Writing Prompts: Blackbeard

Today is the 22nd of November, the day that Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard the pirate, died, in 1718.

Blackbeard is the source of a lot of classical (or stereotypical) ideas about pirates. He was said to be fearsome in appearance, and he carefully cultivated this image, and it is said he even went as far as to tied lit fuses under his hat, as a form of intimidation. However, Blackbeard often preferred not to carry out acts of violence, instead relying on his appearance and reputation to get what he wanted. There are no records that link Blackbeard to murders of his captives, which in an era often defined by brutality, is quite remarkable. It seems unlikely that Blackbeard was responsible for no deaths at all, but perhaps he never pulled the trigger himself, so to speak.

Then again, maybe Blackbeard’s approach wasn’t as unique as it first appeared. Historians believe that many pirates were quite clever businessmen, and it could well be that images of typical pirates were part of the plan to scare and extort money and supplies from their victims. Blackbeard himself made good use of threats to gain medical supplies from the colonial government of South Carolina, during a blockade of Charles Town, but when his demands were met, he stayed true to his word and released his prisoners.

Blackbeard was not the most successful pirate, but his adventures and mayhem, spearheaded by his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, eventually brought him notoriety, and he was accosted at sea (by now in a ship called Adventure), by a Lieutenant Robert Maynard. Maynard led a small team, complete with two small ships, to capture or kill Blackbeard, and after a fierce, bloody battle, succeeded.

Blackbeard has become a greatly romanticised figure, though it can be questioned as to whether he deserves that honour. On the one hand, it seems he was surprisingly merciful. On the other hand, he blockaded towns, raided ships, and stole a great deal of wealth from others, for his own personal gain. To what degree any of the stories are true is difficult to say, and the level to which Blackbeard and his cohorts get lauded for their actions is an interesting thought. Maybe we shouldn’t be rushing to venerate villains, at least, not in these circumstances, no matter how honourable they seem.

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