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Blackbeard's Last Battle

By Colin Woodard 
Originally published by MHQ magazine. Published Online: March 03, 2011 
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By the fall of 1718, Blackbeard had set himself up as an outlaw with official protection. He had taken the king's pardon from Charles Eden, governor of the poor, undeveloped, and nearly uninhabited colony of North Carolina. In short order he took up a residence, a wife, and the management of an extensive piracy operation in the colony's village capital, Bath. His men were seizing ships, looting them in Pamlico Sound, and selling the cargoes to Governor Eden, who stored them in the customs collector's barn. With the governor in his pocket and more than 30 men under his command, Blackbeard had reason to believe he was safely beyond the law.

What he didn't count on was that the governor of neighboring Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, was not one to let the law, or borders, get in his way. Spotswood, infuriated at the pirate's impunity, colluded with Captain Gordon of the Pearl and Capt. Ellis Brand of the Lyme (28 guns) to organize a two-pronged invasion of North Carolina. Brand and a small contingent of his men would proceed overland from Hampton Roads to Bath, while the Lyme's first lieutenant, Robert Maynard, would lead a 60-man naval expedition to Pamlico Sound. Since the frigates were woefully inappropriate to the task, Spotswood purchased two small sloops and placed them at the officer's disposal.

Maynard's men engaged Blackbeard's anchored Adventure (8 guns) in the shoal waters inside Ocracoke Island on the morning of November 22, 1718. Their small, unarmed sloops appeared unthreatening, allowing Maynard to close within "half [a] pistol shot" before Blackbeard's men could raise sails and fire a broadside. This disabled the first sloop, the Ranger, killing its commanding officer and mate, but when the sailors returned fire, one of their musket balls managed to sever the pirates' jib halyard, slowing her to a stop.

This allowed Maynard's sloop, the Jane, to row alongside, where she received a broadside of grapeshot and partridge shot that killed or injured 21 of his men.

Under cover of the gun smoke, however, Maynard directed 14 uninjured men to conceal themselves in the hold. When Blackbeard's boarding party stepped on the Jane, Maynard's forces rushed out in a surprise attack. By the time the struggle ended, Blackbeard and 19 of his men were dead, the rest taken prisoner. The victorious sailors decapitated their nemesis, tossed his body into the sea, and hung his head from the Adventure's bowsprit.

With the capture of Nassau and the elimination of Blackbeard's gang, the pirates of the Caribbean would never regain the upper hand. Ships would continue to be attacked for several years, but pirates could never again hope to carve out their own republic in the Caribbean, nor plot to overthrow the Hanoverian kings of England. The wisest disappeared into obscurity off the coasts of Africa. The rest would spend most of their time simply fighting to survive. By 1725, the sea-lanes were generally safe again, although the Royal Navy could take little credit.



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One Response to “Blackbeard's Last Battle”

  1. 1
    Steve Fussell says:

    Blackbeard's brief arc coincided with the emergence of the South Sea Company, a stock corporation with a monopoly on the slave trade and the Asiento, a 30-year contract to supply slaves to the Spanish colonies—the sole 'prize' of Queen Anne's War, and the result of a secret conspiracy that involved Britain's top ministers.

    The South Sea was formed in order to create a stock bubble that would—once share prices rose to their greatest height—eliminate the royal debt that ballooned as Queen Anne's War (War of Spanish Succession) dragged on.

    Blackbeard and the Caribbean pirates represented a direct and highly public obstacle to the commercial media 'hype' that was inflating South Sea shares at precisely the moment the South Sea Company was beginning to assume Britain's royal debt (and thus desirous of as much hype (and share price inflation) as could be cajoled from the likes of 'journalists' Daniel DeFoe, Addison and Steele and others).

    Virginia Gov. Spotswood warned that Blackbeard's antics threatened the commercial aims of the South Sea Company. The fact that Blackbeard aimed to seize the South Sea flagship makes me think the conflict between Blackbeard and the South Sea Company was mutual.

    Blackbeard (as the most infamous of the Caribbean pirates) put himself in the crosshairs of a secret cabal that aimed to turn the slave trade into a corporate dynasty that could fund a British Empire.

    I think his "last battle" was more an assassination than a military or law enforcement effort, and an effective one.

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