Officially Offended: A Proclamation Against Blackbeard

Spotswood Proclamation

Authorized distribution of a reward proclamation for the capture or killing of pirates. Published November 11, 1718 with an emphasis on the capture or killing of  Blackbeard (Edward Teach). 

Blackbeard was slain November 22, 1718. An impressive amount of contemporary scholarship, modern fiction, and embellished narratives have been woven into the historic event implying that it happened overnight and the infamous pirate was gone. However, in an effort to weave Lt. Governor Spotswood further into Blackbeard’s demise, it is essential to look retrospectively; specifically, eleven days prior.

On November 11, 1718, Lt. Governor Spotswood called an assembly to authorize a proclamation. This proclamation, “publishing the rewards given for apprehending, or killing, Pyrates” further evidences Spotswood’s determination to wipe out piracy; and yet, Blackbeard is the only pirate identified by name, with a substantially higher reward than “every such pyrate, and pyrates”.[1]  Further investigation into the external factors regarding the authorization of the proclamation prove Spotswood’s prior knowledge of Blackbeard’s activity and emphasize his  resolve to return North Carolina to peacetime.

Considering the dates of each event, the argument for Spotswood’s direct involvement in staging a coup suggests that the subjects of North Carolina had been in communication with Spotswood for some time. However, when the reward differences are evaluated alongside the event dates, an argument can be made against Spotswood’s familiar, assertive behavior.  With the proclamation dated the 11 November and Blackbeard’s demise on 22 November, an argument can be made that while Spotswood may have been in contact with residents of North Carolina for a period of time, concern of the survival of Blackbeard and his crew could have prompted the premature authorization for Blackbeard’s bounty of 100 pounds – a much larger sum than any other pirate captain or commander detailed in the proclamation. 

However, to counter this possibility, prior evidence available to both Lt. Governor Spotswood and modern historians suggests that previous pardons granted to Blackbeard were abused. Charles Johnson illustrates a particular instance where, “Teach goes up to the Governor of North-Carolina, with about twenty of his men, surrender to his Majesty’s Proclamation, and receive certificates thereof, from his excellency; but it did not appear that their submitting to this pardon was from any reformation of manners, but only to wait a more favourable opportunity to play the same game over again”.[2] The ‘game’ that Johnson refers to is the “time cultivated” with Charles Eden, the Governor of North Carolina.[3] By not authorizing a pardon and instead issuing a proclamation, Lt. Governor Spotswood’s actions suggest his awareness of the alleged corruption scandal.  Additionally, formatting his proclamation from a 1717 royal proclamation indicates a calculated consideration for possible repercussions, such as Blackbeard surviving the coup yet still walks away with a substantial bounty for his head.[4] An interesting question to unpack is whether or not Spotswood’s concern for the political ramifications of overstepping his jurisdiction once again affected his resolve in anyway. Spotswood’s leap to releasing a reward proclamation for the capture or death of Blackbeard, coupled with Blackbeard’s feigning surrender and pretending to employ in trade to elude authorities, indicates no such disposition.

However, it is quite a different story if Lt. Governor Spotswood was aware of the corruption in North Carolina. 


[1] "Proclamations for apprehending pirates and proroguing the general assembly" (Proclamation, The National Archives, Kew, CO 5/1339 1700/07/10), accessed July 22, 2020, Named ‘Edward Teach’, rather than Blackbeard. 

[2] Johnson, A General History, 75.

[3] Johnson, 75.

[4] Cordingly, Under the Black Flag, 206.