Blackbeard the Pirate was no stranger to the Albemarle

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Marjorie Berry


By Marjorie Berry
For Museum of the Albemarle

Sunday, December 31, 2017

He was the most famous of pirates. Edward Teach, or Thatch—his real name has been lost to the mists of time—was known far and wide as “Blackbeard.” And he was no stranger to the Albemarle area.

Blackbeard began terrorizing the high seas in 1716, and quickly gained a reputation for fierceness and ruthlessness. His intended victims, seeing his flag being raised on The Queen Anne’s Revenge, would surrender on the spot.

If a ship were so foolish as to not surrender, Blackbeard’s crew would board the ship, and hand-to-hand fighting would ensue. In full combat mode, Blackbeard would brandish a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other. He wore a brace of pistols across his chest, so he wouldn’t have to stop and reload, and a knife clinched in his teeth. That’s where the term, “Armed to the teeth” originated.

But the most terrifying thing about Blackbeard was his appearance. He had a long, thick, black beard that he would braid and stuff with lighted fuses. He would also wind hemp around his head and set it alight. His fearsome face would glow in the dark, and his victims felt that they were looking at the very devil himself!

When he wasn’t terrorizing shipping, Blackbeard would visit towns and settlements looking to unload his loot. He visited the Albemarle many times. He would sail up the Pasquotank River and down into Newbegun and Symonds Creeks. The people of this area were not afraid of him—far from it. Residents of the Albemarle were happy to trade with him and buy his ill-gotten goods. His loot was a great deal less expensive than goods imported by the English. In effect, his ship was like a floating Costco! So everybody was glad to see him.

As fearsome as he was, Blackbeard did have a weak spot—the ladies. Under that scary exterior beat the heart of a romantic. Legend has it that Blackbeard had 14 wives, though it’s fairly certain that only one of them was legitimate. In port, Blackbeard would visit a tavern and, invariably, some lovely wench would catch his eye. After several cups of grog, he’d propose to the lady of the moment, then go back to the ship and be married by his second in command. These “marriages” usually lasted only one night.

However, in June of 1718 Blackbeard got married for real, to a girl from the Albemarle. He wed Miss Mary Ormond, a wealthy planter’s daughter from Bath. The idea was to give up piracy and become a lawful citizen. This lasted two months. The call of the sea was just too great.

Blackbeard’s reign of terror ended in 1718, when he was killed at Ocracoke by forces sent from the governor of Virginia.

Amazingly, Blackbeard only practiced piracy for two years. Yet he remains today the most famous pirate in history. And the citizens of the Albemarle knew him well.

Marjorie Berry is an information specialist at Museum of the Albemarle.