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Pompions, Monsters and Ghosts in the Golden Age of Piracy, Page 6

The Fantastic Legends and Tales of Blackbeard

Mysterious legends that have grown up around the pirates over time, particularly as movies have imbued them with ethereal properties. No pirate seems to have had more mystical legend and lore attached to him than the most famous of the golden age scoundrels: Blackbeard. Some are just mystical, others have a decidedly monstrous or ghostly cast.

Mermaids and Blackbeard

A Belligerent Mermaid
Sculptor: Ludwika Nitschowa
Blackbeard's Kind of Mermaid
The Wikipedia entry on mermaids claims that the "logbook of Blackbeard, an English pirate, records that he instructed his crew on several voyages to steer away from charted waters which he called 'enchanted' for fear of merfolk or mermaids, which Blackbeard himself and members of his crew reported seeing."1 By way of proof, they point to a BBC program on pirates. Having listened to it, I found it says nothing whatsoever about either mermaids or Blackbeard's logbook.2 Nevertheless, several websites and videos which rather hopefully try to support the existence of such creatures repeat and even embellish this.3

In fact, there is no proof that Blackbeard ever had a logbook other than a single reference to it in the General History of the Pyrates4. Even that is suspected by many historians of having been fabricated by the author of the General History.5 So, as unfortunate as it seems, this tantalizing tie between pirates and mermaids appears to be complete fabrication whose origin lies in the editor of the Wikipedia page on mermaids. As we have already seen, the stories of mer-people were disappearing by the early 18th century.

1 Mermaid, wikipedia, gathered 10/6/13; 2 "Pirates". Radio World Service. BBC; gathered 10/7/13; 3 For example, see "Christopher Columbus and Blackbeard Saw Mermaids!", mermaidsthenewevidence.com, gathered 10/6/13 and History of Mermaids, Paranormal Ocean Website, gathered 10/10/13; 5 See Captain Charles Johnson, A general history of the pyrates, 3rd edition, p. 89; 6 See for example Kevin Duffus's book The Last Days of Blackbeard

Blackbeard's Ghost

The next story is a legend that, while it isn't said to have appeared in period literature, has stubbornly hung on and grown to absurd proportions since its inception.

Black-beard's Head Hanging from the Bolt-sprit
Black-beard's Head, Hanging from the Bolt-Sprit End
From The Pirate's Own Book by Charles Ellms, p. 319 (1837)

People familiar with the Blackbeard story know that Lieutenant Robert Maynard's men fought Blackbeard on November 22, 1718 at Ocracoke, North Carolina. Captain Johnson tells us that "Black-heard received a Shot into his Body from the Pistol that Lieutenant Maynard discharg'd, yet he stood his Ground, and fought with great Fury, till he received five and twenty Wounds, and five of them by Shot. At length, as he was cocking another Pistol, having fired several before, he fell down dead"1. After Maynard's men had taken the rest of the crew and secured the ships, "[t]he Lieutenant caused Black-beard's Head to be severed from his Body, and hung up at the Bolt-sprit End, then he sailed to Bath-Town, to get Relief for his wounded Men"2.

That would have been where it ended if the superstitious hadn't decided to append some mythical facts to the story. At some point which appears impossible to trace, a rumor was started that Blackbeard's body swam around the ship several times. If you search the web, you will find that it did this 33, 44, 55, 76 and even 14 times7! (Of these various authoritative answers, three and five seem to be the most popular for those of you keeping score.)

Since no legend is really worth its salt until it has been embellished, the legend grew. Unnamed fishermen near Ocracoke have reported seeing Blackbeard's body out searching for his head.8 This was further expanded (not to mentioned a bit watered down) with a derivative rumor that "says that bobbing lights in the sounds and inlets at night are the spirits of Blackbeard and maybe of his crew."9

Of course, the best of all such rumors gathers them and stitches A dark figure on a beach

them all together and adds some bits to give the rumor more cohesiveness and substance.

They hung his head from the ships bowsprit and its said that Blackbeard's head actually spoke and called out to his body. His body swam around the ship three times before slipping beneath the water.

And ever since that day people have claimed to see the headless body of Blackbeard searching the shores of Ocracoke for his head. It is said that people on Ocracoke found Edward Teach's headless body and they buried it near where the lighthouse on Ocracoke is today. It is in that area where people claim to see the headless body of Blackbeard today still searching for his head.

Other people claim to see huge fires burning just off Ocracoke and they claim its Blackbeard and his pirate gang having a party.10

None of these rumors have a non-period source, much less a period one, so it is difficult to give them much credence. Nonetheless, they make a wonderful tale to tell the tourists.

1 Captain Charles Johnson, A general history of the pyrates, 3rd edition, p. 84; 2 Johnson, p. 85; 3 Lost His Head, North Carolina Museum of History, gathered 10/25/12; 4 Blackbeard the Pirate, OcracokeWeb.com, gathered 10/25/12; 5Jason Kopping, Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge wreck reveals secrets of the real Pirate of the Caribbean, The Telegraph, gathered 10/25/12; 6 Kelly Simmons, Blackbeard's Final Battle, Blackbeardlives.com, gathered 10/25/12 & NOVEMBER 22nd, Ward's Book of Days,  gathered 10/25/12 & Molly Harrison, Blackbeard Took a Liking to Ocracoke Island, Sunny Day Guide, gathered 10/25/12; 7 How did the pirate Black Beard die?, Yahoo! Answers, gathered 10/25/12; 8 Maddie James, The beginning..., legendofblackbeardschalice.com, gathered 10/25/12; 9 Blackbeard, Myth's Encyclopedia, gathered 10/25/12; 10 Blackbeards Ghost, Crazy Horse's Ghost, gathered 10/25/12

The Devil Incarnate

Perhaps the best ghostly tale told in conjunction with Blackbeard comes from members of the crew themselves. And why not? The man's deeds read like those of a devil, after all. It was he who, while drunk, suggested that they "make a Hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it. Accordingly he, with two or three others, went down into the Hold, and closing up all the Hatches, filled several Pots full of Brimstone, and other combustible Matter, and set it on Fire, and so continued till they were almost suffocated, when some of the Men cried out for Air; at length he opened the Hatches, not a little pleased that he held out the longest."1

Before looking into the Blackbeard crew's story, however, let's look at another that features Beelzebub from the ever-superstitious barber-surgeon Johann Dietz. He and his military surgical comrades were trying to fall asleep one night, when they heard several knocks on their door.

Devil Wrestling a Goat
Photographer: Usien
Goats are More Stubborn than even the Devil Apparently

The Prussian called out: "Come in, come in!" — thinking that it might be a patient, for such often came to us at night. But as no one came in and the rapping continued he ordered the boy who slept with us to open the door.

He did so, and lo! — in came a great black he-goat, bleating and capering. We were all sorely affrighted and at first believed that this was the living Devil, and crept under our beds.2

When the goat did not disappear, the group decided to investigate whether it was indeed the devil. While they were hiding under their beds, they bravely sent the surgeon's apprentice to light a candle.

Once this was done, the surgeons realized that it was not the devil in goat's skin, but just a regular goat. The apprentice announced that since it was not the devil incarnate, they "must play all sorts of pranks upon him; clapping an old full-bottomed wig upon his head, clinging on to his tail and driving him out of the house with a horse-whip."3 In a way, it's too bad it wasn't the devil as the apprentice would have gotten a bit of his own medicine. (So to speak.)


We'll close this discussion on pirates and Halloween with the promised Blackbeard story from Captain Johnson's account - one that might have held special meaning for some of this crew of miscreants as they faced the imminent prospect of the gallows.

Blackbeard's Flag
The Devil on Blackbeard's Flag
Those of his Crew who were taken alive, told a Story which may appear a little incredible; however, we think it will not be fair to omit it, since we had it from their own Mouths.

That once upon a Cruize, they found out that they had a Man on Board more than their Crew, such a one was seen several Days amongst them, sometimes below, and sometimes upon Deck, yet no Man in the Ship could give an Account who he was, or from whence he came, but that he disappeared a little before they were cast away in their great Ship, but, it seems, they verily believed it was the Devil.4

1 Captain Charles Johnson, A general history of the pyrates, 3rd edition, p. 88; 2 Johann Dietz, Master Johann Dietz, Surgeon in the Army of the Great Elector and Barber to the Royal Court, Translated by Bernard Miall, p. 90; 3 Dietz, ibid; 4 Johnson, p. 89;


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