A running duel with the British 30-gunned man-of-war HMS Scarborough added to his notoriety.
He would raid merchant ships, coming up on them in major channels and forcing them to allow him and his crew to board their ship. Teach and his men would take all of the valuables, food, liquor, and weapons from the ship and if there was no resistance, let the merchant ship go. On ships which resisted, all aboard were killed.
Teach kept headquarters in both the Bahamas and the Carolinas. He lived on the island of Nassau where he was named the Magistrate of the "Privateers Republic". The governor of North Carolina, Charles Eden , received booty from Teach in return for unofficial protection and gave him an official pardon. He was forced to leave Nassau by Royal Governor Woodes Rogers when the island was raided and all pirate occupants were either killed or driven out.
Despite this setback, Teach went back to piracy after a few weeks. As his violent raids increased, the citizens of North Carolina lost patience and sent an appeal to the governor of Virginia, Alexander Spottswood . Spottswood replied by sending troops to hunt him down.
From the nature of Black Beard's position in a sloop of little draught of water, on a coast abounding with creeks, and remarkable for the number and intricacy of its shoals, with which he had made himself intimately acquainted, it was deemed impossible to approach him in vessels of any force. Two hired sloops were therefore manned from the HMS Pearl and HMS Lime frigates, in the Chesapeake, and put under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard , with instructions to hunt down and destroy this pirate wherever he should be found. On the 17th of November, in the year 1718, this force sailed from James River, and in the evening of the 21st came to an inlet in North Carolina, where Blackbeard was discovered at a distance, lying in wait for his prey. The sudden appearance of an enemy, preparing to attack him, occasioned some surprise; but his sloop mounting several guns, and being manned with twenty-five of his desperate followers, he determined to make a resolute defence; and, having prepared his vessel over night for action, sat down to his bottle, stimulating his spirits to that pitch of frenzy by which only he could rescue himself in a contest for his life. The navigation of the inlet was so difficult, that Maynard's sloops were repeatedly grounded in their approach, and the pirate, with his experience of the soundings, possessed considerable advantage in manoeuvring, which enabled him for some time to maintain a running fight. His vessel, however, in her turn, having at length grounded, and the close engagement becoming now inevitable, he reserved her guns to pour in a destructive fire on the sloops as they advanced to board him. This he so successfully executed, that twenty-nine men of Maynard's small number were either killed or wounded by the first broadside, and one of the sloops for a time disabled. But notwithstanding this severe loss, the lieutenant persevered in his resolution to grapple with his enemy, or perish in the attempt. Observing that his own sloop, which was still fit for action, drew more water than the pirate's, he ordered all her ballast to be thrown out, and, directing his men to conceal themselves between decks, took the helm in person, and steered directly aboard of his antagonist, who continued inextricably fixed on the shoal. This desperate wretch, previously aware of his danger, and determined never to expiate his crimes in the hands of justice, had posted one of his banditti, with a lighted match, over his powder-magazine, to blow up his vessel in the last extremity. Luckily in this design he was disappointed by his own ardour and want of circumspection; for, as Maynard approached, having begun the encounter at close quarters, by throwing upon his antagonist a number of hand-grenadoes of his own composition, which produced only a thick smoke, and conceiving that, from their destructive agency, the sloop's deck had, been completely cleared, he leaped over her bows, followed by twelve of his men, and advanced upon the lieutenant, who was the only person then in view; but the men instantly springing up to the relief of their commander, who was now furiously beset, and in imminent danger of his life, a violent contest ensued. Blackbeard, after seeing the greater part of his men destroyed at his side, and receiving himself repeated wounds, at length, stepping back to cock, a pistol, fainted with the loss of blood, and expired on the spot. Maynard completed his victory, by securing the remainder of these desperate wretches, who were compelled to sue for mercy, and a short respite from a less honourable death at the hands of the executioner.
Teach was cornered by the English war ship HMS Pearl off the coast of Ocracoke, North Carolina. He was shot 5 times and stabbed more than 20 times before he died and was decapitated by Robert Maynard , the captain of the Pearl. His head was then placed as a trophy on the bowsprit of their ship.
Legend has romanticized Blackbeard. Many popular contemporary engravings show him with the smoking lit ends of his pigtails and the pistols stuck in his bandoliers, and he has been the subject of book, movies, and documentaries. He acquired immense wealth in his predatory voyages, and was accustomed to bury his treasures in the banks of creeks and rivers. For a period as low down as the American revolution, it was common for the ignorant and credulous to dig along these banks in search of hidden treasures; and impostors found an ample basis in these current rumours for schemes of delusion. His ship was discovered near Beaufort, North Carolina in 1996, and is now part of a major tourist attraction.
- North Carolina Office of Archives and History: Special Section on BlackBeard
- Queen Anne's Revenge Archaeological Site
- Edward Teach (Blackbeard): contemporary engravings