Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Teach, Edward

TEACH or THATCH, EDWARD (d. 1718), pirate, commonly known as Blackbeard, is said to have been a native of Bristol, to have gone out to the West Indies during the war of the Spanish succession, and to have been then employed as a privateer or buccaneer. When the peace came in 1713 the privateers virtually refused to recognise it, and in large numbers turned pirates. Vast numbers of seamen joined them, and, while keeping up a pretence of warring against the French or Spaniards, plundered all that came in their way with absolute impartiality. Thatch was one of the earliest to play the role of pirate. He is first heard of in 1716, and in 1717 was in command of a sloop cruising in company with one Benjamin Hornigold. Among other prizes was a large French Guinea ship, which Thatch took command of and fitted as a ship of war mounting 40 guns, naming her Queen Anne's Revenge. On the arrival of Woodes Rogers [q. v.] as governor of the Bahamas, Hornigold went in and accepted the king's mercy; but Thatch continued his cruise through the West India Islands, along the Spanish Main, then north along the coast of Carolina and Virginia, making many prizes, and rendering his name terrible. He sent one Richards, whom he had placed in command of a tender, with a party of men up to Charlestown to demand a medicine-chest properly fitted. If it was not given he would put his prisoners to death. While one of the prisoners presented this demand, Richards and his fellows swaggered through the town, spreading such terror that the magistrates did not venture to refuse the medicine-chest. Then the pirates went northwards; but on or about 10 June 1718, attempting to go into a creek in North Carolina known as Topsail Inlet, the Queen Anne's Revenge struck on the bar and became a total wreck. Of three sloops in company, one was also wrecked on the bar. Thatch and his men escaped in the other two. They seem to have then quarrelled; many of the men were put on shore and dispersed; some found their way into Virginia and were hanged; the sloops separated, and Thatch, with some twenty or thirty men, went to Bath-town in North Carolina to surrender to the king's proclamation.

It appears that he found allies in the governor, one Eden, and his secretary, Tobias Knight, who was also collector of the province. He brought in some prizes, which his friends condemned in due form. He met at sea two French ships, one laden, the other in ballast. He put all the Frenchmen into the empty ship, brought in the full one, and made affidavit that he had found her deserted at sea not a soul on board. The story was accepted. Eden got sixty hogs-heads of sugar as his share, Knight got twenty, and the ship, said to be in danger of sinking and so blocking the river, was taken outside and burnt, for fear that she might be recognised. Thatch meanwhile led a rollicking life, spending his money freely on shore, but compelling the planters to supply his wants, and levying heavy toll on all the vessels that came up the river or went down. As it was useless to apply to Eden for redress, the sufferers were at last driven to send their complaint to Colonel Alexander Spottiswood [q. v.], lieutenant-governor of Virginia, who referred the matter to Captain George Gordon of the Pearl, and Ellis Brand of the Lyme, two frigates then lying in James River for the protection of the trade against pirates. Gordon and Brand had already heard of Thatch's proceedings, and had ascertained that their ships could not get at him. Now, in consultation with Spottiswood, it was determined to send two small sloops taken up for the occasion, and manned and armed from the frigates, under the command of Robert Maynard, the first lieutenant of the Pearl, while Brand went overland to consult with Eden, whose complicity was not known to Spottiswood and his friends.

On 22 Nov. the sloops came up the creek, and, having approached so near the pirate as to interchange Homeric compliments, received the fire of the pirate's guns, loaded to the muzzle with swan shot and scrap iron. All the officers in Lyme's boat were killed, and many men in both. Maynard closed, boarded, sword in hand, and shot Thatch dead. Several pirates were killed, others jumped overboard, fifteen were taken alive, Thatch's head was cut off, and easy to be recognised by its abundant black beard suspended from the end of the bowsprit. The sloops with their prize returned to James River, where thirteen out of the fifteen prisoners were hanged. Brand had meantime made a perquisition on shore, and seized a quantity of sugar, cocoa, and other merchandise said to be Thatch's. In doing this he was much obstructed by Knight, who, together with Eden, afterwards entered an action against him for taking what belonged to them. The pirate sloop and property were sold for over 2,000l., which Gordon and Brand insisted should be divided as prize money among the whole ship's companies, while Maynard claimed that it ought to go entirely to him and those who had taken it. This led to a very angry and unseemly quarrel, which ended in the professional ruin of all the three. Neither Gordon nor Brand seems to have had any further employment, and Maynard, whose capture of the pirate was a very dashing piece of work, was not promoted till 1740.

Thatch as Teach or Blackbeard has long been received as the ideal pirate of fiction or romance, and nearly as many legends have been fathered on him as on William Kidd [q. v.], with perhaps a little more reason. It may indeed be taken as certain that he did not bury any large hoard of treasure in some unknown bay, and that he never had it to bury. On the other hand, the story of his blowing out the lights in the course of a drinking bout and firing off his pistols under the table, to the serious damage of the legs of one of his companions, is officially told as a reason for not hanging the latter. Teach seems to have been fierce, reckless, and brutal, without even the virtue of honesty to his fellows.

In all the official papers, naval or colonial, respecting this pirate, he is called Thatch or Thach ; the name Teach which has been commonly adopted, on the authority of Johnson, has no official sanction. It is quite impossible to say that either Thatch or Teach was his proper name.

[The Life in Charles Johnson's Lives of the Pyrates (1724) is thoroughly accurate, as far as it can be tested by the official records, which are very full. These are Order in Council, 24 Aug. 1721, with memorial from Robert Maynard; Admiralty Records, Captains' Letters, B. 11, Ellis Brand to Admiralty, 12 July 1718, 6 Feb. and 12 March 1718-19; G. 5, Gordon to Admiralty, 14 Sept. 1721 ; P. 6, Letters of Vincent Pearse, Captain of the Phœnix : Board of Trade, Bahamas 1.]

J. K. L.