The coastal communities of North and South Carolina are a popular vacation destination, including Charleston and the Outer Banks. But over 300 years ago, you wouldn’t dare traverse these waters, especially with valuables.
That’s because pirates trolled the ocean and inlets, robbing incoming ships. It was here that a man named Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, cut his teeth as a pirate.
The man is equal parts legend and fact, but one thing was certain: he had notable facial hair. His career started with the ambushing of ships in Philadelphia with Stede Bonnet, nicknamed the “Gentleman Pirate.” Blackbeard then moved on to Martinique where he took a slave ship and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge.
In 1718, Blackbeard and friends arrived in Charleston where he used his ship and smaller ones to create a blockade in the harbor. They took prisoners from incoming ships, trading them for much-needed medicine for their various ailments, including syphilis. Once they got what they needed, the ships sailed north.
Blackbeard’s colleague Stede Bonnet was also in Charleston but didn’t get to leave. South Carolina governor Robert Johnson dispatched troops to fight Bonnet and his men.
He was captured, imprisoned at the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon, and hung alongside his crew at White Point Garden, known today as “The Battery.” The green space shaded with trees is popular for wedding photo shoots and picnics but was where the city had their gallows.
Blackbeard stopped in Beaufort, North Carolina and established his headquarters for a time, but he eventually relocated to Bath. The town was where North Carolina governor Charles Eden also resided and the two became fast friends.
After Blackbeard sunk his beloved ship, he received a pardon from the governor in exchange for giving up his life of piracy. Without his usual habits to keep him occupied, Blackbeard threw lavish parties, that Eden was a guest at, and married a local woman, his fourteenth wife.
By the fall, Blackbeard went back to his seafaring ways and spent the fall in the Pamlico Sound in the Outer Banks. He continued to demand goods from incoming ships and shared the bounty with Governor Eden in exchange for his silence. But locals were having none of it.
Neighboring Virginia had tired of the pirates that roamed the shared coastline, so Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood was recruited to take on Blackbeard. He hired members of the Royal Navy to attack the pirate and his men.
They captured and killed him on Ocracoke Island. He was decapitated and his head was hung on the bow of the ship, taken back to Virginia, and displayed on a spike in Hampton for years. The place it sat became known as Blackbeard’s Point.
After that, rumor has it that the skull was used as a drinking glass at a tavern in Williamsburg and later private property. Today, it’s reportedly in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.
But that’s not where the rumors ended. Stories spread about what happened to his treasure in places from the Caribbean to Georgia to Ocracoke. Many have gone digging and used metal detectors, but nothing has turned up.
However, something important from Blackbeard did turn up. In 1996, following over a century of sitting on the ocean floor, the Queen Anne’s Revenge wreckage was pulled from the water and carefully restored. Now found at the Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab in Greenville, North Carolina, countless artifacts from the ship are on display.
It’s no gold but this ship taught us a lot about the man and the myths surrounding him.
If you’d like to learn more about Blackbeard and his contemporaries, take the Pirates of Charleston Walking Tour.