Blackbeard is perhaps the most well known pirate in history. Made famous by early accounts of his exploits in the Caribbean and along the shores of colonial North America during the 18th century Golden Age of Piracy — not to mention the legions of books and films his life continues to inspire almost three centuries later — it seems almost inconceivable that there would be any mystery left behind about one of the world’s most notorious pirates.
And yet, that may be precisely part of Blackbeard’s appeal over the ages. From the very start, little was known about Blackbeard beyond sensational stories about his ruthless campaigns at sea, and even today historians continue to have a difficult time documenting many facts about his life.
Believed by some to have been born in England (though others have suggested that he was a native of Jamaica or Philadelphia) — the truth is that virtually nothing is certain about his early life or even his name. While many modern-day accounts insist that he was known as Edward Teach before earning the moniker Blackbeard, his first appearance in the historical records indicate that he went by Edward Thatch in 1716, which subsequently appeared in various other forms such as “Tach” and “Thache” — and many have pointed out that all of these variations may have been aliases.
This leads to another aspect of Blackbeard’s career as a pirate that may surprise those who are accustomed to more theatrical versions of his reportedly illustrious and bloodthirsty adventures. Not only are his origins obscure, but according to historical records, the pirate we now know as Blackbeard only sailed the high seas for a little less than two years from 1716 until his death in 1718 on Ocracoke Island. Perhaps even more shockingly, until that final confrontation between a small band of Blackbeard’s crewmates and the British Royal Navy (led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard), there is no evidence that Blackbeard ever actually killed anyone — in battle or otherwise.
Perhaps this is why numerous legends about Blackbeard continue to persist. In the absence of many hard historical facts, stories are told and retold to fill in the blanks and paint what would otherwise bew an incomplete picture of a man who still fascinates an untold number of people to this day.
No matter what you choose to believe, local lore surrounding Blackbeard’s life — and even more particularly, his death — abounds on the Outer Banks. You’ll hear talk of Blackbeard’s 14 wives spread out at various ports and be told that when his headless body was thrown overboard by British soldiers it swam around the boat three to seven times before it sank.
More than a few people will swear that they’ve seen a ghostly light in the waters off of Ocracoke, which is said to be Blackbeard’s soul searching fruitlessly for his missing head. At the very least, you’ll be privy to tales about Blackbeard’s long-lost treasure. Legend has it that the treasure is protected by a pact Blackbeard made with the devil, leading some to insist it will never be found. Myth or mystery — who’s to say in the end?