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Blackbeard and the Pirates of the Georgia Coast

Of all the pirates that roamed the Atlantic seas, perhaps the most notorious was Blackbeard. Much that has been written about Blackbeard blends fact with fiction, making the legendary pirate even more mysterious. In 1996, divers in Beaufort Inlet found a sunken ship that dates to Blackbeard’s era and some believe to be his pirate ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Efforts are ongoing to excavate and study the shipwreck and learn more about the age of piracy.

It is believed Edward Thatch (sometimes erroneously reported as Teach) was born in Bristol, England in the late 1600s. He had a commanding presence, standing 6 feet 4 inches and weighing 250 pounds, with long black hair and braided beard tied with ribbons. Blackbeard preyed on ships from New England to the Virgin Islands. On the stolen Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard would attack ships that carried riches from the New World, pounding them into submission with his 40 cannon. Then looking like a brother of the Devil that he claimed to be, Blackbeard would storm aboard a captured vessel, with pistols and knives in his sash, cutlass in his hand, and dagger in his teeth. For additional effect, Blackbeard would light small pieces of slow-burning rope that were tied to his beard and hair, creating a smoldering hallucination of a beast from hell.

In the early 1700s, privateers were employed by England during the War of Spanish Succession to raid Spanish galleons that were returning from the New World with gold and silver stolen from Indian nations in the Americas. When the war ended in 1713, these buccaneers turned to freelancing, raiding any and all ships that might be carrying valuable cargo. Blackbeard seized a French ship in 1717 and began his reign of terror along the southeastern coast of the U.S. and Caribbean. His home base from 1716–1718 was in North Carolina, where he had an agreement with the royal governor.
It is widely believed that Blackbeard also used the Georgia coast, where its meandering tidal rivers, inlets, and barrier islands served as excellent hiding places. He and his crew would quickly strike at ships then retreat to hide. It is believed that somewhere on Georgia’s barrier islands is buried treasure, and treasure hunters with metal detectors are a common sight on some of Georgia’s developed islands.

Reportedly, Blackbeard bragged that no one but he and the Devil knew where he kept his treasure hidden, and the one who lived the longest could keep it. It appears that the Devil won that contest. Blackbeard met his match in June 1718, when he was killed off the coast of North Carolina in hand-to-hand combat with Lt. Robert Maynard of His Majesty’s Pearl. Maynard decapitated the cruel pirate, displayed the head as a warning to other raiders, and cast the body into the sea. Legend has it that Blackbeard’s skull was made into a macabre silver-plated cup, and Blackbeard’s headless ghost guards his treasure somewhere on a remote, deserted isle—maybe Blackbeard Island.

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