north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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     In the early eighteenth century, the best known figure in the "Golden Age of Piracy" was slain in North Carolina waters by an officer of the Royal Navy. The story is one of the best-known tales associated with North Carolina history and, like most stories involving pirates, it has become the province of legend.

     By the fall of 1718, the reputation of Edward Teach (Thatch)—better known as the fearsome pirate Blackbeard—had spread far and wide. Colonial governments (particularly that of Virginia) grew concerned about their shipping, and acts of piracy along the coast of Virginia and North Carolina, regardless of facts, were attributed to Blackbeard and his crew. Teach and his band of sea robbers had taken to using North Carolina’s treacherous coast (with its shallow inlets and sounds) for protection. Virginia’s governor Alexander Spotswood hatched a scheme to destroy Blackbeard.

     Two British warships, the Pearl and the Lyme, had been furnished by the Crown to help protect Virginia from pirates. The ships, however, were too large and heavy to navigate the shallow inlets of North Carolina’s barrier islands, forcing Spotswood to commission the use of two sloops (at his own expense) to accomplish his objective. British naval crews from the Pearl and Lyme manned these swift, shallow-draft vessels on their mission to find Blackbeard. In November 1718, as a contingent of British troops marched overland toward Bath, the two Royal sloops—Ranger and Jane—embarked for North Carolina under command of Lt. Robert Maynard, of the Pearl. Stopping various vessels along the way, Maynard was able to determine where the famous pirate was hiding.
     Blackbeard’s infamous flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, had run aground off Topsail (now Beaufort) Inlet in June 1718. Teach had transferred to an armed sloop, the Adventure, with a greatly reduced crew. Lieutenant Maynard had about sixty men from the Royal Navy aboard his own vessels (which were guided by local pilots) as they slipped into Ocracoke Inlet on the morning of November 22, 1718. Raising the Union Jack aboard their sloops, the British sailors maneuvered to engage Blackbeard’s vessel. Familiar with the waters, Blackbeard lured the Royal sloops onto a sand bar, where they temporarily ran aground. The pirate ship then unleashed a devastating broadside (with eight cannons) that tore into both of Maynard’s vessels. In an effort to get off the sand bar, the crew aboard Maynard’s vessel (Jane) jettisoned the ship’s ballast. As Maynard steered toward Blackbeard’s sloop (which had also run aground), the lieutenant ordered his men below decks in hopes of luring the pirates aboard the Royal sloop. As the ships drew alongside one another, the pirates threw improvised grenades onto the deck of Maynard’s sloop. The rogues then threw out their grappling irons and boarded the Royal vessel.

     Maynard’s men swarmed up from below decks, and a bloody hand-to-hand struggle ensued. Lieutenant Maynard came face-to-face with his famous prey, amidst a flurry of pistol shots and flailing swords and cutlasses. Maynard shot the pirate captain, and British sailors swarmed in to finish the job. When the battle ended, Maynard counted five pistol shots and numerous severe cuts on Blackbeard’s body. The surviving pirates (all wounded) either surrendered or jumped overboard. Casualties on both sides were significant, given the small numbers engaged. Maynard, himself slightly wounded, boarded the pirate sloop Adventure and discovered a number of important papers, including a letter to Blackbeard from Tobias Knight, the Secretary of the Colony of North Carolina.

     Blackbeard’s head had been severed, and his body dumped overboard. The King’s men sailed to Bath to repair their vessels, heal their wounds, and make contact with the British land force. Maynard then sailed the pirate sloop Adventure back to Virginia in late December. When Maynard dropped anchor on the James River in January 1719, Blackbeard’s severed head was hanging from the bowsprit of the sloop he once commanded. Fifteen members of Blackbeard’s former crew were eventually tried and executed in Williamsburg, Virginia, on the charge of piracy.

     Discovered in November 1996, what is presumed to be the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge lies in North Carolina waters off Beaufort Inlet. The site is governed by the State and is protected by surveillance equipment.


References:
David Cordingly, Under the Blag Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (1995)
Robert E. Lee, Blackbeard the Pirate: A Reappraisal of his Life and Times (1974)
Hugh F. Rankin, The Pirates of Colonial North Carolina (1960)
Queen Anne’s Revenge website: http://www.qaronline.org
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north carolina highway historical marker program


Blackbeard's head on Maynard's ship

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