Did you Know Blackbeard's Crew was Tried in Virginia?

Author: Elise Carroll, QAR Lab Manager

After the battle of Ocracoke in November 1718, only sixteen members of Blackbeard’s crew were rounded up and brought to Virginia to await trial. The men waited for three months for the seemingly inevitable guilty verdict of piracy and death sentence. During this time some of the crew attempted to save their lives by turning on their deceased pirate Blackbeard and becoming informants for Governor Spotswood. The informant crew members hoped the evidence they provided during their imprisonment would be enough to trade a death sentence for life enslavement.

Spotswood, the governor of the Virginia colony, was in great need for information implying wrongdoing. Spotswood had intruded in North Carolina business by sending the crew to the adjoining colony to battle Blackbeard and his crew. This was out of his jurisdiction and could prove to be troublesome during litigation. Initially, Spotswood wanted to prove a connection between Governor Eden, the governor of North Carolina, and Blackbeard, which would show that he took necessary action. In the end, he was only able to implicate one individual using the information gleaned from Blackbeard’s crew. Tobias Knight, the Secretary of North Carolina under Eden, was accused of willingly dealing with Blackbeard according to the informants. This allegation was later proved to be unsubstantiated during court and Knight was acquitted just before his death.

Unfortunately, execution was inevitable for all but two of the accused. Samuel Odel was released because he was able to prove he was not actually part of Blackbeard’s crew. Odel was a man from Bath, NC who happened to sail to Ocracoke the night before the battle and was on board when Maynard attacked. The only fighting that occurred by Odel was out of self-defense. The other man let go was Israel Hands, the former sailing master for Blackbeard, who was pardoned. On March 12, 1719, the rest of the crew was quickly tried and found guilty without any leniency for the information provided. The exact date of the hanging of Blackbeard’s crew is unknown but would have occurred shortly after the trial.

The convicted pirates were accompanied along the Jamestown road by representatives of the Virginia church, the Virginia legislature, the Virginia militia, and an angry crowd of spectators. Before their hanging, the men would have had a chance to give a short speech and received a short prayer from a minister. This procedure for hanging the individual pirates continued every half-mile so that the condemned men lined the road from the Virginia capital of Williamsburg all the way to the James river.

-Butler, Lindley. Pirates, Privateers, and Rebel Raiders of the Carolina Coast. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
-Konstam, Angus. Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2006.

-Author unknown, A map of Virginia and Maryland, from Geographical and Historical Grammer of the World [Edinburgh: Salmon, Sands, Murray and Cochran, 1767] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2013587749/.


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