Golden Age of Pirates – Introduction and Blackbeard


Pirates of the Caribbean has been a popular film series and is part of the film industry’s history of pirate films. Of course, what is called the “pirate age” – mostly operating in the Caribbean Sea area – is the Golden Era of Pirates, the Elizabethan Age. It was also an age of exploration.
Explorers, as well as privateers, were classified as pirates because they attacked the Spanish treasure fleet sailing from the New World back to Spain with their conquistador booty. This is where the name “Spanish Main” – the main route for ships sailing to and from Spain came from.

This period was the height of Spanish power and an empire of colonies were established in the newly found Americas. The Spanish Main referred to the coastal region of the Americans that surrounded the Caribbean Sea and South America, as well as the claimed sea routes aforementioned. The pirates, known as the Pirates of the Caribbean, of which the famous Jack Sparrow escapades on film is presented, sailed these waters to steal the gems, slaves, spices and gold that had been taken from the New World. Many of the Caribbean Islands became bases for these pirates. Privateers would moor at these spots as well, like Sir Francis Drake and other seamen and explorers of the era. Other famous privateers, who will be discussed later in detail, were: Sir Walter RaleighSir Richard Hawkins and his son, Sir John HawkinsSir Martin FrobisherSir Humphrey Gilbert, and Sir Richard Grenville.
The Spanish and Portuguese were the primary peoples who dominated the exploration age. It was also a time of war between England and Spain and thus the recruitment of privateers against the Spanish fleet between 1585 and 1604. The Spanish fleet (Armada) was defeated in 1588.

Also during this age, religion was involved in the exploration and conflict between England and Spain. Queen Elizabeth I saw the Catholic Spanish missionaries as a threat to Protestant England, as well as the Netherlands (Dutch). It was the Netherlands who established the idea of privateers by funding Protestant privateers to attack Spanish ships. Safe harbor was provided under the order of Queen Elizabeth I for the Dutch privateers. Francis Drake was the first of the English seamen to turn privateer by joining the Dutch privateers to obtain the rich spoils of war obtained from the Spanish vessels. The English government began to issue letters of marque, which gave license to sailors to legally plunder ships – as long as they belonged to the declared enemy. In a way, it was an unofficial declaration of war. Without the official letters from the government, privateers would be nothing but pirates, which piracy was punishable by death.
The privateers shared their profit with the government and Queen Elizabeth, and the Spanish treasure fleet made this highly profitable. It helped England greatly in financing the war against Spain, as well as other endeavors like exploration and establishing English-ruled colonies.

Privateers who were provided letters of marque by the Knights of St. John were the Barbary Corsairs which operated in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the Maltese Corsairs. The Dunkirk Raiders were in service of the Spanish Empire.
Privateering became obsolete when the Declaration of Paris of 1864 became effective and seven nations agreed to no longer authorize letters of marque, and other nations followed in the 1907 Hague Convention in agreement of no authorization of privateering. Privateers were used during the American Revolutionary War, mainly because the American colonies could not provide a full strength navy. Those privateers during that time were called commerce raiders or merchant raiders. Privateering was also involved during the American Civil War in which the Confederacy sent out commerce raiders, the most famous being the CSS Alabama. Despite the Declaration of Paris and the Hague Convention of 1907, commerce raiders were used in World War I and World War II, where Germany used the privateering tactics in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Of course, Hollywood has established the “pirate look” or the way in which they supposedly dressed, but generally they wore the clothes of common seamen. Getting tattooed and having their ears pierced and earrings attached via clamps was not just for pirates – seamen began to accept this practice under many flags.

Many crewmen of pirate ships were recruited from unemployed seamen at various ports, as well as captors from ships attacked and boarded – especially valuable were seamen who were carpenters, sail-makers, cooks, navigators, crewmen with medical knowledge, et cetera. The standard type of clothing was a canvas doublet (and breeches, knitted caps called Monmouth caps, cotton waistcoats, cotton drawers, stockings, linen shirts and shoes – although on the deck many, when the weather permitted, went barefoot. This type of clothing was worn by the regular and poor seaman, and was established in 1628 by the British Admiralty as the established sailor’s uniform (called “slops”) of men who had been press-ganged into service of Her Majesty’s fleet. Interestingly, the Monmouth Cap dates back to the 1500s, where in 1571 the Sumptuary Laws were passed which ordered everyone over the age of six to wear a woolen cap on Sundays and holidays in order to help England’s wool trade flourish. Of course, the upper English class was excused from this law. The law even dictated as to what color the cloth must be and a color designated for each social level of society. Of course, pirates no longer were citizens of any nation and they naturally were rebellious when it came to laws, so the pirates began to make up their own way of dressing – thus the reason pirates are depicted wearing the clothes described in historical documents and drawings of the period. Much of the clothing they wore was not purchased by stolen off the ships they looted. Thus some of them, especially the captains would be seen wearing fancy clothing, such as gold buttoned waistcoats. Some of the clothing received names, like “Motley Crew” – of which a 20th century rock band took the name of. Motley was a multi-colored woolen fabric woven with mixed threads between the 14th and 17th centuries in England. The clothes of pirate seamen were mismatched (because they took whatever was available aboard ships they looted) and so the name Motley Crew came about. Seamen, as well as pirates, for the most part wore tightly fitted clothing because loose clothing was dangerous when performing their seafaring duties such as climbing the rigging many feet above the deck in windy and rainy weather. Of course, the clothing that the captain or his crew wore on shore was different than their “working clothes”.

The fabric of the seaman’s clothing was varied, especially pirates. Fabrics and clothing taken from ships were made of velvet, silk, damasksarcanetcamlet and taffeta. Feathers from exotic tropical birds were often used to adorn their clothing, especially the tricorn hats or the wide-brimmed hats worn by Dutch gentlemen and Spanish higher class individuals. Colors were often mismatched, but usually bright – definitely disobeying the Sumptuary Law of England. Some pirates were more flamboyant in their clothing than others. For example, Black Bart (Bartholomew Roberts) wore velvet waistcoats and breeches in a deep crimson color. His hat had an exotic bird’s feather stuck on it. A satin and leather sash was tied around his waist and he was adorned with gold jewelry, even the buttons on his waistcoat, and other ornaments. When those who wrote stories about pirates Black Bart’s manner of dressing became the icon of pirates. Bandanas were worn by the pirate crew, not as a fashion statement, but kept their hair and sweat out of their eyes. Long coats were worn on land, while waistcoats (short coats that ended at the waist) were worn aboard ship for obvious reasons. Breeches or trousers were worn generally by English seamen, along with the Monmouth caps aforementioned. Drawers, which were pants, were longer than breeches, fit tightly, while the puffed sleeve shirts depicted in films were only worn when going ashore. Silk stockings were worn on shore, while practical woolen stockings were worn aboard ship.

A sign of wealth, or so was the code of dress during this period, was wearing golden hoop earrings. But there was also another practical reason for wearing earrings (the type that clamps on the earlobe). It was found that pressing on the earlobe would alleviate seasickness; so while today it is fashionable or during other periods of history, it was actually begun out of a practical application. Pirates would often be found wearing bracelets, chains, pins, and pendants made of gold, silver and precious gems and pearls. Braids often adorned the clothing, but also pirates began the custom of braiding their hair when it was grown long. Blackbeard was famous for his dreadlocks beard. As mentioned before, pirates (and seamen) often were barefoot aboard ship, especially when performing duties like “swabbing the deck”. Different length boots were worn otherwise from shoes with bootcovers, to bucket boots (as depicted in many pirate renditions) and boots that reached up to the thigh – protecting their legs when fighting. Belts were worn around the waist and with a diagonal strap across the shoulder – once again not for fashion but to handle the weight of carrying the necessary weaponry pirates needed for their trade. Huge ornate buckles were worn on their leather belts, as well as shoes/boots. Interestingly, pirate captains often liked to wear wigs that had either been stolen from ships or custom made when they visited ports.
The standard weapons for pirates was the cutlass, which is a heavy curved sword with one cutting edge and usually an ornate hilt guard; daggers placed in their leather belts; and pistols.
Of course, many pirate depictions, including costumes for Halloween and costume parties, depict someone with an eye patch, a hook instead of a hand or a wooden leg. This is not the norm, however, judging the dangerous lifestyle of the pirate with cannon fire hitting the deck and creating shrapnel from the wood being splintered, pirates lost eyes, limbs and hands.

  • The Pirate Code of Conduct, as depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean first film, was varied among the captains. It was custom for captains of ships to post those rules in a place where seamen could see it – and usually the seamen were required to sign it or put their “mark” to acknowledge that they either read it or it was read to them. Seamen were generally uneducated. Captains of ships, however, were educated and crew members like doctors and navigators for obvious reasons.

Probably the most well-known rules of conduct concerning pirates were the shipboard articles of 1721 of Bartholomew Roberts, but the historical accuracy of such rules of conduct are questionable:

  • Article I – Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  • Article II – Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any men rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be pit ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.[i]
  • Article III – None shall game for money either with dice or cards.[ii]
  • Article IV – The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after than hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.[iii]
  • Article V – Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  • Article VI – No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.[iv]
  • Article VII – He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  • Article VIII – None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draweth first blood shall be declared the victor.
  • Article IX – No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
  • Article X – The captain and the quartermaster shall each retrieve two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
  • Article XI – The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only.

There were other codes set by other captains, like John PhillipEdward Low, and Henry Morgan.
Exquemelin sailed with Captain Morgan as a physician, and wrote of the rules of conduct by that captain, which is probably more accurate of the rules for privateers or buccaneers:

  • The fund of all payments under the articles is the stock of what is gotten by the expedition, following the same law as other pirates, that is, No prey, no pay.
  • Compensation is provided the Captain for the use of his ship, and the salary of the carpenter, or shipwright, who mended, careened, and rigged the vessel (the latter usually about 150 pieces of eight). A sum for provisions and victuals is specified, usually 200 pieces of eight. A salary and compensation is specified for the surgeon and his medicine chest, usually 250 pieces of eight.
  • A standard compensation is provided for maimed and mutilated buccaneers. “Thus they order for the loss of a right arm six hundred pieces of eight, or six slaves; for the loss of a left arm five hundred pieces of eight[v], or five slaves; for a right leg five hundred pieces of eight, or five slaves; for the left leg four hundred pieces of eight, or four slaves; for an eye one hundred pieces of eight, or one slave; for a finger of the hand the same reward as for the eye.
  • Shares of booty are provided as follows: “the Captain, or chief Commander, is allotted five or six portions to what the ordinary seamen have; the Master’s Mate only two; and Officers proportionate to their employment. After whom they draw equal parts from the highest even to the lowest mariner, the boys not being omitted.[vi] For even these draw half a share, by reason that, when they happen to take a better vessel than their own, it is the duty of the boys to set fire to the ship or boat wherein they are, and then retire to the prize which they have taken.
  • “In the prizes they take, it is severely prohibited to every one to usurp anything, in particular themselves … Yea, they make a solemn oath to each other not to abscond, or conceal the least thing they find amongst the prey. If afterwards any one is found unfaithful, who has contravened the said oath, immediately he is separated and turned out of the society.”

The Code featured in the Disney movie films Pirates of the Caribbean, is a mix between Morgan and Bartholomew codes of conduct.
The one code not mentioned above is the right to declare parley, in which the person who declares it is to be taken to the enemy captain for negotiations and is to remain unharmed by his crew until such time. Mutiny is a despicable crime, not mentioned that usually means punishment by death. In the film, the pirate code includes the practice of giving a marooned pirate a pistol with one shot to afford him the choice of killing oneself instead of death by starvation. Jack Sparrow mentions he who falls behind is left behind, take what you can, give nothing back, and fight to run away – which may have had its place in the real days of piracy, but it is unknown to be part of the rules of conduct.
And, the Pirate Flag …

Calico Jack Flag – “Jolly Roger”

Not a myth, pirate flags are not something dreamed up by authors of fiction or script writers for films. There were various forms of these flags, mainly the usual skull-and-crossbones called “Jolly Roger”, but customized ones as well. For example, those ships that were sailing as privateers flew the flag of the Tudor Rose when in service of Queen Elizabeth against Spanish ships, while Spanish ships were distinguished by Catholic crosses. Pirate flags were really a form of psychological warfare – against those they wished to attack.

There were black flags and red flags, more of the red flags despite the black flag being depicted in films. The earliest pirates of that age used red flags primarily. The color red signified bloodshed and a warning. Pirates would rather that ships surrender and be an easy conquest, so the red flag was a warning that if resisted it could mean no quarter given. The French name for the Red Flag was “Jolie Rouge” meaning Pretty Red. As the time of the golden era for pirates began, the black pirate flags replaced the red or a combination was used like the Blackbeard pirate flag depicted.
Black symbolized death. Solid-colored black flags were used as a warning that a ship was beset by the plague or other horrible, communicable disease. Pirate ships flew flags called Banner of King Death – with graphics in red and background of black depicting graphic symbols that was supposed to instill fear. Objects depicted on the flags were a skull, crossed bones, a combination of both, a skeleton, spears, swords, cutlasses, hourglass, or clothing associated with pirates and their captain. The pirates who flew the skull and crossbones design were Edward England and Edward Teach. Today, this symbol is used as a warning against dangerous and toxic materials, such as poisons on bottles and other containers. The flag of Calico Jack Rackham was a skull with crossed cutlasses beneath it in white with a black background. The flag of John Avery (Long Ben) was a side view of a skull complete with bandana and earring and crossed bones in white with a red background. The red color could be seen farther than a black-colored flag. The flag of Blackbeard was a skeleton with horns in white, holding a spear that had a red heart below the spear point with red dots depicting blood below the heart on a black background.
Pirate Songs …
The most famous song or “chant” of the pirate age is found in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, published in 1883 – Treasure Island, also immortalized on screen:

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

There happens to be an island in the Caribbean Sea, part of the British Virgin Islands called “Dead Man’s Chest”. Legends claim that Blackbeard marooned 15 of his pirate crew on Dead Man’s Chest Island as punishment for their mutiny and desertion.
Music was, apparently, an important part of morale aboard any ship – pirate or otherwise. Often there would be a musician member aboard and tavern songs were popular with seamen in general, the concertina (‘squeeze box’) being the most popular on-board instrument. These songs, called chants or ‘Sea Shanty’, became part of the pirate lore. There were songs or sea shanties like:

  • Capstan Shanty or Windlass Shanty – song to sing while raising the anchor of a ship.
  • Short Drag Shanty – song sung while raising the masthead or trimming the sails.
  • Halyard Shanty – song sung while raising the heavy sails from the yards, the wooden cross-pieces.
  • Pumping Shanty – sung while pumping out the water when emptying the bilge.
  • Forecastle Shanty – sung in the quarters of the crew members, the forecastle (fo’ksul) is the forward part of the main deck.
  • Celebration Shanty – sung to celebrate anything worth celebrating, such as battle victories. The most known song is a tavern song called Blow the Man Down.

Other music of the time is recorded as Elizabethan music, named after Queen Elizabeth I of England – who established the British Navy as the greatest floating armada of world history.
A recording of sea songs and established pirate songs, like the Toucan Pirates Irish collection, for example, is available on soundtrack.
Pirate stories and its history has also been a popular subject in books, more so than on film. Either way, the stories, except for the history books, romanticized the age of pirates as well as their lives and lifestyles.
There were also privateers who were commissioned pirates, usually by the King or Queen of England who were given a letter of marqué to plunder vessels of enemies of England, such as Spain or France – or whoever they were at war with at the time, which includes the Dutch. The only difference sometimes between pirates and privateers was that the latter was given permission by a government and the other had no home because the pirates were loyal to no one and plundered vessels flying under any nation’s flag.
And what did pirates or seamen eat while aboard ship or at ports?
The main concern about food aboard ship was its preservation. Thus food tended to be salty and spicy, the latter used to hide the strong salt taste that could be found in medieval food in general. Other forms of food preservation were smoking, pickling, and desiccation. Spices like ginger, cinnamon, mace, cubeb, pepper, or clove were used.
Food provisions along with powder and shot were replenished by capturing merchant ships. Fresh drinking water was kept in kegs and it was not uncommon to find weevils in the biscuits stored in wooden containers. Fresh water would be replenished by going ashore the various islands in the area, as well as any fresh meat obtained by killing any game found while there. Fresh food and drink could also be obtained by stopping at friendly ports, the most popular in the early 1600s being the port of Tortuga, located on the northern tip of the island of Hispaniola. As the Golden Age of Piracy came to a close, so did the availability of friendly ports.
One of the favorite meals of pirates and seamen was Salamagundi – a stew made of turtle, fish, chicken, pig, cow, duck, pigeon, spiced wine, herbs, palm hearts, garlic, oil, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, pickled onions, cabbage, grapes and olives – the ingredients depended upon availability. The recipe is:

1 lb Corned beef
1 tin anchovies
1 lb Goat meat
3 large onions
3 lbs Pickled vegetables
1 lb apples or raisins or bread fruit or Mango
1 bottle of wine or rum
Lard, shortening, or cooking for browning the meat, which the latter is hacked into chunks, browned with onions and simmered with spices, added per taste

This should not be confused with what is called Salmagundi, which is a salad dish that originated in early 17th century England that is comprised of cooked meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, leaves, nuts, flowers mushrooms, lemon, orange, raisins, potatoes, et cetera.
Another food found aboard ship would be hardtack, which is hard bread. Black Bart ate Salamagundi and hardtack for breakfast on the day he was killed by the British Royal Navy.
Pirate drink, other than water, consisted of Bombo, a spicy concoction of rum, water, sugar and nutmeg. Rumfustian made with rum, raw eggs, sugar, sherry, gin and beer. Rumbullion was a brew of rum mixed with wine, tea, lime juice, sugar and spices. And, supposedly Blackbeard’s favorite drink – Kill Devil that was spiced rum with gunpowder added.
As far as piracy and its history, it dates back in historical documentation to the 13th century BC, which refers to the Sea Peoples who sailed the Aegean Sea.
BlackbeardEdward Teach – Probably the most notorious of the Golden Age pirates, was born in Bristol, England around 1680 and died at Oracoke, North Carolina on November 22nd, 1718. He was an English pirate who sailed the Caribbean Sea and the western Atlantic (his main area of operation) during the early 18th century. His vessel, at least best known, was the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was to have run aground near Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina in 1718. An archaeological team is presently working at the site that is believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge called the QAR Project. Blackbeard and his pirate crew captured the French slave-ship, La Concorde near the island of Martinique in November of 1717 and were converted as Blackbeard’s flagship and renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Blackbeard, when seen in public or fighting, wore a tricorn hat with a feather or two in it. He carried swords, knives and pistols and it is an accepted fact of history that he had twisted hemp woven into his bushy black beard that was so long it was deadlock and he would light the twisted hemp before a sea battle to make him fiercer than he looked.

Edward Teach also referred to in some documents as Edward Thatch or Edward Drummond, began his career on the sea as a young lad aboard an English ship during the War of the Spanish Succession in the Spanish West Indies along the place that became known as the Spanish Main. After the war in 1713, Teach turned from privateering to piracy, as several others did at the time. It was in the year of 1716 or 1717 that Teach took up with a pirate captain by the name of Benjamin Hornigold. During this time, Edward Teach aka Blackbeard, gained his reputation for cruelty as he combed the seas for vessels to plunder in and around the coastal settlements of the West Indies and the Atlantic coast of North America. In 1718, Captain Hornigold took advantage of an amnesty offered to former privateers by the British government and retired. Teach did not take advantage of the amnesty and continued his actions of piracy.
Blackbeard’s most famous battle, or at least what was described by historian/author Charles Johnson, was against the British 30-gun, Man-O-War HMS Scarborough. Historian David Cordingly disagrees stating that the Scarborough’s ship’s log makes no mention of a battle with Blackbeard and Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Of course, Blackbeard plundered merchant vessels taking anything valuable – food, liquor, weapons. Despite the tales of his fierceness and “no quarter” reputation, there are no verified accounts of him actually killing at discretion. Apparently he didn’t have to because of his fearsome reputation. Some of the legends are from newspaper accounts of the time that mostly relied on hearsay from “eyewitnesses” or tavern rumors. That is where most of his reputation of cruelty and terrorism came from. According to the entry in Wikipedia …

One tale claims he shot his own first mate, saying “if he didn’t shoot one or two [crewmen] now and then, they’d forget who he was.” Another legend is that having had too much to drink, he said to his crew, “Come, let us make a hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it.” Going into the ship’s hold, they closed the hatches, filled several pots with brimstone and set it on fire. Soon the men were coughing and gasping for air from the sulphorous fumes. All except Blackbeard scrambled out for fresh air. When Blackbeard emerged, he snarled, “Damn ye, ye yellow __ __ __! I’m a better man than all ye milksops put together!” According to Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates:

Before he sailed upon his adventures, he married a young creature of about sixteen years of age … and this I have been informed, made Teach’s fourteenth wife … with whom after he had lain all night, it was his custom to invite five or six of his brutal companions to come ashore, and he would force her to prostitute herself to them all, one after another, before his face.

Teach had 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”. Governor Charles Eden of North Carolina received booty from Teach in return for unofficial protection and gave him an official pardon. He left Nassau to avoid meeting with Royal Governor Woodes Rogers, unlike the majority of the pirate inhabitants who welcomed the governor and accepted the royal pardons he brought.

Blackbeard’s chief claim to fame is his blockade of Charleston, South Carolina. In approximately late May of 1718, Blackbeard entered the mouth of Charleston harbor with the Queen Anne’s Revenge and three lighter vessels. He plundered five merchant freighters attempting to enter or leave the port. … Aboard one of the ships that Blackbeard captured in the harbor was a group of prominent Charleston citizens, including Samuel Wragg, Blackbeard held these hostages for ransom, making an unusual demand: a chest of medicines. He sent a deputation ashore to negotiate this ransom. Due partly to his envoy’s preference for carousing rather than bargaining, the ransom too some days to be delivered, and Blackbeard’s whole squadron then escaped northward. Shortly afterward, Blackbeard ran two of his vessels aground at Topsail inlet (now Beaufort Inlet), including Queen Anne’s Revenge. He has been accused by many, including his crew, of doing this deliberately in order to downsize his crew and increase his own share of the treasure. Deliberate or not, he stripped three of his ships of all treasure, beached or marooned most of his crew, and went to BathNorth Carolina, where he finally accepted a pardon under the royal Act of Grace. He then went off to Oracoke Inlet in the last of his four vessels, the sloop Adventure, to enjoy his loot.

Having accepted a pardon, Teach had apparently retired from piracy. However, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia became concerned that the notorious freebooter lived nearby. Spotswood decided to eliminate Blackbeard, even though he lived outside of Spotswood’s jurisdiction. …

two smaller hired sloops were put under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard, with instructions from Spotswood to hunt down and destroy Blackbeard, offering his a reward of £100, and smaller sums for the lesser crew members. Maynard sailed from James River on November 11, 1718, in command of thirty men from HMS Pearl, and twenty-five men and a midshipman of HMS Lyme, and in command of the hired sloops, the Ranger and Jane (temporarily commissioned as His Majesty’s Ships to avoid accusations of piracy themselves). Maynard found the pirates anchored in a North Carolina inlet on the inner side of Oracoke Island, on the evening of November 21. Maynard and his men decided to wait until the following morning because the tide would be more favorable. Blackbeard’s Adventure had a crew of only nineteen, “Thirteen white and six Negroes”, as reported to the Admiralty. A small boat was sent ahead at daybreak, was fired upon, and quickly retreated. Blackbeard’s superior knowledge of the inlet was of much help, although he and his crew had been drinking in his cabin the night prior. Throughout the night Blackbeard waited for Maynard to make his move. Blackbeard cut his anchor cable and quickly attempted to move towards a narrow channel. Maynard made chase; however his sloops ran aground and there was a shouted exchange between captains. Maynard’s account say, “At our first salutation, he drank Damnation to me and my Men, whom he stil’d Cowardly Puppies, saying, He would neither give nor take Quarter”, although many different versions of the dialogue exist. Eventually, Maynard’s sloops were able to float freely again, and he began to row towards Blackbeard, since the wind was not strong enough at the time for setting sail. When they came upon Blackbeard’s Adventure, they were hit with a devastating broadside attack. Midshipman Hyde, captain of the smaller HMS Jane, was killed along with six other men. Ten men were also wounded in the surprise attack. The sloop fell astern and was little help in the following action. Maynard continued his pursuit in HMS Ranger, managing to blast the Adventure’s rigging, forcing it ashore. Maynard ordered many of his crew into the holds and readied to be boarded. As his ship approached, Blackbeard saw the mostly empty decks, assumed it was safe to board, and did so with ten men.

Maynard’s men emerged, and the battle began. The most complete account of the following events comes from the Boston News-Letter:

Maynard and Teach themselves began the fight with their swords, Maynard making a thrust, the point of his sword against Teach’s cartridge box, and bent it to the hilt. Teach broke the guard of it, and wounded Maynard’s fingers but did not disable him, whereupon he jumped back and threw away his sword and fired his pistol which wounded Teach. Demelt struck in between them with his sword and cut Teach’s face pretty much; in the interim both companies engaged in Maynard’s sloop. Later during the battle, while Teach was loading his pistol he finally died from blood loss. Maynard then cut off his head and hung it from his bow. …Teach was reportedly shot five times and stabbed more than twenty times before he died and was decapitated. … Teach’s head was placed as a trophy on the bowsprit of the ship (it was also required by Maynard to claim his prize when he returned home).

A ship found and thought to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge is currently being excavated off the North Carolina coast.


[i] I am not sure whether the original articles of conduct used the word “dollar” as a monetary unit, which is hard to believe since most of the pirates and privateers were English and their monetary unit was the English pound.[ii] This rule is against the common seaman who enjoyed playing the game of dice in a cup, as depicted in Pirates of the Caribbean film.

[iii] This article is important because pirate captains had to ensure they had a full crew, which meant that there were so many that sometimes they had to sleep on deck or in the cargo hold area because of lack of space; and the reason for such a large crew was so there would be enough sailors to sail any captured ships. It was also the practice to invite or force sailors from captured ships to join the pirate crew for that reason – especially, as aforementioned crew who were carpenters, navigators, doctors, et cetera.
[iv] While the rule of no female members aboard were pretty universal, this particular ruling may have been in part, made because of the female pirates that had become famous in pirate history. Sometimes women hostages were taken aboard ships that were attacked for ransom or to be dropped off at the nearest port – but they were on these occasions separated from the crewmembers and usually were not allowed on deck or near the crew’s quarters for obvious reasons. The severe punishment was meant to deter any sexual activities aboard the ship upon the aforementioned captives.
[v] Apparently most sailors were right-handed, thus the increased amount of compensation of the right arm loss.
[vi] This article demonstrates that the mention of forbidding boys aboard ship in the supposed rules of conduct by Bart I not probably historical factual. Crew members were sometimes as young as 14 years of age.
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