In the Spring, a Pirate Appears

Thursday, May 11, 2017
Location of Blackbeard in the Spring of 1717.
Author: 
Courtney Page, QAR Lab Manager

In the spring of 1717, Blackbeard had set up camp on the island of New Providence and was operating as a pirate in the Caribbean. In a document to the British Council of Trade and Plantations, Captain Mathew Musson described how the Bahamas had become overrun by pirates. This is the first time we hear about Edward Teach* as a pirate.

“At Habakoe one of the Bahamas he found Capt. Thomas Walker and others who had left Providence by reason of the rudeness of the pirates and settled there. They advis’d him that five pirates made ye harbor of Providence their place of rendezvous vizt. Horngold, a sloop with 10 guns and about 80 men; Jennings, a sloop with 10 guns and 100 men; Burgiss, a sloop with 8 guns and about 80 men; White, in a small vessell with 30 men and small armes; Thatch, a sloop 6 gunns and about 70 men. All took and destroyd ships of all nations…”

A General History of the Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson (the true identity of whom is debated) tells us that Blackbeard and Hornigold worked together for some time, taking ships in the Caribbean and along the Colonial American coast.

In 1716, the Bahamas were not governed by any European country, making the islands an attractive base from which the pirates could operate. Having already established a lively pirate haven in Madagascar and recognizing the riches to be had in the Caribbean, they gathered in droves. In a letter to the Lords Commissioners of Trade in July of 1716, Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood pleaded with the English government for some kind of British rule over the Bahamas, particularly New Providence, “where a Nest of Pyrates are endeavoring to establish themselves.” It would be over a year before his pleas were answered.

*Blackbeard’s name is spelled several different ways throughout history. Other variations include Thatch, Thache, Teatch, Teache, and Tach. The most commonly used spelling in historical documents referencing Blackbeard is Teach.

Sources:
-“July 5. London. 635. Capt. Mathew Musson to the Council on Trade and Plantations.” In Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and West Indies, Jan. 1716-July, 1717. London: His Majestey’s Stationary Office, 1930.
-Spotswood, Alexander. “To the Lord Commissioners of Trade; Viriginia, July 3rd, 1716.” In The Official Letters of Alexander Spotswood, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Virginia, 1710-1722 Vol II. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society, 1885.
 
Map:
-Thornton, John. Atlas maritimus or, the sea-atlas. London: John Thornton, 1700. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2010592349/.