Preliminary Observations on British and American Documents Concerning the Activities of the Pirate Blackbeard, March 1717 to June 1718*
Blackbeard "facts" are difficult to come by. Historians interpret and draw upon primary sources: documents from 1717-18 describing encounters with Blackbeard during his piratical career. Through the interpretation of these sources, Blackbeard begins to come into focus, but we must also account for the fallibility of human memory. Encounters with pirates were emotionally charged, terrifying encounters in many cases. Moreover, many of Blackbeard's victims were recorded in depositions regarding commercial losses at sea, and establishing Blackbeard as an unstoppable, greedy monster may have helped absolve civilian sailors of any liability.
The QAR Project helps create a firmer picture of life aboard a Blackbeard-captained vessel. We know Queen Anne's Revenge was under Blackbeard's command when it was wrecked near modern day Beaufort, North Carolina. You can visit our lab to learn more about the artifacts we're uncovering and preserving from the ocean floor.
In particular, these observations will discuss Blackbeard's relationship with two other pirate captains, Benjamin Hornigold and Stede Bonnet, the description of the pirate vessels used by Blackbeard and his associates, the number of cannon that were installed on Queen Anne's Revenge, and the number of pirates in Blackbeard's crew.
Most of the sources given in this report were identified by other researchers, in particular David Moore of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, Phil Masters of Intersal Inc., and Kenneth Kinkor with the Whydah Shipwreck Project, and the works of Robert Lee and David Cordingly. The notation "entry #" refers to events in the attached table.
Captain Blackbeard... or First Mate?
Blackbeard and Hornigold - In his book, Charles Johnson portrays Blackbeard as the protégé of the pirate captain, Benjamin Hornigold. Johnson reports that "they [Hornigold, Teach, and associates] . . . made prize of a large French Guineaman [La Concorde], bound for Martinique, which by Hornigold's consent, Teach went aboard of as captain and took a cruize in her" (Johnson, 1998, p. 47). The events described in the attached table indicate that by the fall of 1717 Blackbeard was operating independently of Hornigold. Further, there is no evidence that Hornigold was present when "English pirates . . . controlled by Edouard Titche" (entry # 10) attacked and captured the French slave ship, La Concorde.
The earliest mention of Blackbeard (Thatch) by name is Mathew Munson's letter of July 5, 1717 describing events from March 1717 (entry #1). Munson speaks with some authority as he had been commissioned to hunt for pirates, first by Gov. Hamilton of Jamaica and then by Deputy Gov. Robert Daniell of South Carolina (CSPCS Vol. 29, #267). Munson's letter indicates that Thatch had a separate command from Benjamin Hornigold. Subsequent documents show that by October 1717, Blackbeard was in command of Bonnet's Revenge and operating independently off the North American coast (entry # 3). All the subsequent accounts that specifically name the commander of the pirates identify that commander as Blackbeard (Teach, Thatch, Titche, etc.). Only two accounts, entries # 7 and # 9, mention that Hornigold was operating with Blackbeard, and in those cases it is portrayed an associate role rather than a supervisory role.
Although the documents in the attached table do not specifically discuss the relationship between Blackbeard and Hornigold, particularly prior to the spring of 1717, it seems clear that by the fall of 1717 Blackbeard had his own command and, for the most part, was operating independently from Hornigold. The accounts in the French archives found by Jacques Ducoin and others appear to confirm that Blackbeard was in command, and that Hornigold was not present when the pirates captured La Concorde in November 1717.
Bonnet Comes Aboard
Johnson indicates that Blackbeard met Stede Bonnet sometime in late-1717 or early-1718, after the capture of La Concorde. According to Johnson's account, after capturing La Concorde and renaming the ship Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard captured and burned the ship Great Allen near St. Vincent and then engaged HMS Scarborough (that engagement has not been verified by historical documents and probably never occurred). Johnson says that Teach then sailed for "Spanish America" and:
On his way he [Blackbeard] met with a pirate sloop of 10 guns, commanded by one Major Bonnet, lately a gentleman of good reputation and estate in the island of Barbados, whom he joined. But a few days after, Teach, finding that Bonnet knew nothing of a maritime life, and with the consent of his own men, put in another captain, one Richards, to command Bonnet's sloop, and took the major on board his own ship [Queen Anne's Revenge] . . . (Johnson, 1998, p. 47).
However, entry # 3, from the Boston News-letter, states that by October 1717 Teach was in command of Bonnet's (Bennet's) sloop, Revenge, armed with 12 cannon and operating off the North American coast. The presence of a 12-gun sloop in Blackbeard's fleet is one of the most consistent "facts" from entry # 3 to entry # 18, including the French account, # 10. Bonnet is mentioned by name in several of those accounts, and his presence with Blackbeard has been well documented in other sources, including the records of Bonnet's trial in Charleston, South Carolina.
Stolen Ships, Repurposed for Piracy
The Boston News-letter account, entry # 3, clearly states that in October 1717 Teach was in command of a 12-gun sloop named Revenge. An article, originating from Philadelphia, October 24, 1717 (entry # 4), states that the pirates kept one of the vessels they captured, the snow Sea Nymph, and "made a Pirate of the said snow." Likewise, an article originating from New York, October 28, 1717 (entry # 5), states that Blackbeard captured "One [Captain] Sipkins in a great Sloop of this Place [New York] . . . which Sloop they have mounted with 12 Guns and made a Pirate." Shortly thereafter, the pirates captured a sloop from Curacao, Capt. Goelet, which they kept, and in return gave Goelet and his crew the Sea Nymph (entry # 6).
If the preceding information is accurate, by November 1717, as Blackbeard headed down the coast of North America towards the Caribbean, he had in his command Bonnet's sloop Revenge with 12-guns, the "great Sloop" taken from Capt. Sipkins with 12-guns, and Capt. Goelet's sloop from Curacao. The next report on the pirates comes from the French crew of La Concorde (entry # 10) who state that they were "attacked by two boats of English pirates, one of 12 and the other of 8 guns armed with 250 men controlled by Edouard Titche." Most probably, the 12-gun pirate vessel is the Revenge, but the identity of the 8-gun vessel is unclear. Perhaps this is Capt. Goelet's sloop from Curacao, or Capt. Sipkins sloop from New York. The pirates gave the French crew one of their vessels, presumably the 8-gun sloop, which the French renamed Mauvaise Rencontre. They used this vessel to transport themselves and the remaining captive Africans from Bequia to Martinique in two trips. According to the deposition of Lt. Ernaud, the vessel was "of Bermuda fabrication, of 40 tons or about."
A Bigger Ship, An Emboldened Blackbeard
The next three entries, #'s 11, 12, and 13, report on captures made by the pirates immediately after they had refitted La Concorde as their flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge. It is clearly stated that Blackbeard and his crew captured the Great Allen off St. Vincent (entry # 11), however, the other two accounts, depositions by Richard Joy and Thomas Knight, do not specifically name Blackbeard (Teach) as the captain. Interestingly, all three accounts say that they encountered three pirate vessels: entry # 11, "Capt. Teach the Pirate in a French Ship of 32 Guns, a Briganteen of 10 Guns, and a Sloop of 12 Guns"; entry # 12, "he was taken by two pirate ships and a sloop"; and entry # 13, "seeing two ships and a sloop". By the time the pirates captured Henry Bostock on Dec. 5, 1717 (entry # 14), the pirates were using only two vessels. Bostock reports that "he met a large ship [Queen Anne's Revenge] and a sloop [Revenge]". Although there is no supporting documentation, it is possible that the unidentified third vessel in entries #11, #12, and #13 belonged to Hornigold, or perhaps to another pirate captain.
Subsequent accounts are consistent with Bostock's description of two vessels under Blackbeard's command: the ship Queen Anne's Revenge and the sloop Revenge (entries #15 and # 16). Eventually, Blackbeard would add two other vessels to his fleet: David Herriot's sloop Adventure captured in the Bay of Honduras in April 1717, and an unidentified Spanish sloop captured off Cuba in April 1717. Those are the four vessels with which he blockaded the port of Charleston in May 1718 (entries # 17 and # 18) and that were present when the Queen Anne's Revenge and Adventure were lost at Topsail (Beaufort) Inlet in June 1718 (entries # 19 and # 20).
How Many Cannon Were Aboard Blackbeard's Ship?
Like other aspects of Blackbeard's story, the number of cannon onboard Queen Anne's Revenge is subject to conflicting accounts, many based on hearsay. Even the number of cannon onboard La Concorde when captured by pirates is unclear. Capt. Dosset reported that La Concorde was equipped with 14 cannon, while Lt. Ernaud stated there were 16 guns (entry # 10). In all likelihood, the pirates removed the 8 cannon that were onboard the sloop they gave to the French and added those guns to Queen Anne's Revenge. That would make a total of 22 or 24 cannon. In the first accounts after the pirates took over La Concorde, there are reports that the Queen Anne's Revenge was "a French Ship of 32 Guns" (entry # 11), had "22 guns mounted" (entry # 13), and "was a French Guinea man, 36 guns mounted" (entry # 14).
Three colonial governors described the Queen Anne's Revenge as follows: Gov. Hamilton of Jamaica reported "The ship some say has 22 others say she has 26 guns mounted but all agree that she can carry 40" (entry # 15); Gov. Bennett of Bermuda stated that Queen Anne's Revenge was "a ship of 36 guns" (entry # 16); and Gov. Johnson of South Carolina claimed "Blackbeard has a ship of 40 od[d] guns" (entry # 17). Subsequent accounts also refer to 40 guns onboard. If the Queen Anne's Revenge was indeed equipped with up to 40 cannon, it is not clear from the historical record where the additional guns came from. It is certainly possible that Blackbeard and his crew could have added cannon from any of the vessels they captured, but researchers have not located any documents to date that verify the plundering of cannon.
Comparing Contemporary Accounts with Archaeology
For the past 5 years archeologists have investigated the shipwreck site at Beaufort Inlet thought to be the remains of Queen Anne's Revenge. Through direct observation and test excavations, the archaeologists have thus far located 22 cannon on the site. Six of those cannon have been recovered. In addition, researchers have conducted a detailed gradiometer survey of the entire site with readings taken every 1.5 feet (0.46 meters). That survey indicates the presence of possibly 4 or 5 additional cannon buried beneath the sand.
The cannon recovered so far include two 6-pounders, each weighing nearly 2,000 pounds that, based on their style of construction, may be of French origin. Also recovered was a 3-pounder with British weight and proof marks. In 1999, archaeologists brought up a large concretion that contained two small cannon; a British half-pounder weighing 199 pounds, and a slightly larger gun with Swedish marks and inscribed with a date of 1713. An additional cannon-shaped object, covered with concreted ballast stones, was recovered in May 2001. The concretion on this object has not been removed, but it also appears to be a small caliber cannon.
The majority of the remaining 16 cannon that have been observed on the site appear to be the approximate size of the two 6-pounders already recovered. This mixture of cannon of different sizes and different nationalities is certainly what would be expected on a pirate vessel that added cannon from captured ships. The question remains, however, given the historic reports of Queen Anne's Revenge having 40 cannon, and the fact that archaeologist have only located between 22 and 27 cannon, what happened to the missing guns? Three theories can be presented to address this question.
- The reports of 40 cannon were exaggerations, perhaps overstated by local authorities in an effort to obtain additional protection. Once one such report was made it could have been picked up and repeated by others.
- Some of the 40 cannon may have been small rail guns that were removed by the pirates or other contemporary salvagers.
- It is possible that there are additional cannon on the site that archaeologists have not yet located.
The Number of Pirates in Blackbeard's Crew:
|Entry #||Date||Number of pirates|
|17||May 1718||Above 400|
|18||May 1718||About 300
Timeline Concerning Blackbeard, March 1717 to June 1718 from British, French, and American Documents
Blackbeard's Accomplice Hid in Plain Sight
Few of the Royal Navy sailors sent to eliminate Blackbeard in November of 1718 would have expected to among the pirate's papers a letter from Tobias Knight.
And yet, there it was: a signed letter from the Chief Justice and Secretary of the Province of Carolina to Blackbeard himself. This was no court summons, either. Read the letter on pages 343-44 of the 1719 deposition concerning Tobias Knight's corrupt dealings with Blackbeard. Remember as you read that Knight was the person from whom you might seek justice if Blackbeard happened to rob you in colonial North Carolina.
BLN - Boston News-letter, 1704 - 1726, Boston, Massachusetts.
CSPCS - Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, America and the West Indies, Preserved in the Public Record Office. Edited by Cecil Headlam. London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1930-1933
Herriot, David, 1719, The Information of David Herriot and Ignatius Pell contained the Appendix to: The Tryals of Major Stede Bonnet, and Other Pirates. London, Printed for Benj. Cowse at the Rose and Crown in St Paul's Church-Yard.
Johnson, Charles, 1998, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. [Originally published in 1724] The Lyon Pess, New York.
Lee, Robert E., 1995, Blackbeard the Pirate: A Reappraisal of His Life and Times, Winston-Salem, John F. Blair Publishing Co., 264 p.
Moore, David D., 1997, "A General History of Blackbeard the Pirate, the Queen Anne's Revenge and the Adventure," Tributaries, v. 7, p. 31-35.
* Compiled by Richard W. Lawrence