Blackbeard 300

Edward Thatch had built up a fearsome reputation as the most notorious pirate of the early 18th Century. Never heard of him? If you had lived in His Majesty’s colony of Virginia in 1718 you certainly would have. 

By Martin Salmon, Archivist

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'Captain Teach commonly call'd Black Beard'
'Captain Teach commonly call'd Black Beard' - from the folio edition of Charles Johnson's 'A General History of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers, etc... (Item ID: PAD2732)

Thatch, also known as Blackbeard, had a fearsome status and had once dared to blockade the port of Charles Town, South Carolina, ransoming the inhabitants. However, even Blackbeard had never attacked a warship of the Royal Navy. On 17th November 1718, on the orders of Alexander Spotswood, Governor of Virginia, Lieutenant Robert Maynard of HMS Pearl led two sloops (the Jane and the Ranger), with a crew of fifty-five down Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina. The battle that ensued led to Blackbeard’s death, and Maynard cut off Thatch’s head and tied it to his ship’s bowsprit to leave no-one in any doubt who controlled the seas.

Lieutenant's logbook of the Pearl
Lieutenant's logbook of the Pearl (ADM/L/P/32)

In the Caird Library among some 5,500 Lieutenant’s logs spanning the period 1688-1809, are two logbooks of the Pearl, recounting Lieutenant Maynard’s expedition to capture Blackbeard. The reference for these is ADM/L/P/32. You can request it for viewing in the Reading Room or order copies through the NMM Archive catalogue

The image below is from the log from the Pearl, dated November 17th, shows Maynard’s orders from Captain Gordon to “destroy some pyrates”.

Extract from the Pearl's lieutenants logbooks
[Monday 17 November 1718, at Kequitan, Virginia]

'Moderate gales & fair weather, this day I received from Captain Gordon, an order to Command 60 men out of his Majesty’s ships Pearle and Lyme, on board two small sloops, in Order to destroy some pyrates, who resided in North Carolina.  This day Weighed & Sail’d hence, with ye Sloops under my Command, having on board a month’s Provisions of all Species, with arms, & Ammunition, Suitable for ye Occasion.'

This Lieutenant Maynard’s last entry in the Pearl’s log until 19th January 1719, because he left the Pearl and took his party on the two sloops– Jane and Ranger. The sloops were smaller vessels of shallower draft more suited to negotiating the Ockracoke inlet. They were also local vessels, not naval ones, so whatever account Maynard may have kept in the Jane (the sloop in which he sailed) was separate and not handed in with his official log book he kept as Lieutenant on the Pearl.

However, the next entry in the log fills in the blanks, showing the return of Maynard with news of Blackbeard’s death.

Extract from the Pearl's lieutenants logbooks
[3 January 1719, ‘Moored at Kequitan...']

'Little wind & fair weather, this day I anchored here from North Carolina in the Adventure Sloop Edward Thache formerly Master (a Pyrat) whose head I hung Under the Bowsprete of the Said Sloop in order to present it to ye Colony of Virginia & ye goods and Effects of the said Pyrat I delivered to my Commanders Dispersal.'

Blackbeard himself reportedly died in a cutlass fight with a Highland Scottish seaman named Evander Macevoy. Macevoy who received two large head scars in the fight, had formerly been a tailor. He was reported as ‘the man who killed Blackbeard’ after he died in the sinking by fire of the homeward bound slaver, Luxborough Galley, in 1727, of which NMM holds six paintings by John Cleveley the elder: see BHC2389, the first of the series.