Friday, August 01, 2008

Maybe Blackbeard the Pirate was just misunderstood

Play name that pirate and nine out of ten times people will probably bring up Blackbeard the Pirate. He is probably the most famous pirate there is (before Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow). The peculiar thing is, although everyone knows of Blackbeard no one really knows about Blackbeard.

Oh there are plenty of stories about Blackbeard. But you scrape the surface on most of them and you discover that they are fourth hand stories told to the barber of Uncle Ernies third cousin. And his barber read about it in a magazine written from an eyewitness account. Only the eyewitness only overheard the story on the bus. As the pirates say, "Arrrgh." Wait, no one really knows if pirates said, "Arrgh," all the time either. It was something a 50s actor developed when he was playing Blackbeard in a movie.

When you get down to the facts of Blackbeard, the only thing for sure was that he had a beard. I'm not convinced that it was truly even black. Bathing wasn't really fashionable back in 1717 when Blackbeard career was at its two-year peak. So he may originally been Blondebeard.

No one really knows where Blackbeard came from in the first place. Some papers suggest England, others Jamaica and still others Philadelphia or North Carolina. His seafaring career may have begun as a privateer in Queen Anne's war between 1702 and 1713. Since a privateer is basically a legalized pirate sanctioned by a government to rob ships of the enemy, it isn't a stretch that Blackbeard took up being a pirate after the war ended because it was the only thing he knew how to do. He just stopped quibbling about which ships he robbed.

Some people think Blackbeard's real name was Edward Teach. But that could of been Thatch, thach, Thache or Drummond. Anyone familiar with genealogy understands how this could happen. Spelling and accuracy in written records didn't come into vogue until recent times. And the modern phenomenon of texting is taking spelling out of favor again.

Even Blackbeard's legend as a bad ass is questionable. Legend has it he was slashing off fingers, making people walk the plank and drowning puppies and kittens at the drop of a hat. However, there is no documentation that he actually killed anyone. He'd take your rum and pieces of eight, but apparently he'd then let you go about your merry way.

Much of Blackbeard's legend seems to stem from his appearance. He was apparently tall for his time and he is said to have stuck lit fuses in his braided beard, stuck a burning piece of rope under his hat (supposedly he thought the smoke surrounding his head made him look fierce) and pranced about his ship deck brandishing a cutlass and musket. This was obviously quite a spectacle, but he sounds a bit like a modern day heavy metal singer to me. I think Blackbeard was a poser.

Even Blackbeard's death was exaggerated. On November 21, 1718, British navel officer First lieutenant Robert Maynard of the HMS Pearl tracked Blackbeard to his hangout off Ocracoke Island off North Carolina. After many drunken taunts from the pirates Blackbeard boarded the Pearl and was killed after much belly bumping and clashing of swords. Although legend has it he had taken five musket balls and 20 sword cuts, the official record suggests he bled to death after nicking himself breaking Maynard's sword in a fight. Maynard then cut off Blackbeard's head so he could get a hundred pound bounty the governor of Virginia had offered. Blackbeard was a ripe old 28-years old when he lost his head.

To give you a little insight into Blackbeard's character, here is a excerpt from one of his ships logs aboard his captured ship, the Adventuress after he was killed:

"Such a day, rum all out: ? Our company somewhat sober: ? A damned confusion amongst us! ? Rogues a-plotting: ? Great talk of separation ? so I looked sharp for a prize: ? Such a day found one with a great deal of liquor on board, so kept the company hot, damned hot; then all things went well again."

Doesn't that suggest history's most famous pirate was just party animal looking for an open 7-11 to score beer for his next party? My rambling point here is the once again history teaches us that nothing is as it is presented to us. This is an important thing to keep in mind as we prepare to be inundated with ads for the November election.

And yes, I know that was a long way to go to make a political statement. Arggh...

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