The Golden Age of Piracy: 1650-1740
Previously on me blog, “Epik Fails of History”: in The Golden Age of Piracy (Part One) I took it upon myself to set ta’ record straight about the real Pirates O’ the Caribbean. Ya see, I explained how it all began with legally sanctioned privateers like Cap’n Morgan and the legendary Long Ben. Aye, then in The Golden Age of Piracy (Part Two) I took a deeper look into Davy Jone’s locker – The Republic of Pirates, and the King’s Pardon, as well as three tragic tales of woe: The Reluctant Pirate, the Gentleman Pirate, and the Absolute Worst Pirate of all time. Alas, tis soon became clear that the time of me mateys was at an end… but not before Blackbeard had his say!
THE LEGEND OF BLACKBEARD
Blackbeard – Captain of the Queen Anne’s Revenge and the most feared pirate to ever sail the seven seas… was a con man. As it turns out, Blackbeard was more bark than bite, more myth than man, utilizing a clever PR campaign of implied terror to achieve his goals. From just 1716-1718, Blackbeard’s legendary adventures marked the peak of the Golden Age of Piracy, with his death signaling the end of an era…
Edward ‘Teach’ (or Thatch), was a British ex-privateer with a penchant for theatricality, like a swashbuckling Phantom of the Opera. He donned the alias Blackbeard while serving under the infamous Benjamin Hornigold who started his own career off with just a couple canoes and managed to upgrade to a 30 cannon ship. Together Hornigold and Teach ruled the Caribbean, operating out of Nassau against their rival Henry Jennings (see Part One).
The main reason behind Teach’s success was his methods. He commanded a loyal crew through mutual respect, and often relied on appearances rather than actual force to achieve his goals. He built up such a mythology around his name to the point where ships would surrender at the mere sight of his flag. More often than not, Blackbeard’s crew wouldn’t have to fire a single shot, because his reputation had preceded him. And the funny thing is, it was a reputation of mostly bullshit ghost stories.
At the time, he was considered the most blood thirsty pirate of all and yet evidence suggests he didn’t typically harm his prisoners, well with a few exceptions. Blackbeard was also an equal opportunity employer, with some 40% freed African slaves as crewmen. Part of his scam, in order to pull off this illusion of a cannibalistic badass, Blackbeard stuck several smoking wicks in his long dread-locked hair and… um, black beard, giving him the illusion of a wild-eyed demon. Yeah, I wouldn’t mess with a biker-looking dude who lit his beard on fire either.
There are many stories about Blackbeard, like that time someone refused to give Blackbeard his ring, so he took his whole finger, or the time he blockaded Charles-town and threatened to kill an entire boat of hostages for medical supplies (and then left the hostages half naked). Or that other time he supposedly killed someone so they would remember his name. You see, like I’ve said before, real-life pirates were much less Disney-friendly and more “Sons of Anarchy” types.
In 1717, Blackbeard and his gang captured a frigate called La Concorde, a French slave frigate that he re-dubbed as his flagship: The Queen Anne’s Revenge. Teach and his men supped up the Queen Anne’s Revenge with 40 cannons! With a flotilla comprising Blackbeard’s fancy new ships, the Adventure and the Revenge (The Gentleman Pirate’s ship, that Blackbeard stole), Blackbeard and his crew plundered the Caribbean from Saint Vincent to Puerto Rico.
Then on June 10th, 1718, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground at Old Topsail Inlet!
BLACKBEARD’s LAST STAND
While Stede Bonnet left to run some errands, Teach took Bonnet’s men, stripped his ship of supplies, then marooned Captain Herriot and half his crew before taking off in a Spanish sloop to Bath to grab his pardon from the King. After getting his pardon, Edward Teach gave up his life of piracy, hung up his fire-retardant beard and settled down with a wife at Plum Point. It seemed as though the dreaded Blackbeard had really turned over a new leaf, leaving behind the pirate life for a chance to start over.
The very next month, he sailed off and got right back to pirating… (so much for that pardon)
Not long after, the governor of Pennsylvania issued a warrant for Blackbeard’s arrest! Lt. Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy was dispatched to bring him in, dead or alive. After weeks of searching up the coast, Maynard and his men found Blackbeard and his buddies, Charles Vane and Calico Jack, partying it up in North Carolina.
Maynard’s ships, The Jane and The Ranger, spotted Blackbeard’s new ride, The Adventure, at Ocracoke Inlet.
On November 22nd, 1718, Robert Maynard and his cohorts had Blackbeard’s ship surrounded, out gunned and outmatched. Blackbeard only had 25 men aboard and most of them were badly hung over, while the rest of his crew were hanging out on the beach. Of course Blackbeard wasn’t the type to go down without a fight!
Edward Teach immediately cut the anchor and raised the sails, maneuvering The Adventure closer to shore. During the face off, Maynard’s ships got stuck in the shallow water of the narrow channel, one of them hitting a sand bar. Blackbeard came around for a pass and fired a broadside salvo of cannons at both the Ranger and the Jane. The British Lieutenant lost 20 men on the Jane and 9 on the Ranger during the attack.
Before the pirates could get away, one of Maynard’s men got off a lucky shot and took out a rope holding one of The Adventure’s sails! During the chaos, Lt. Maynard and Teach shouted exchanges across the way. According to one account, Blackbeard raised a glass of liquor to Maynard and yelled, “Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you!”
The Adventure collided with The Jane and Blackbeard’s crew (certain they had the upper hand), threw over some grappling hooks and smoke bombs. Blackbeard and his gang swung over to Maynard’s ship, armed to the teeth with cutlasses and blunderbusses. Blackbeard was ready for an easy fight. Little did they know, Maynard had most of his men hiding below deck!
The wooden deck was slick with blood and littered with limbs. Blackbeard and his men were ready to claim victory, but just as the smoke cleared, dozens of British sailors ambushed them from below! Lt. Maynard led the charge, flintlocks firing at the stunned pirates. Blackbeard rallied his allies to fight to the last man, but it was no use. During the fray, Blackbeard himself took numerous stab wounds and at least five bullets to the chest, as he wildly swung his sword, but nothing seemed to stop him!
Robert Maynard reloaded and lifted his pistol to fire again, just as Edward Teach lunged his way. Just before Teach could deliver a killing blow, someone stabbed him from behind. Before falling to his knees, Blackbeard’s final words to Maynard were “Well done lad.”
Blackbeard’s severed head was displayed on the bow of the Adventure as a warning to others…
THE LAST OF THE PIRATES IN THE CARIBBEAN
Blackbeard’s legend lived on well after his defeat. His death became a rallying cry for the pirates who continued on in his legacy. Two of the most famous pirates from this era were actually women! Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
It all started when a young Anne Cormac ran away to the Bahamas and got eloped with a guy named James Bonny. It was there in Nassau that Anne met a charming, roguish scoundrel – Calico Jack Rackham, Captain of The Ranger. Calico Jack was probably the closest historical analogue to the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow – he was a charming, flamboyant drunkard who had big ambitions and very little success.
Anne Bonny had a steamy affair with Calico Jack and, after learning her husband had become a pirate informant, decided to run away with Jack and become a part of his crew aboard The Ranger. Rackham had become Captain after deposing Charles Vane, usurping his ship and crew. During their adventures together, Jack and Anne crossed paths with a Dutch sailor named Mark Read in 1720. Read joined Rackham’s crew without anyone realizing that Mark was actually Mary.
Mark Mary Read was raised as a boy in secret, to pass as her dead brother, because she was born out of wed lock. Like Mulan, Mary wore men’s clothing, and fought alongside her male counterparts without anyone taking notice… well, until she met Anne. Anne and Mary were instantly drawn to one another. Both were tough as nails and didn’t take shit from anyone.
Mary and Anne soon fell in love. One day, Calico Jack walked in on them sleeping together and (still thinking that Mary was a dude) was ready to fight her – until she flashed her boobs at him. Jack calmed his tits and decided he was cool with it, because of reasons.
Together, Anne Bonny, Mary Read and Calico Jack became a … uh, Triple? Triage? Thropple? – they became an item. The three pirates fought, plundered, terrorized, and drank their way across the Caribbean… well at least for the next two months. On October 23rd, 1720, their ship was sighted off the coast of Jamaica. After the defeat of Blackbeard, the British Navy was cracking down hard on piracy and Calico Jack was at the top of their wanted list.
A Naval warship, The Tyger, fired a barrage of cannons at The Ranger, disabling it. Jack and his crew hid below as the Pirate Hunters boarded to capture them. Only Mary Read and Anne Bonny were brave enough to stand and fight on deck against the British soldiers, but were eventually overwhelmed and captured. During the confrontation, Mary shouted at the cowardly pirates and even shot one of them.
On November 16th, Calico Jack Rackham was tried and convicted. Bonny and Read were also sentenced to death, but both of them pleaded that they were pregnant and they were spared because of their ‘condition’. Before Jack was hung in the gallows, Anne Bonny paid him a visit. She told him, “Had you fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”
THE END OF PIRACY?
With the end of legally sanctioned piracy, the English, Spanish and French naval powers began to work together to root out any and all remaining pirates hiding out in the Caribbean. Most of them gave up, while some of them went turn coat, the ones who didn’t were soon killed or captured. The pirate haven of Nassau was soon a thing of the past and with it, the Golden Age of Piracy was at an end.
In 1724, a British author by the pen name Captain Charles Johnson wrote a best-selling book called “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates” which detailed the high seas adventures of these swashbuckling buccaneers and cemented their status as pop-culture legends.
Hope ya landlubbers enjoyed tis’ here Pirate Edition of me blog, “Epik Fails of History!” If ye scurvy bilge-rats have any questions, concerns, er suggestions, let yer Cap’n know in the comments below! Alas be sharrr ta ‘Like’ EPiKFAILs.com on Facebook, or Follow on Twitter, and smartly SHARE IT with yar mateys! Fair winds me hearties!
—– More articles on Historic Failure:
“The Republic of Pirates” by Colin Woodard
“Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among Pirates” by David Cordingly
“A General History of the Pyrates” by Daniel Defoe
“Badass” by Ben Thompson
“True Caribbean Pirates” – History Channel Documentary (2006)
The Saint Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
“Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” (PS4 / Xbox One)