By Mauri Lazaro
Blackbeard sets sail for the second half of this season on Once Upon a Time, so pour the pirate’s sherry and take a gander at the real person who was the boisterous pirate! The stories of his piracy were first accounted in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most Notorious Pirates,published in 1724. This was written by Captain Charles Johnson although it’s suspected that the author’s name was a pseudonym, and that Daniel Defoe, English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer, and spy, wrote it. More likely however, Nathaniel Mist, former sailor, journalist and publisher of The Weekly Journal, is the author because the book was registered at Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in his name. The book contains the biographies of other famous pirates as well. Their documented exploits have inspired the fictional works of the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island(Cawthorne).
The Life and Times of Blackbeard
Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, was born in the late 1600’s in Bristol, England. He sailed on a merchant ship in his youth and became a privateer for the British during the War of Spanish Succession. In 1716 he arrived in New Providence and joined Captain Benjamin Hornigold’s ship beginning his career as a pirate. Hornigold gave Tech his own sloop to command one year later. Teach proved himself a worthy leader by capturing a French salve ship that he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. When Captain Woodes Rodgers’ expedition to rid the Bahamas of pirates came to New Providence, Hornigold took the “King’s Pardon” and Blackbeard continued his pirating ways (Cawthorne).
Blackbeard towered over his crew in height and was a brutal, unyielding, and fearless pirate captain. He was quoted to say, “If I don’t kill a crewman now and again people will forget who I am.” He said this after he shot his navigator, Issac hands in the knee, and crippling him for life, during a night of drinking. Blackbeard was always armed to the teeth with daggers and cutlasses stuffed in his belt, and sashes that hung down from his shoulders each holding a flint lock; three in all and ready to fire. His black beard covered his face and grew down to his chest which he wore in narrow plaits tied with black ribbons, hence the name Blackbeard. To add to his already fearsome appearance right before a battle, he would light fuses of hemp soaked in salt pelt and lime water that were festooned under the brim of his hat to create a hellish vision (Cawthorne).
Besides wreaking havoc between the coasts of North Carolina, Bath, and Teach’s Hole, on the Island of Ocracoke, Blackbeard enjoyed rum, his motto being “A drunken ship is a happy ship.” Keeping his crew drunk kept them from conspiring mutiny against him. His other vice was women. He had at least fourteen wives; a wife at every port. His last wife was just sixteen years old. After he had finished with her, he passed her around to his friends for their pleasure while he watched (Cawthrone).
Blackbeard struck an accord with the Governor of North Carolina, Charles Eden, and was granted a pardon under the Act of Grace in return for a share of his loot. Even though having peace with the pirate was profitable, the people of North Carolina soon grew tired of him and his crew. They protested to their governor, but he did nothing leading Alexander Spotswood, lieutenant governor of Virginia, to act. He offered a reward for Blackbeard’s capture. Lt. Robert Maynard took him up on his offer. On the early morning of November 22, 1718, Maynard began his attack. Blackbeard and his crew were hunkered down in an inlet on the inner side of Ocracoke Island. Maynard had the inlet blocked off so the pirate couldn’t escape to the sea. When Blackbeard saw them coming, he fired on them. Maynard continued to pursue the pirate. Blackbeard pulled anchor and tried to flee. They battled back and forth as they made their way down the inlet. Blackbeard threw hand grenades made of bottles full of powder, scrap iron and shot, with a quick fuse sticking from the mouth, at Maynard’s boat. When they exploded, it created a bunch of smoke and confusion. Looking across and seeing only a handful of men, Blackbeard made the mistake in thinking that Maynard’s men had been injured. Unbeknownst to him, most of Maynard’s men were safely below decks. Blackbeard leapt on board with fourteen men and came face to face with Maynard. They fired at each other point blank. Blackbeard’s shot might have hit Maynard if he hadn’t been up all night drinking; Maynard did not miss. His men came up from below decks and the men battled on. The gunshot didn’t slow the drunken pirate down. Blackbeard broke Maynard’s sword in half with a single blow from his cutlass. Maynard pulled a pistol. Blackbeard raised his cutlass to Maynard again, but one the lieutenant’s men sliced Blackbeard across the throat. By the end of the fight, Blackbeard was overcome from twenty-five wounds, five of them being gunshots. As he raised another pistol to cock it, Blackbeard fell dead on the deck. Eight of his men were also dead, and the rest surrendered. Blackbeard’s head was cut off and hung from Maynard’s bowsprit (Cawthorne).
The Disney Connection
Disney takes a much lighter tone with their fictional characterization of Blackbeard in the 1968 comedy Blackbeard’s Ghost. The famous pirate is portrayed by Peter Ustinov. In the movie Blackbeard is cursed by his last wife who was a notorious witch, so that his soul will never be able to move on until he does a good deed.
In the 2011 film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Blackbeard is played by Ian McShane. The characterization is more menacing than their last interpretation, but still a teddy bear compared to the real life Blackbeard. In this movie, Blackbeard and his daughter are after the fountain of youth.
On Once Upon a Time Blackbeard will be played by Charles Mesure. We’ll soon see what Adam and Eddy have in store for us with this Blackbeard. I for one can’t wait!
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