Born in the town of Bristol, (maybe), Edward Teach (or Edward Thatch) (circa 1680 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was the most famous pirate of The Golden Age. He was not the richest, nor was his career the longest, and he probably wasn't even the meanest, but he set the standard for Golden Age piracy, codifying the image in popular culture. When we think of pirates, he is the first one to come to mind. Maybe because of his flair for drama, and his weaponization of the terrifying pirate image.
Blackbeard's origins are sketchy; history records very few facts about his life before his pirate career began. English by nationality, he was most likely born in the port city of Bristol, sometime around 1680. His birth name is commonly given as "Edward Teach," but not even that is a certainty. The earliest reliable historical mention of an "Edward Teach" was that of a Privateer in the British Navy during the War of the Spanish Succession, circa 1714. He was apparently a good, if not particularly remarkable, sailor and seaman. After the end of the War, Teach, along with many Privateers who now found themselves unemployed, migrated to the Caribbean and took on a full-time career in piracy. So many pirates did this, as a matter of fact, that they actually took over the Bahamian island of New Providence and declared it a "Pirate Republic." It was here that Teach hooked up with legendary Privateer Benjamin Hornigold, and wound up commanding a ship under him.
Between 1716 and 1717 Teach and Hornigold raided the Caribbean islands and the Carolina coast, growing in strength and reputation. Eventually they allied with a third pirate, Stede Bonnet, and between the three of them they became a serious threat to the southern British colonies. Toward the end of 1717, Hornigold was forced into retirement and Bonnet voluntarily stepped down from his command, leaving Teach the sole commander of the small fleet. Under Teach's command his crews became bolder, capturing more ships and cargo and increasing their size and strength. One such captured prize, a French frigate called La Concorde, was re-christened Queen Anne's Revenge and claimed as Teach's flagship. And around this time, Teach officially started being referred to as "Blackbeard."
Over the course of 1717 and 1718, Blackbeard continued to raid and pillage, mostly around Florida and Hispaniola, taking more prizes and increasing the size of his fleet. By May of 1718, his fleet had grown so powerful that he successfully blockaded the port of Charleston, ransoming a shipload of high-society Charlestonites for... medical supplies.
Shortly after the Blockade of Charleston, word came down that the British government was about to crack down hard on Caribbean piracy. The pirate-hunter Woodes Rogers was on his way with a fleet of warships, preparing to wipe New Providence clean... but any pirate who surrendered to the authorities before he got there would be offered a provisional pardon. Blackbeard and Bonnet were considering taking the pardon and going straight, but they were wary; the exact conditions of this blanket pardon were subject to the interpretation of the individual colonial governors, so they had to be very careful which local authority they decided to surrender to. They opted for North Carolina, since Governor Charles Eden was actively recruiting Privateers, and they made a plan to test his honesty and leniency: they careened their ships on the coast, and Bonnet would head to Bath Town to seek the pardon, while Blackbeard would wait for him. Eden did in fact offer Bonnet a pardon and a Privateer's commission, but once Bonnet returned he found that Blackbeard had double-crossed him: Blackbeard had scuttled the ships, marooned the crews, and taken off in a smaller ship with all the valuables he could carry. So pissed was Bonnet that he returned to his pirating ways to hunt down Blackbeard. He failed, and was captured and executed for his troubles. Meanwhile, Blackbeard also got a pardon and a commission as a Privateer, operating out of North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Of course, the line between "pirate" and "privateer" is pretty damned fine, and the Governors of other colonies were soon screaming for Blackbeard's head, claiming acts of piracy on vessels out of their ports. It's not unlikely either; privateers were supposed to only sack enemy ships, but some Governors would even allow the sacking of friendly merchant ships as long as they got a cut. In November of 1718, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia sent Lieutenant Robert Maynard, commander of the Ranger, after him. Maynard tracked Blackbeard to Okracoke Island and engaged him in a ferocious battle. Fighting like a cornered beast, Blackbeard soaked up an insane amount of damage, and was finally brought down, taking ten members of Maynard's crew with him.
Blackbeard has gone down in popular culture as the quintessential Pirate. He has a reputation for cruelty as well as a reputation for cunning. Indeed, his greatest talent might well have been the weaponizing of that reputation for cruelty, crafting an image for himself that was so fearsome that crews would just surrender without a fight if they saw him coming for them. Exactly how much of this reputation was real, how much was him playing it up, and how much was fabricated by the authorities to demonize him, may never be known. Indeed, there is no evidence of him committing a single murder until his Last Stand. His reputation as a Bad Boss who frightened his crew with eccentric actions and Refuge in Audacity ploys probably proved to be his undoing. He had a reputation for randomly killing or maiming whoever his first mate was at the time, and however exaggerated that might be, it wasn't beyond him to do so if it helped his image. One of his own crew-mates played a part in his final defeat.
Among the pirates of the Golden Age, all colorful characters in their own rights, Blackbeard stands out on his own level. And he probably would have liked it that way.
Tropes Associated with Blackbeard's portrayal in tales, and fiction include:
- Badass Beard: And he would hide plugs of smoldering incense in it, making him look like a flaming monster.
- Badass Boast: His words to Maynard: "Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters, or take any from you!"
- Bling of War: Blackbeard was not above dolling up his beard with ribbons and beads.
- Captain Colorbeard: Trope Codifier, its common for stereotypical pirates to have a name like this due to Blackbeard's fame.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: He orchestrated Hornigold's "retirement" to get himself elected full commander of the fleet. Then Stede Bonnet found out the hard way what happens when you trust a guy named Blackbeard.
- Cool Ship: La Concorde, a heavy 40-gun frigate that Blackbeard was lucky enough to capture intact and rename the Queen Anne's Revenge. Considering most pirates were limited to small sloops and cutters, he would have been a fool not to make it his flagship.
- Defiant to the End: He had perhaps the most epic Last Stand in the history of naval warfare, taking ten members of Maynard's crew - and a couple of Maynard's fingers - with him.
- The Dragon: To Benjamin Hornigold...
- The Dreaded: He deliberately cultivated this image to get people to surrender without a fight. And it worked.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: He went down swinging. And most likely swearing.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: One of the iconic stories revolves about his crew discussing their probable afterlife destination and deciding to see whether they could take it. They took some sulfur pots below decks and sealed it up to see how long they could take it. One by one, they broke and fled, gasping, for air. Blackbeard, unsurprisingly, was the last to emerge, and he did not so much flee as saunter out, proud of his endurance.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Quite literally; on paper he doesn't even exist before 1714.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Zigzagged. Make no mistake, Blackbeard was not a nice man. But the tales of his cruelty were most likely exaggerated, either by the authorities or deliberately by himself.
- Large and in Charge: Contemporary accounts of Blackbeard indicate that he was very tall, and "spare of frame;" his huge bushy beard probably made him look bigger than he actually was.
- Made of Iron: And how! It took something like twenty-five stab wounds and five point-blank pistol shots to even slow him down long enough for someone to sneak up behind him and run him through, before lopping his head off. There's even a (definitely dubious) legend that his headless corpse swam around his ship three times before stopping after it was tossed into the sea.
- Man on Fire: He was known to put burning coals in his beard to scare the hell out of people.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: We can all agree that "Blackbeard" is a far more threatening name than "Edward Teach".
- Off with His Head!: And according to legend, his headless corpse swam a few laps around the boat afterward.
- Pirate: Obviously.
- Pragmatic Villainy: What does Blackbeard want from Charleston? Gold? Rum? Women? No, just medicine for his crew; they're riddled with STDs.
- The Starscream: To Benjamin Hornigold. Hornigold's refusal to prey on British ships (he was trying to maintain the illusion that he was still a lawful Privateer) caused enough resentment among his crew that Blackbeard didn't have to do much pot-stirring to get him voted out of command, and himself voted in.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Blackbeard was a shrewd and devious commander, but his crew were... well, rum-soaked pirates. During the Blockade of Charleston, when the men he sent to collect the ransom started running late, he landed himself to see what was going on, and to deal with any subterfuge on the part of the authorities. He found his men at a nearby tavern. Nothing bad had happened; they just got themselves blind stinking drunk at the first opportunity. It's hard to shed too many tears for the ones he marooned.
- Villain's Dying Grace: He actually complemented the man who mortally wounded him. "Well done, lad. Well done."
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Standard operating mode for Blackbeard toward his allies.
Works Featuring Portrayals of Blackbeard Include:
Anime & Manga
- There are two characters inspired by Blackbeard in One Piece. One is Edward Newgate, aka Whitebeard (he doesn't have an actual beard, but rather a Badass Mustache), a powerful pirate and member of the Yonko. The other is Marshall D. Teach, aka Blackbeard, a traitorous crew member who later kills Whitebeard and takes his place as a Yonko. Notably, Whitebeard's first name and Blackbeard's last name combined form Edward Teach. In addition, a character Blackbeard kills off-screen for his Devil Fruit is named "Thatch," after a name the historical Blackbeard used on occasion when forced to go undercover.
- In one of the earliest adventures of the Fantastic Four, the group is sent back in time to steal Blackbeard's treasure. In doing so, however, Ben Grimm ends up inspiring the legend of Blackbeard in the first place.
- The patron saint of, and codifier of all things pirate in film, Robert Newton, portrayed him in the 1950s RKO movie Blackbeard The Pirate. Newton, who effectively single-handedly created the modern perception of what pirates were with his portrayal of Long John Silver in the Disney version of Teasure Island, was of course perfect casting for history's most notorious pirate.
- Blackbeard's Ghost: The spirit of Blackbeard (Peter Ustinov) has been imprisoned in limbo by his wife, who happened to be a witch. A college track coach (played by Dean Jones) unwittingly recites a magical incantation that makes the ghost of Blackbeard visible only to him. Hilarity Ensues.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Taking inspiration from the below-referenced book, Blackbeard here has already been resurrected by some means never explained, and is seeking the Fountain of Youth to permanently prolong his life.
- Pan: Blackbeard serves as the main antagonist of Neverland, mining Pixie dust to restore his youth using slave labor.
- Anne of the Indies: Blackbeard is mentor to Captain Anne Providence. He is portrayed as a Boisterous Bruiser, but one with a vicious streak. When Anne defies him and refuses to hand over one of her crew to him (on the ground that the man has signed her articles and is therefore under her protection), Blackbeard swears vengeance and vows to hunt her down.
- On Stranger Tides: Here, Blackbeard (called Edward Thatch) is a voodoo shaman, who allies himself with Hurwood in an elaborate plot to resurrect himself in another body after his death at Okracoke and abscond with his hidden riches.
- Peter Pan: Captain James Hook is said to have been Blackbeard's boatswain. The 2006 Authorized Sequel Peter Pan in Scarlet has a revived Hook state would never have served such an uneducated man and that all suggestions that he has are merely rumours started by his enemies.
- Treasure Island: Blackbeard is mentioned in passing, as characters discuss an incidence of his cruelty that inspired the sea shanty "Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest." Dead Man's Chest is an actual place: a barren, coffin-shaped rock in the Virgin Islands. According to the story, Blackbeard left a bunch of mutineers there with nothing but a sword and a bottle of rum, then came back a month later to see what had happened. Nearly all of them had either starved to death or killed each other, but fifteen men had managed to stay alive... somehow...
- Makes a brief cameo in The Sea Of Monsters, where it's revealed he didn't die at all, but was kept prisoner for centuries by Circe. Oh, and he was a son of Ares.
Live Action Television
- Surprisingly, the actual Blackbeard has yet to appear on Doctor Who, but an imaginary version of him is summoned during the climatic Public Domain Character-vs-Public Domain Character battle of "The Mind Robber".
- Ray Stevenson portrays Blackbeard in Black Sails starting in season 3.
- Crossbones: The central premise of the series is that Blackbeard faked his death and is now ruling a secret island kingdom.
- He got a song in Horrible Histories.
- He appears as a minor villain in a few episodes of Once Upon a Time, notable as the only definitely real historical figure to appear in one of the show's fiction-inspiring otherworlds.
- He appears a few times in Legends of Tomorrow, where he is depicted as a Dirty Coward who panics and sells out his comrades whenever he is in danger, which greatly disappoints Mick Rory. However, he can fight if pressed.
- Referenced in the song "Jolly Roger" from Adam and the Ants' album Kings of the Wild Frontier.
Of all the pirates on the seas
The worst of them was Blackbeard
So damnable a fiend from Hell
He was the one they most feared
Any man who sailed with him
Was taking quite a chance
He'd hang them from the gallows
Just to see if they could dance, haha
- The main antagonist of webcomic Whispers in the Wind is Bailey Thatch. Although he has Blackbeard's name and infamous reputation, Bailey has none of Blackbeard's physical qualities. Facing him is Scarlet Maynard, also inspired by real figure Lieutenant Robert Maynard, the man who brought Blackbeard's head back to Virginia.
- The Mask: In a Halloween Episode, Skillit brings zombies of three former users of the mask. One of them is Blackbeard.
- The Simpsons: Appeared among the Jury Of The Damned in Treehouse Of Horror IV. He was also the only British-born character among them. The rest were Americans.
- Time Squad: The guys visit Blackbeard to discover that he's an environmentalist who's more preoccupied with saving the whales than pirating.
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag gives him a Lighter and Softer treatment that is closer to the historical record than any other popular culture portrayal. He's in fact highly heroic and friendly and his final stand is one of the Tear Jerker moments of the game featuring a line of dialogue that best encapsules his romantic appeal:
Blackbeard: In a world without gold, we might have been heroes.
- Blackbeard appears Fate/Grand Order as a Rider-class Servant and as a major antagonist in the Okeanos singularity. This depiction of him is...a lot different than most. For one thing, unlike his historical self who was feared by all and used his reputation to intimidate his enemies, Fate's Blackbeard comes off as a complete buffoon to everyone who meets him, which is partially something he does on purpose, as he takes advantage of people not taking him seriously. These includes acting like a perverted Otaku with interests on little girls and speaking with L33t L1ng0. As a whole though, he's routinely treated as the resident Butt-Monkey by not only the protagonists, but the other Servants working for him as well.
- Sid Meier's Pirates! features Blackbeard as the second most notorious pirate in the game(only beaten by Henry Morgan). As such, he plays the role of a Bonus Boss within the game, and defeating him serves as a great way to increase your own infamy. His face is even shrouded in smoke from the fuses hidden in his beard.