The Demise of Blackbeard

Edward Teach, alias Blackbeard, was one of the most feared and respected pirates operating out of the shores of the North American Atlantic and Caribbean Sea during the 1716 through 1718. Despite his fearful reputation, Blackbeard was a well-read individual suggesting he was born into a wealthy, gentile family. It has also been reported that Edward Teach, before his pirating days, was a privateer in the Royal Navy. In the context of the narrative, this information is useful because it demonstrates an ability to work outside the limits of illicit sea mauradering and act in a calculated, manipulative manner.  These characteristics suggest that his residency in North Carolina was not by chance, but through careful manipulation of Governor Eden. 

On November 22, 1718, just as Blackbeard made his last stand, Lt. Governor Spotswood simultaneously enjoyed his most defining act in the war against pirates. Lieutenant Robert Maynard, under the commission of Lt. Governor Spotswood, led two sloops from the James River down to Ocracoke Inlet. The details of the battle, while a fascinating account, do not compare to the aftermath. In an effort to symbolize the eradication of pirates, Lt. Maynard took Blackbeard’s severed head and impaled it onto the bowsprit of his sloop.  The remainder of Blackbeard’s crew was found by Captain Brand, another figure enlisted by Spotswood, in Bath, North Carolina.  After Lt. Maynard eliminated Blackbeard, a search and seizure was performed on the ship uncovering proof of the political corruption in North Carolina at the hands of Governor Eden.  Correspondence between Blackbeard and Governor Eden reinforced the North Carolinian’s claims to Eden's duplicity. Information within the letters disclosed the location of Governor Eden's portion of the plunder obtained from Blackbeard's assault and seizure of a French vessel. 

Captain Teach commonly call'd Black Beard

Embellished rendering of Blackbeard  (Edward Teach) highlighting his notoriously fearsome appearance

Spotswood to Lord Cartwright

Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood debriefing Lord John Cartwright, proprietor of North Carolina on the fall of Blackbeard and the distribution of his plunder. Dated February 14, 1718 [1719].

Interestingly, a comparison between correspondence Spotswood sent regarding piracy in the Bahamas and the letters with Lord John Cartwright, Proprietor of North Carolina, contain strikingly similar language. Spotswood's rhetoric reflects his disregard to authority, but in a manner of which he feels is justified.  Particularly interesting was his explanation was to why Lord Cartwright was not informed of the matter.  Not only did Spotswood admit to the secrecy of the coup, but also deflected his justification onto Cartwright himself writing,

"living very remote from hence, in a place thinly gov'r must have been more exposed to their revenge for being let into that secret". [1]

The most astounding admission from Spotswood eludes to his prior knowledge of the corruption, which suggests that his determination upholds the argument that his role in the war against pirates positively affected both social and political imbalances. Spotswood writes, “I did not so much as communicate to His Majesty’s Council here, nor to any other person but those who were necessarily to be employed in the execution, least among the many favourers of pyrates we have in these parts some of them might send intelligence to Tach [Edward Teach]”.[1] The familiar, apologetic language found in Spotswood’s correspondence, paired with the correspondence from Blackbeard's sloop, highlights the internal stuggle between Spotswood’s determination to eradicate pirates, but to also save face since his commission first began. 

By focusing on the shared narrative between Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood and Blackbeard, exploration into correspondance and legislation revealed Spotswood's profound impact on the social and political imbalance that affected colonial governorships and imperial administration. THroughout this exhibit, the exploration into Spotswood's language, actions, and legislation revealed two things: his internal struggle with political heirarchy and the personal determination to promote anti-piracy campagins regardless of the reprecussions.  

This exhibit attempted to uncover the role Spotswood played in the anti-piracy arena.  His accomplishments are absent from the discussion of Blackbeard proving that his relationship to Blackbeard was solely linked to his death.  However, as I have presented, that is not the case.  From the beginning of Spotswood's commission, his path to Blackbeard's demise was a long, but ultimately successful one. The relationship between Spotswood and Blackbeard tells the story of how anti-pircy campaigns affected both political and social realms with an emphasis on the power struggle within the colonial governorships. While it is clear that Spotswood did not have a good relationship with the Virginian elite, his impact through unapproved anti-piracy campaigns solidified his name in the study of early Atlantic information exchange.


[1] Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood, correspondence to Lord John Cartwright, February 14, 1718 [1719]. 

[1] Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood, correspondence to Lord John Cartwright, February 14, 1718 [1719].