In my last article I wrote about the facts of Edward Teach A.K.A. Blackbeard’s life. But a man with as big a reputation as Blackbeard is bound to have a number of tall tales about him.
Even though Blackbeard has been dead for nearly three centuries, new tall tales continue to spring up. Most notably, tales that surround the whereabouts of his head. I’ll get to that. But first, let’s examine the other tall tales.
During his life, Blackbeard was rumored to have had as many as 18 common law wives. He was said to have shot Israel Hands, a member of his own crew, saying “if I don’t shoot one or two now and then, you’ll forget who I was.”
Before he died he was said to have had a fabulous treasure. He was rumored to have said that only he and the Devil knew where it was “and the longest liver can take it.”
None of this is probably true. There is no evidence that Blackbeard murdered anyone (outside of his final battle). Instead he preferred to cultivate his reputation and let fear do his work for him.
Blackbeard probably also never had a huge chest of gold coins (or many of them buried across beaches stretching from the Carolinas down to Nassau). His ransom demand during the blockade of Charleston was for a chest of medicine.
After Lieutenant Robert Maynard and his men killed Blackbeard, they’d found that his camp was filled with trade goods taken from merchant ships – indigo, cotton, sugar and cocoa. Most of this was auctioned off to pay for the expedition to end his pirate threat.
When Blackbeard was killed and beheaded, his body was thrown overboard. According to legend, the headless body swam circles around the ship where Maynard hung Blackbeard’s head. Some people say that the body still swims the area, now known as Teach’s Hole, in search for it’s head.
The head was put on a pole outside Hampton, Virginia as a warning to others against piracy. From there, the head disappears from the official record. But, like the rest of the famous pirate, there are legends.
Lore of the Carolina-Virginia area says that pirates stole Blackbeard’s skull and made it into a drinking bowl or a cup. In some accounts, the vessel is covered in silver and engraved with the words “Deth to Spotswoode.”
From there, Blackbeard’s skull was said to be so many places, it could have been doing a publicity tour for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Among the stories floating around, the skull:
- Was used as a punch bowl in the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg and may still buried under the tavern.
- Well-to-do Virginians passed the drinking vessel/skull around at parties like some kind of gruesome party favor.
- Became part of initiation rites for any number of college fraternities or secret societies (including the Freemasons) in Virginia, or possibly Connecticut.
- Is part of a collection of artifacts at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts.
- Was part of a tour of artifacts at the San Diego Maritime Museum.
- North Carolina Historian Charles Whedbee claimed to have drank from the skull during a secret ritual while visiting Ocracoke Island in the 1930’s.
In truth, the whereabouts of Blackbeard’s skull can’t be pinpointed. The skull in the museum is not on display, and is now thought not to be authentic. What is more likely is that Blackbeard’s skull was eventually discarded. It, like the rest of Blackbeard, is now probably lost to the ages.