Monday, May 26, 2008

I prefer fiction to fact

I've just read in today's Virginia Pilot that the histories about Blackbeard the Pirate are probably more fiction than fact.

Kevin Duffus has spent over 25 years researching Blackbeard the Pirate and has discovered that he was nowhere as fearsome as the myths suggest he was.

It's true that Blackbeard fought his final bloody battle at Ocracoke Inlet, and his head was taken triumphantly to Hampton. But much else of what has been recounted about the life and death of the infamous pirate and his crew may be little more than a product of masterful marketing and political cover- ups.

In the "The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate: Within Every Legend Lies a Grain of Truth," Raleigh author Kevin Duffus says the pirate was the son of Capt. James Beard and his real name was Edward Beard. He was born about 1690 near Charleston, S.C., not Bristol, England, as long believed, and had family in Bath, N.C. and Philadelphia.

One of history's most widely recognized pirates, Blackbeard, who Duffus said used the name Edward Teach as an alias, was said to wear lit wicks in his full black beard and a slew of cutlasses and knives on his waist. He was said to have commanded hundreds of men and dozens of ships, pillaging vessels and murdering their crews along the East Coast and in the Caribbean Sea.

When Blackbeard was killed in 1718, he was about 28 and had all of two years of piracy under his belt, Duffus said. The only treasure found with him was cocoa, sugar and cotton. Contrary to the signs posted in Williamsburg claiming his men were hung there, most of Blackbeard's surviving crew were pardoned and continued their lives in North Carolina.

"This changes the history," he said. "These were not pirates from other places. These were North Carolina men who became pirates."

Political battles between Gov. Charles Eden in North Carolina and Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood in Virginia over piracy ultimately were Blackbeard's undoing. It was Spotswood who sent Maynard to Ocracoke to track down the pirate.

Blackbeard was an educated mariner who was apparently more showman than blood thirsty miscreant. He was known to burn and sink ships, Duffus said, but his terrorizing reputation was not supported by the records. The only credible description of Blackbeard is that he was tall and had a long black beard.

"The truth is in most of the original depositions that were filed by sea captains who were detained by Blackbeard, almost of all of them said he was fair and accommodating," he said "I don't believe he was this fearsome guy. I actually believe that those burning wicks were used to repel mosquitoes."

Whatever the truth may be about Blackbeard, this family is still going to enjoy the 9th Annual Blackbeard Pirate Festival next week in Hampton.

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