A popular vacation destination that attracts tens of thousands of visitors to its pristine stretches of shoreline each summer, the Outer Banks of North Carolina is home to a wealth of historical attractions. From the site where the Wright Brothers made the first successful powered flight on Dec. 17, 1903, to the place where some of the first English settlers vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, the region has witnessed the happenings of an assortment of events that have since made their way onto the pages of history books. But when it comes to the people that put the beaches of these barrier islands onto the map centuries ago, few are more well-known than the infamous pirate by the name of Blackbeard.
Blackbeard the pirate—whose given name was reportedly Edward Teach—was born in Bristol, England, in 1680. Like the majority of pirates of his time—who sought to earn their fortunes and ultimately return home without soiling their family name—relatively little information is known about Blackbeard’s upbringing. It is believed by historians, however, that his first foray into piracy likely took place around the 1714 conclusion of Queen Anne’s War, during which Edward Teach served as a privateer aboard ships sailing out of Jamaica. When the war was over, Teach relocated his base of operations from Jamaica to the island of New Providence in the Bahamas, where he served an apprenticeship under Captain Benjamin Hornigold—the man who founded the pirate republic in the Bahamas.
With one of the most influential pirates in history as his mentor, Edward Teach—by now referring to himself as Blackbeard in honor of the long, black beard he often wore in tiny braids secured by thin ribbons of various colors—quickly learned the ins and outs of piracy. The pair of pirates enjoyed considerable success on the high seas, commandeering many large merchant vessels sailing through the shipping lanes of the Caribbean and ruthlessly pillaging to acquire the goods onboard. Although Blackbeard and Hornigold made a top-notch team, Hornigold soon deemed the fortune he had amassed from plundering sufficient and retired from piracy in 1718. With Hornigold giving up piracy to become a planter on the island of New Providence, Blackbeard took the skills he had learned during his apprenticeship set out on his own.
His first order of business was to convert the Concord—a large French ship that he and Hornigold had captured together—into a vessel better suited for piracy. He mounted 40 guns onboard the ship and renamed her the Queen Anne’s Revenge. With a crew of 300 men, some of whom had served as crew aboard the Concord before it was commandeered by Hornigold and Blackbeard, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was ready to set sail in search of merchant ships whose booty could be plundered. According to historical accounts of Blackbeard’s escapades during the early 1700s, the vast majority of crews whose ships were overtaken by the ferocious pirate surrendered without a fight.
By the late spring of 1718, Blackbeard’s piracy career had reached soaring new heights. He was the proud commander of at least a half dozen pirate ships, which at one time blockaded the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina, looting every vessel that sailed in and out of the entrance to one of the busiest ports in the southeastern United States. Following the success of the blockade, Blackbeard and a portion of his flotilla sailed further north to present-day Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina, and later to Ocracoke Inlet on the Outer Banks. In the summer of 1718, Blackbeard and about 20 members of his crew sailed through the Ocracoke Inlet and into the Pamlico Sound, heading for the nearby town of Bath, North Carolina. Sensing that the golden age of piracy was coming to a close soon, Blackbeard made his home in the tiny town on the Pamlico River and married his 14th wife, the daughter of a local planter.
Unable to resist the lure of the lucrative career of piracy for long, Blackbeard eventually set sail once again and continued to loot vessels and bring the stolen goods back to Bath. The pirate frequently anchored his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, in Ocracoke Inlet, which served as the spot where the most of the ocean-bound vessels from mainland settlements had to pass through in order to reach the open water. Despite the number of ships Blackbeard had such easy access to in and around Ocracoke Inlet, his crew on the Outer Banks was significantly smaller than it had been in years past—leaving him vulnerable to an attack by those who sought to rid the barrier islands of piracy forever.
Having grown frustrated with the infamous pirate and his frequent—and typically successful—attempts to pillage their vessels, the people of North Carolina sought the help Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia. Gov. Spotswood compiled a crew of British naval officers and sent them under the leadership of Lieutenant Robert Maynard to Ocracoke Island in search of Blackbeard. At dawn on Nov. 22, 1718, Blackbeard and his crew were on the receiving end of a ferocious attack by the British sailors.
According to reports, Blackbeard suffered 25 wounds—five of which were gunshot wounds—before finally succumbing to his injuries. To claim the bounty on his head and prove to the governor he had indeed slaughtered one of the most notorious pirates to ever sail the seven seas, Maynard beheaded Blackbeard and displayed the pirate’s head on the bow of the ship as it sailed back to Virginia—a sign to all who witnessed it that the age of piracy in the region had finally come to an end.