The Last Days of Blackbeard

Blackbeard was the most famous of all the 18-century pirates that looted and plundered their way around the New World. He commandeered ship after ship, freed slaves, enriched the towns in which his crew took refuge, and became a folk hero. And did it all in a career that lasted only about five years!

Over the first three weeks of October 1717, Blackbeard terrorized the approaches to the Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia and New York Harbor, never staying more than 48 hours in one place. He captured at least 15 vessels, becoming the most feared pirate in the Americas practically overnight. Traumatized captains poured into Philadelphia and New York with tales of woe: cargoes thrown into the sea; pirates leaving vessels and their crews to run aground after hacking down their masts and cutting loose their anchors; an entire cargo of indentured servants whisked away, perhaps because they wanted to join the pirates’ ranks as so many other members of captured ships did. “ Swarm in America and increase their numbers by almost every Vessel they take,” Philadelphia merchant James Logan wrote a friend in London after Blackbeard’s raids. “If speedy care be not taken they will become formidable...and [they] know our govern[men]t can make no defence.”

Another fascinating discovery is that there are no accounts of Blackbeard ever killing anyone. With his reputation established, he didn’t have to. An article from Smithsonian magazine examines the life of Edward Thatch, with new information gleaned from wide-ranging documents uncovered in only the past few years. It covers not only his last days, but the entire period in which Blackbeard ruled the seas.

(Image credit: Yuta Onoda)

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