The Outer Banks of North Carolina is home to a great number of legends, and perhaps even more legendary characters. None of these seem to shine quite as brightly as the tall tales surrounding the many pirates who once haunted these waters. The mystery surrounding these enigmatic figures has captivated every adventure minded young (or young at heart)person for as long as the tales have been told. A life of adventure and daring do, sailing the seas with no regard for law or order, plundering and pillaging as you please. Of these tales, perhaps none is more widely regarded or retold than the tale of one Edward Teach, perhaps the Outer Banks most notorious pirate. Blackbeard.
The legend of Blackbeard is perhaps one of the most thrilling stories told in modern folklore, with the added bonus of being, within reason, based completely on fact. Records from Blackbeard’s heyday are somewhat vague, but he is believed to be directly responsible for the loss of hundreds of ships and more sailors lives than can be counted. A ruthless and relentless captain, his reputation for savagery has remained as vibrant and blood soaked through the centuries following his death as they were when the man himself still sailed the waters of coastal North Carolina.
Legend would have us believe that Blackbeard was in direct league with Old Scratch himself. Upon sighting his quarry, Blackbeard would place cannon fuses under the brim of his hat, which would burn slow and hot, before boarding the soon to be captured ship. Imagine, if you would, being aboard a merchant vessel, laden with gold and goods, when through the smoke of cannon fire a tall dark figure emerged. His very countenance shrouded in smoke, laughing manically and brandishing a pair of pistols. A chipped and worn cutlass hangs at his side. The smell of gunpowder and sulfur fills the air. The Devil himself has come for you, and if you cannot pay with gold, you must pay with your soul.
It seems only fitting that Blackbeard’s tale finds its end in the shallow waters of Ocracoke inlet. Alexander Spotswood, governor of Virgina, at his wits end, petitioned a military action against the pirate threat, and so it was that Robert Maynard and his crew set sail and cornered Blackbeard and his crew. All accounts tell us that the fight was furious and bloody. Volleys of cannon fire and musket balls were exchanged before Maynard and his men boarded Blackbeards flag ship. Somehow, in the madness of battle, the two captains came face to face. Blackbeard, tall and lean, and Maynard in his Royal Navy uniform, stood face to face. Each carried in one hand a pistol, and the other, a sword.
The adversaries aimed their pistols and fired. Blackbeard shot missed wide, while Maynards found its mark. Wounded, but unconcerned, Blackbeard raised his cutlass and swung, the force of his blow snapping the blade of Maynards sword in two. Now unarmed, Maynard presumably made his peace with God as Blackbeard began to make the killing blow. As Blackbeard raised his sword, a blade from behind him snuck around his throat and opened it wide. Maynard was saved, and Blackbeard fell to his knees, his lifes blood spilling onto the deck of his ship.
The stories say before he died, Blackbeard was shot over a dozen times and cut by blades more times than any man could withstand. Whether or not this is true, what we do know is what happened after the great pirate breathed his last. Maynard took his head and hung it from the bow of his sloop. The body was thrown overboard into the waters of the Atlantic. They say the headless corpse swam three times around the ship before slipping quietly beneath the waves. The waters off the shore of Ocracoke were tinted red with blood. Even today, the legend goes, if you look out into the waters around Ocracoke, or dive too deep, Edward Teach and Old Scratch will be there, waiting to greet you, and hoping that maybe, just maybe, you’ll be willing to join their crew.