Off with his head: Today marks anniversary of pirate Blackbeard’s death

Published 5:13 pm Thursday, November 21, 2013

Who died on Nov. 22 … 295 years ago in waters off Ocracoke Island?

It was Edward Teach, better known as the infamous pirate Blackbeard.

While many people will observe today as the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy being assassinated in Dallas, there are some people who will recall that Blackbeard, a Bath resident at one time, was killed along with several of his crew during a battle with the British navy off Ocracoke on Nov. 22, 1718. Lt. Robert Maynard commanded the British forces in that fight.

During that fight at Ocracoke Inlet, Blackbeard was mortally wounded. Some accounts note that Maynard examined Blackbeard’s body and determined the pirate had been shot no fewer than five times and cut about 20 times. There’s no doubt Blackbeard’s head was severed from his body. One legend has Blackbeard’s headless body swimming in the water.

But Blackbeard’s head was not hung on the bowsprit of Blackbeard’s captured sloop Adventure until it was on the James River in Virginia about six weeks after Blackbeard was killed off Ocracoke, according to historian Kevin Duffus, who’s researched and written about Blackbeard.

“The legend of Blackbeard, of course, grew into such enormous proportions that it hardly resembles the man that he really was. He’s arguably the world’s best-known pirate. History, I guess, has done him wrong in a number of ways,” Duffus said. “One is that history has forgotten that Blackbeard’s origins really were here in North Carolina. I believe that his piratical adventures actually began on the Pamlico. He didn’t have a very long career. It was probably about two years long as a pirate. There is very compelling and substantial evidence that suggests that Blackbeard and his closest friends had ties to families that lived along the Pamlico.”

Had Blackbeard eluded the royal navy for about two to three more weeks, the pirate would have been eligible for a pardon that was on its way from England, Duffus said.

“Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about him and he wouldn’t be a famous pirate if he hadn’t died in such a sensational manner out at Ocracoke,” Duffus said.

Duffus said his research indicates the legend about Blackbeard’s headless body swimming can be traced to a tourism brochure developed by Stanley Wahab around 1962.

“Stanley Wahab was a very creative thinker. I believe he was the one who came up with the notion that Blackbeard’s headless body swam around,” Duffus said.

Duffus doesn’t buy the brochure’s message.

“I’ve contended that Blackbeard’s headless body — skeleton — is probably still there around Ocracoke because I believe that he and the other men — there were 23 that were killed — had to be buried somewhere. They just didn’t dump all their bodies overboard,” Duffus said.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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