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Blackbeard’s Last Stand

Author: Jerry Hill

In 1718 Alexander Spotswood, the Governor of Virginia Alexander, was under enormous pressure to remove pirates from his domain, so he offered rewards for their capture. Top of the wanted list was Blackbeard with £100 on his head. Spotswood was worried that pirates were increasingly harbouring in the Pamlico Sound naturally protected by the barrier islands of the Outer Banks, and accessed by the Ocracoke Inlet. There was even talk of Buccaneers fortifying Ocracoke Island itself to make a more imposing base.

Spotswood enlisted the help of two experienced buccaneer hunters: - Captains Maynard and Hyde. They were both keen to pursue Blackbeard but their ships were unsuitable for the shallow inlets around the Pamlico Sound. Spotswood funded two sloops for the navy men, these boats could safely move through the shallow water. Robert Maynard captained the first sloop the Jane, and took command of the expedition of 60 men; Captain Hyde assisted in the Ranger. The two sloops had no guns fitted so the pirate hunters had to rely on small arms, a distinct disadvantage against Blackbeard’s Adventure carrying 10 guns.

Once Blackbeard’ s whereabouts was known the party set sail, and arrived at the Ocracoke Inlet on the evening of 21st October 1718. A local pilot guided the sloops through the sandbars and shoals protecting the anchorage, and the Adventure was sighted late in the evening. It was decided that a morning attack would take advantage of the after effects of the night’s revelry on board the pirate vessel. Blackbeard, unaware of the impending fight, only had a crew of 19 on board and spent the evening drinking heavily with some of his men.

In the morning Maynard and Hyde cautiously moved into the Sound following a small boat taking depth soundings. An observant lookout quickly raised the alarm, and a volley of shot peppered the expedition’s boats as the Adventure slipped anchor. Maynard and Hyde were soon in hot pursuit but in the rush both their sloops ran aground. The three vessels were close enough for a shouted exchange to take place, and Blackbeard mocked Maynard and his men making it clear that he would be taking no prisoners.

As the tide rose the two sloops were freed; the wind was so slack that they had to resort to oars. The Adventure fired a murderous close range broadside of shot mixed with nails decimating the party, the Ranger was put out of the fight losing 5 crew and Captain Hyde.

Maynard attacked; a volley of shot crippled the Adventure by bringing down sails and masts. Maynard had craftily hidden most of his men below decks, so as the two boats ran together Blackbeard boarded with 10 of his pirates thinking the crew were wiped out by his earlier fire. A life and death struggle ensued as the hidden crew streamed up through the hatches hacking at Blackbeard’s men and knocking them down in their wake. Maynard and Blackbeard were soon involved in a desperate struggle. Maynard, wounded by Blackbeard’s cutlass, fired his pistol at the Pirate at point blank range. Although wounded Blackbeard continued to fight, and was attacked by several of the sailors who slashed at his face and hands. A Highlander from the Jane joined the fight and set about Blackbeard with his broadsword. The first blow cut Blackbeard’s neck, and he cried out “Well done lad” the second mighty blow took off the Pirate’s head.

The crew of the Adventure continued to fight for their lives but the Ranger finally rallied and got back into the battle. Despite the desperate fight of the pirates the battle was soon over and a number of prisoners taken, the Adventure was secured with its decks running in blood.

The battle could have had a different ending, Blackbeard had ordered one of his crew to blow up the powder magazine if the boat was taken, fortunately for the survivors one of his less determined shipmates stopped him. The battle was over. It was rumoured that Blackbeard’s headless body ran amok and jumped into the water swimming around the ship. Whatever the truth of these tales Maynard sailed home with Blackbeard’s head on a pole.

The death of Blackbeard and the trial of the remaining crew were seen as the beginning of the end of the years of buccaneering glory, and a big coup in the war against piracy.

Sources:

Cordingly, David “Life among the Pirates” 1995. Exquemelin. A.O. “The Buccaneers of America” 1923. Ocracoke Island Web Site www.ocracokeislan.d.com. x

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