300 years later, judge upholds Blackbeard’s guilty verdict

Published 10:23 pm Friday, October 19, 2018

Piracy on the high seas was the charge that got Blackbeard killed, and some of his crew hanged, 300 years ago. Friday, Superior Court Judge J. Carlton Cole found him guilty again in hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

“After review of the record proper and testimony of the witnesses, the arguments of the counsel, I would find that they were guilty of piracy,” Cole told a crowded courtroom.

Surprisingly, the jury of 12 middle-school children and an alternate voted unanimously in favor of Blackbeard and crew’s innocence.

The mock hearing was the first of a series of events held this weekend to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s death in a battle off of Ocracoke. Pitting District Attorney Seth Edwards, representing Virginia Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood and Royal Navy Lt. Robert Maynard, against attorney J. Erik Groves, representing Blackbeard, or Edward Thatch, and crew, the hearing brought little known facts surrounding the events of the pirate’s death to light.

“This has been most enlightening,” Cole said, after he’d handed down his guilty verdict.

The hearing began as an modern day trial would, with a Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office bailiff calling court to order, but there it began to diverge, as mention of pirates, treason and more introduced the matter at hand. As witnesses took the stand — Spotswood, Maynard, Gov. Charles Eden, Customs official Tobias Knight and a captain named Humphrey Johnston who claimed to have witnessed the battle — a tale of corruption, collusion and, perhaps, treason, unfolded.

Edwards argued that Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood had every right to send forces into the colony of North Carolina to capture Blackbeard, as the pirate was interfering with Virginia’s commerce. On the stand, Spotswood testified that the government of North Carolina — Eden, Knight and more — were in collusion with Blackbeard, shielding him from being held accountable for his acts of piracy, most notably the blockade of Charleston.

PROSECUTION: District Attorney Seth Edwards argues that Virginia Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood (seated) was well within the law by sending an expeditionary force into the colony of North Carolina to capture the pirate Blackbeard 300 years ago. (Vail Stewart Rumley/Daily News)

“I acted to rescue the trade of North Carolina from the insult of pirates,” Spotswood told the court.

The 300-year-old lieutenant governor claimed he’d acted no differently than South Carolina had when it sent forces into North Carolina to capture another notorious pirate, Maj. Stede Bonnet, on the Cape Fear River.

Groves, however, formed a more compelling argument, as he laid out a timeline that would have exonerated Blackbeard from charges of piracy, had the Virginians not jumped the gun and sent troops before King George I’s now-extended pardon arrived from England. He argued that Spotswood and Maynard knew their actions were not legal, as the mission was not sanctioned by the crown, nor did they receive permission from the Admiralty to use British sailors and ships in the effort. Spotswood paid for both ships and sailors out of his own pocket because he planned to reap the benefits of capturing Blackbeard — and taking his treasure.

“The expeditionary force was not sanctioned by the king and was not requested by the governor. It was so unlawful that he could not use naval vessels. He had to hire his own,” Groves said in his closing statement.

Groves argued that Spotswood’s forces, led by Maynard, were little more than a hit squad, one that did not identify itself when the battle ensued, according to historical records, leaving Blackbeard no choice but to fight what appeared to be pirates.

“There is no record of Maynard saying anything to identify them as Royal Navy,” Groves said. “I seriously doubt, ladies and gentlemen, that Blackbeard knew they were Royal Navy.”

In between moments of grave seriousness as the battle was rehashed, were lighter ones, such as when Groves informed Spotswood he was Groves’ ancestor (by which Spotswood was disgusted because his descendent was representing a pirate), and as Maynard was confounded by a photocopy of what appeared to be his ship’s log.

Despite testimony and evidence that could point to conspiracy, greed and illegal acts on the part of Spotswood then, the rule of law, both then and now, determined Blackbeard was indeed guilty of acts of piracy. The court ruled, 300 years later, that his death was an act of justice, not of murder.

For more events happening today in honor of Blackbeard’s 300th in Bath, see the schedule of events below.



All day long in Bath

Visit the exhibit “300 Years of the Iconography of Blackbeard the Pirate” at Swindell Store; tour pirate encampments at Bonner’s Point, experience the Canon Crew, Pirates of Port Royal Jamaica exhibit, Half Crown Bakehouse, Campbell Cannon and Carriage Works, Colonial Seaport Foundation, The Sword Conservatory,  and helicopter rides at Catnip Point Road.


10 a.m.

Main Street

Vendors and food trucks open for business

10:50 a.m.

Bonner’s Point 

Cannon Salvo at (Six-pounder!) marks the start of the festivities. Families are invited to gather here for children’s Pirate Parade.

11 a.m.

Bonner’s Point Main Stage

Shadow Players sword fighting demonstration, welcome from the Greater Bath Foundation President, Jason Pair, followed by a discussion of Blackbeard’s connections with Bath in 1718 by historian Kevin Duffus.

11:20 a.m.

Bonner’s Point

Skydivers land on the west point.

11:30 a.m.

Main Street

Blackbeard leads the children’s Pirate Parade northward up Main Street taking right onto Craven to St. Thomas Church for photo op.

11:45 a.m.

St. Thomas Church

World’s Largest Gathering of Blackbeards. Dress the part of a pirate — all “Blackbeards” are welcome at this piratic attempt to break the record!


Swindell Store

2014 NC Historian of the Year Kevin Duffus discusses Blackbeard’s “Secret Midnight

Meeting at Tobias Knight’s Bath Plantation.”

Noon – 1 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Live music: The Rusty Cutlass Band.

12:15–1 p.m.

Low Tide Realty

Live music: Motley Tones.

1–1:15 p.m.

Bonner’s Point

Cannon demonstration by Campbell Cannon and Carriage Works.

1:15–2 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

The Rusty Cutlass Band performance.

2–2:30 p.m.

Off Bonner’s Point

Epic Sea Battle off Bonner’s Point — Capt. Horatio Sinbad’s Meka II plays the role of a merchant ship fending off the attacks of Blackbeard’s sloop Adventure.

2:30–3 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Shadow Players pirate enterrainment.

3 p.m.

Swindell Store

2014 North Carolina Historian of the Year Kevin Duffus program, “Was Blackbeard Murdered?”

3:15–3:45 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Live music: The Rusty Cutlass Band.

3:45–4 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Greater Bath Foundation President Jason Pair thanks sponsors and crowd.

4–4:30 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Sword-fighting demonstration by the Shadow Players Stage Combat Group.

4:30–5 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

The Blackbeard Reunion — Introduction of descendants of Bath’s Pirates and other VIPs of 1718. Presentation of the Pardons of Forgiveness to descendants of Blackbeard’s pirates.

5:15 p.m.

Swindell Store

2014 North Carolina Historian of the Year Kevin Duffus program “The Pirate’s Daughter,” the amazing story of the only portrait known to exist of a family member of one of Blackbeard’s pirates.

5–5:45 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Live music: Kyle Whitford.

6–6:30 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Live music: Motley Tones.

6:30–7:30 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Live music: The Patriots Family and Friends Reunion Tour.

7:30–7:50 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

The Greater Bath Foundation – Thank you’s and sponsor recognition.

7:50–9 p.m.

Bonner’s Point Stage

Live music: The Patriots Family and Friends Reunion Tour.

9 p.m.

Fireworks over Bath Creek.