Arts & Culture
10:06 am
Thu July 10, 2008

"The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate" - Kevin Duffus

The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate - Kevin Duffus

New Bern, NC – INTRO - On the cover of the new book by Raleigh author Kevin Duffus The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate is the line Within Every Legend Lies a Grain of Truth, pointing toward what Duffus believes are some vast differences between the actual history of Black Beard and the history we grew up with. George Olsen spoke with the author and has this.

The legend surrounding Black Beard's demise is that, following his decapitation during hand-to-hand combat on board Lt. Robert Maynard's vessel Jane in Ocracoke Inlet in November 1718, his headless body was thrown overboard, whereupon it swam five laps around the vessel before sinking to the ocean floor. The implication is here is a great and fearsome pirate -whether dead or alive -- who no man would want to cross. If so, then author Kevin Duffus could have some explaining to do if one day he comes face-to-face with the ghost of the pirate king.

34:01 The fact is I discovered he probably wasn't a very good fighter because it's well documented in the colonial records of N-C that he accosted a man in the middle of the night in a canoe in the Pamlico River when he was on his way back from Bath to Ocracoke, and Blackbeard was in desperate need of a drink, it was about 0500 in the morning and he asked this man if he had any rum and the guy said I think it's too dark to pour you a dram. Blackbeard jumped in his canoe and he started to tussle with him and apparently this planter in his canoe was getting the better of Blackbeard in this battle and Blackbeard had to call his four African oarsmen over to subdue this man, so this doesn't sound like this powerful bloodthirsty pirate.

If that makes it sound as if Duffus' new book The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate is a bit of a historical tell-all, so be it. Duffus says taking the legend of Black Beard and bringing it down a notch or two is not the goal of his writing.

07:10 A lot of people see the book and think it's just another biography on Blackbeard but to me it's a discourse on how history becomes distorted and muddled and how difficult it can be to divine the truth, both from folklore and oral histories and the stories passed down to generations by families.

His search for the historical Black Beard actually began decades ago. As a teen growing up in North Carolina, he read of a legend stating Black Beard's sister lived on the banks of the Tar River at a location roughly midway between Greenville and Washington and was buried there as well. He set out to find her grave and upon discovering it realized that legend and history are often two different things.

01:31 And of course, it was quite an ordeal to find this grave location and the headstone of Susie White which survives to this day, and the instant that I found and stood before her headmarker I knew she could not be Blackbeard's sister because, as it turned out, she was born 37 years after he was killed in Ocracoke.

Still, when years later the thought of writing about Black Beard started to intrigue, his initial beliefs were why write on someone about whom so much has been written about. But, like his surprise to find that Black Beard's supposed sister had been born 35 years after his death, when he considered what was known about Black Beard, it occurred to him

13:45 it didn't add up. It's like a vast jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't fit together. Blackbeard supposedly had 14 wives. Blackbeard built castles, stone buildings, in St. Thomas and a fort in Nassau and houses in Bath and Elizabeth City and Ocracoke, but when you look at the timeline and realize Blackbeard had only been a pirate for two years, and he spent most of that time on the water, how could he have found the time to build houses and have 14 wives and build castles and do all the things attributed to him. It was obvious to me and been described by another author Michael Caton that in the person of Blackbeard has been heaped all the legends and stories of pirates in general. He's become an amalgamation of pirates. So I fully expected that the authentic Blackbeard would not be similar to the version of folklore.

and in that folklore is the belief that Black Beard was British born. But it's a part of folklore that with research Duffus tends to disbelieve. Duffus says the only evidence supporting Black Beard's British origins lie in a 1724 book by Capt. Charles Johnson A General History of the Pyrates which featured short biographies on pirates of that era, including Black Beard. Duffus says the book is as much fiction as it is history, but at some point it became accepted as history, including the following seven words Edward Teach was a Bristol man born. Duffus says that's the totality of evidence backing Black Beard's British origins, and believes there's a much stronger though circumstantial case for Black Beard being Edward Beard, the son of a Bath landholder.

25:11 On one hand I'm convinced that Black Beard was the son of Capt. James Beard. I wasn't the first one to establish this theory. It was originally developed by John Oden III, Allan Norris and Jane Bailey, three esteemed genealogists who discovered the existence of Capt. James Beard, and the fact that James Beard was a property owner on Bath Creek. There are many other connections of course, and as you begin to become aware of other ingredients, that the majority of Black Beard's final crew members were the sons of Bath county property holders, the fact that Gov. Eden's most trusted legal advisor Thomas Pollock wrote in a letter advising the Governor that these pirates, these men should not be allowed to be taken back to Virginia in shackles and put on trial in Virginia because as he described they were inhabitants of N-C. When you begin to add all these elements together they sort of create a silhouette of light behind this dark shape which I believe represents Edward Beard, and it really becomes rather compelling as far as I'm concerned.

There's one hole in Duffus' theory, and a large one at that. For all the circumstantial evidence supporting his theory of Black Beard being the son of Capt. James Beard, he can't find any evidence of the existence of an Edward Beard. But he's very willing to stack his circumstantial evidence in favor of Black Beard's North Carolina heritage against the words of Capt. Charles Johnson.

25:11 There's no other evidence or reason to believe Blackbeard was from Bristol, England, so we can choose that or we can open our minds to a preponderance of circumstantial evidence and inferences and suppositions that Blackbeard was very well, in fact, acquainted with the waters of N-C and the people of Bath because he had been there before.

And one other claim North Carolina may one day have on the legacy of Black Beard we may never find the documented proof that coastal North Carolina is the site of the pirate's birth and formative years, but one day perhaps someone again seeking the treasure that Black Beard supposedly buried along our coast there may be a grisly discovery proving that once Black Beard's headless corpse had finished its lap session around Lt. Robert Maynard's sloop, he remains in North Carolina for the centuries that have passed and those to come.

48:40 Historians again haven't considered the fact that all three vessels involved in that battle at Ocracoke were disabled and unable to put to sea or go anywhere and they actually remained there anchored for two weeks, and they not only had Blackbeard's headless corpse to deal with, but they had 22 other bodies, 11 of the king's men and a total of 12 pirates were killed, and there was no suitable way for them to have disposed of those bodies other than to bury them, and the custom was of the day, they wouldn't have dug individual graves for each man. They would've dug one mass hole, a mass grave, and buried all those bodies in the same place, so when people suggest that Blackbeard's headless ghost haunt the shores of Ocracoke I believe that's possible because I believe his remains are still there today.

The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate by Kevin Duffus is published by Looking Glass Productions. I'm George Olsen.