Tybee Island’s history with pirates isn’t just confined to our annual Pirate Fest that is held every year in October. For many decades during the 18th century, pirates actually roamed the seas of the southeast coast and many pirates used Tybee Island and other barrier islands along the Georgia coast, not only as a safe haven, but also as hiding places for treasure.
By Margie McLellan originally posted in the Oct Tybee Beachcomber
One of the most notorious and infamous pirates of all time was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Little is known about his early life, but it is thought that he was born in Bristol, England around 1680. As a young man Teach became a sailor on a privateer ship during Queen Anne’s War (The War of Spanish Succession). Privateer ships were employed by England to raid Spanish galleons that were returning from the New World with silver and gold. When the war ended, these privateers turned to piracy and raided ships thought to be carrying valuable cargo. Teach joined Captain Benjamin Hornigold’s crew and was placed second-in-command, thus beginning his life of piracy.
Blackbeard was a fearsome looking man, standing 6’4” and weighing 250 lbs. His name derived from his long black hair and braided beard tied with ribbons (Hmm…Sounds a bit like Captain Jack Sparrow). He and his crew captured a French merchant vessel in 1717, equipped her with 40 cannons, and renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge. His flag depicted a skeleton spearing a heart, while toasting the devil. Flying such a flag was designed to intimidate one’s enemies.
Blackbeard’s reign of terror began along the southeastern coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean. It’s interesting that instead of using force, he relied on his fearsome image. It is said that after storming aboard a vessel with pistols strapped across his chest, cutlass in hand and a dagger in his teeth, he would light small pieces of rope that were tied to his beard and hair to create the illusion of a creature from Hell. I’m sure after seeing this brother of the Devil himself, any and all treasure would be quickly handed over to him.
There is actually no known account of Blackbeard harming or murdering his captives.
Although he used the Outer Banks in North Carolina as his home base, he was also known to frequent the Georgia coast during many of his raids because of its many labyrinth creeks, tidal rivers, inlets and secluded islands. It provided ideal hiding places for his ships and crew (and maybe his treasure?).
After years of marauding, raiding and terrorizing the seas, Blackbeard finally met his match at the hands of Lt. Robert Maynard, of the Royal Navy, off the coast of North Carolina near Ocracoke Island in 1718. After engaging in a sea battle with Maynard, Blackbeard and his crew stormed aboard Maynard’s ship, His Majesty’s Pearl, where they were met by Maynard and a dozen sailors who had been hiding in the hold. In a scene right out of a Hollywood movie, the arch-pirate and the dashing naval lieutenant faced each other with swords in hand. In the end (as in the movies) the good guy won. Blackbeard died with over 25 wounds to his body “with five shot in him and 20 dismal cuts in several parts of his body.” Maynard then decapitated Blackbeard, threw his body into the sea, and had his head strung up from the bowsprit as a warning to other pirates.
There are many legends that have followed his death. The one that I like the most is that it is believed that somewhere on one of Georgia’s barrier islands lies the buried treasure from this infamous pirate. Blackbeard bragged that “no one but he and the Devil knew where he kept his treasure hidden and the one that lived the longest could keep it.” I think I’m going to go watch Pirates of the Caribbean, then get myself a metal detector and do some treasure hunting. Care to join me?