Monday, May 11, 2009

Blackbeard's Home Away From Home

Bath, NC is the state's oldest incorporated town, founded in 1705. Bath is not a big place, although several people have chosen the quiet little getaway town as their home during their retirement on Catnip Point, on the left after crossing Bath Town Creek on Highway 92. If you turn right on main, you will find the historic district with older homes and businesses on the waterfront. There must be a half dozen historic markers within a block of Craven and Main streets.

The most popular attraction of this little community is parked right beside one of those historical markers on Main street just before a curve to the left that opens up a magnificent vista of the mouth of Bath Town Creek where it opens into Pamlico Sound. This is a great spot to view all water traffic in and out of the creek, including a fairly deep harbor facing a small cliff where you will find the town itself as well as a small, reddish plank cabin next to a marker that says "Edward Teach."

Mr. Teach was obviously a well-respected resident of Bath at one time. Governor Charles Eden himself even married the middle-aged Teach to a young slip of a girl, thought to be Mary Ormond. Mr. Teach had a reputation in the small, remote North Carolina community. However, his reputation outside of Bath was somewhat notorious, Teach having the habit of plying coastal waters in search of misadventure as the cutthroat blaggard "Blackbeard" the pirate!

Fascinating is his home in such a prominent place within Bath and his intimate relationship with the governor of the colony as well as the governor's custom's agent, Tobias Knight. After all, upon Teach's death in 1718, a letter was found on his body from Tobias Knight, indicating friendship and the possible friendship of Governor Eden... a somewhat embarassing turn of events when the pirate was captured by an agent of Governor Alexander Spotswood's of Virginia. Lt. Robert Maynard had Knight's property searched after Blackbeard's capture only to discover a great cache of pirate booty in Knight's barn, under some fodder and hay. I seriously doubt if Knight could claim that he wasn't trying to keep it hidden... perhaps guiltily aware of its origins. A trial ensued in Virginia where two of Blackbeard's crew were hung, the rest later finding their way back to Bath. Governor Eden, of course, was strongly recommended to try Knight for his involvement in a North Carolina court only to be released after testimony of a questionable character witness. Spotswood was, of course, furious... and helpless to counter the affairs of a fellow colony.

Eden eventually lives a productive and well-respected life in North Carolina, later buried in Edenton, with a tombstone indicating the gratitude of his constituents and friends. Knight, however, dies only a year after the "pirate" affair, supposedly by natural means. However, the timing seems a bit convenient.

Bath residents, like many of those near the infamous Outer Banks, seem no better than pirates themselves... perhaps why they viewed Blackbeard as only the Bath resident, "Edward Teach." In 1696, Edward Randolph, Surveyor General of British Customs in the American colonies, complained to Parliament that “Pyrats & runaway Servants resort to this place (NC) from Virginia” (pg. 23, David Stick, 1958). The years 1699 and 1700 found Randolph filing articles of “high crimes and misdemeanors” against the governors themselves, specifically acting Governor Henderson Walker in “a case of suspected piracy on Currituck Banks.”

The Outer Banks’ reputation for shipwrecks created the infamy of “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” a phrase Alexander Hamilton coined in 1790, remembering a nearly fatal encounter there as a child. Bankers occupied a most dangerous place where pilfering the “Graveyard” became a necessity.

When the needs of Bankers could not be met by this passive practice alone, residents would resort to active, deceptive tactics. For example, they might tie a lantern under the neck of a lame horse and lead him along the shore at night. The light, as seen from a passing ship, would appear to the crew of that ship as the bobbing lantern of another ship at safe anchorage. The ship would be drawn closer in the deception that it was far enough from shore to avoid the sandbars. Inevitably, it would strike one of these sandbars and wreck. This practice gave Bankers salvaged goods to pick from as they plundered the hapless vessel, doubtless killing off any of the crew that did not drown.

So, it is reasonable to assume that residents of a colony inhabited by pirates, working side by side with pirates, profiting off of piracy, and welcoming the activities of someone as notorious as Edward Teach, might very well BE pirates... albeit without a ship.

James Robbins and Edward Salter are two of Blackbeard's crew whose lives after the Virginia trial can be followed with relative certainty. They, of course, lived in Bath or nearby. Robbins character is as questionable as Edward Teach's reputation, commented on by Daniel Defoe in 1724:

"Before he sailed upon his Adventures, he marry'd a young Creature of about sixteen Years of Age, the Governor performing the Ceremony. As it is a Custom to marry here by a Priest, so it is there by a Magistrate; and this, I have been informed, made Teach's fourteenth Wife, whereof, about a dozen might be still living. His Behaviour in this State, was something extraordinary; for while his Sloop lay in Okerecock Inlet, and he ashore at a Plantation, where his Wife lived, with whom after he had lain all Night, it was his Custom to invite five or six of his brutal Companions… force her to prostitute herself to them all."

Observe this notation from the Beaufort County Deeds:

"Deposition of Thomas Unday, Beaufort Precinct, being of full age, swore that sometime in Jan. 1718, at the plantation that is now James Robbins, one Elizabeth Goodin, with Sarah Montague did go to bed in the same house one night, and that presently after one James Robbins did go into bed between them, with his shirt and breeches only on, then said the same Elizabeth Goodin, Mr. Robbins why do you come to bed with your breeches on? Whereon the said Robbins pulled off his breeches and went into bed between them again, and there did lay that night with them, and in the morning following, the aforesaid Sarah Montague arose and left the said James Robbins and Elizabeth Goodin in bed together, and this deponent further saith that at the same time he gave the said James Robbins and Elizabeth Goodin each a dram of liquor called rum as they lay in bed together . . ."

Edward Salter, on the other hand, seems to have diverged from his life of piracy to enjoy his ill-begotten riches as something of a gentleman. His plantation seems to have been further inland from Bath and his will (Beaufort County, NC) tells something of his success:

Will of Edward Salter, Bath County 06 Jan 1734 : Probated 05 Feb 1734
Son: Edward. Daughters: Sarah, Mary and Susannah. Sons-in-law:
Miles Harvey and John Harvey. Wife: Elizabeth. Following lands devised:
306 acres on south side of Pamlico River called Mount Colvert; land
purchased of John Swann; lands on Bear Creek, Pamlico River and the
Beaver Dam of Grays Creek, "whereon John Arrington now dwells.“
About 25 negroes, one periauger, one brigantine named The Happy Luke,
one pair silver spurs, Richard Bloom's History of the Bible and other books
"of Divinity, Law and History," large China Punch bowl bequeathed. Brigantine
ordered laden with tar and sent to Boston, there to be sold and proceeds
invested in young negroes; provision is made for insurance of said vessel with
Jacob Windall & Co., in the sum of 1,200 pounds. Daughter, Sarah, is left in
care of Mrs. Sarah Porter of Cape Fear. Provision is made for education of son
"to make him a compleat merchant." Executors: Edward Moseley, John Odeon,
John Caldam, Thomas Bonner, William Willis, William Adams. Proven before
Gab. Johnston. Coat of arms on seal. Witnesses: Walley Chauncey, Benjamin
Rigney, Walter Dixson, Roger Jones.

Early North Carolina history takes on a rather different perspective after reading the deed and court records of Beaufort County. Apparently, piracy is in our blood. It's simply natural for a North Carolinian. Perhaps that fact explains why I chose to return to school at East Carolina University. After all, their mascot is "PeeDee the Pirate!"

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