Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jane Teach, "Free Negro Woman" of Kingston, Jamaica

Jane? in front of the Thache Family Church of St. Catherine's Parish, Jamaica

Kingston Harbor, Jamaica, ca 1870 - Kingston is across the bay
I like to imagine that the woman in the first picture of this blog standing in the road, patiently posed in the foreground, is Jane, the African slave of a local Jamaican planter. It’s not because I’d like her to be enslaved, but because this particular slave that I imagine became the consort of Cox Thache, half-brother of Edward, also known as “Blackbeard the Pirate.” I’m a historian and I ironically write on pirates and social history!

I like to think that Jane held a measure of respect from Cox, that she was more than just a prostitute to Blackbeard’s brother – that she and the Thaches somehow endured when the sons of Capt. Edward Thache of Spanish Town, Jamaica could not.

Jane was the chattel property of William Tyndall/Tindale, a planter who lived in the lower part of St. Andrew’s Parish. This place on the south Liguanea plain became Kingston in July 1692. Kingston, early on, had become a refuge for displaced citizens of Port Royal, the famed pirate capital on the long thin peninsula, the Palisadoes, after the devastating earthquake  and tsunami of that summer. The subsequent fire of Nick Catania’s Pirate Fleet in 1703 secured the port town’s downfall and Kingston’s future, despite the thousands of deaths from mosquito-born illnesses on the St. Andrews shore.

Not far to the west of Kingston, in the midst of Port Royal’s uncertainty, Cox Thache was born 8th of July 1700 in St. Catherine’s Parish to Capt. Edward and Lucretia Thache, in the old capital of St. Jago de la Vega. This enduring city was also known as “Spanish Town” by the English after conquering Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655. Jamaica survived on the proceeds of piracy ever since, having invited the buccaneers of Tortuga to serve as a protective military force in lieu of the Royal Navy. 

Still, Jamaica enjoyed a substantial and influential well-born segment of their society. Cox Thache’s parents belonged to these affluent aristocrats and was probably named for local assemblyman Thomas Cox. Assemblyman Cox argued for preserving Port Royal following the attempt to abandon that port town due to the hurricane and fire in 1703. At that point, Kingston then took Port Royal’s prominence and later became Jamaica’s capital.

Cox Thache may have been favored by Thomas Cox – perhaps an apprentice or a godson (his sister Rachel’s godfather was Dr. Thomas Stuart, also of Spanish Town who deeded Rachel a slave girl named “Sabina” when she was only a year old). Cox was favored by someone, for he never appeared on documents naming his sister and brother Thomas, nor their niece Elizabeth, about the same age as them and raised by their mother Lucretia in the Thache family home. 

Elizabeth is surprisingly and most likely the daughter of Edward “Blackbeard” Thache, probably born in Kingston! That she appeared in their household as an equal probably indicates a free white status; it also indicates that Edward was likely once married there before joining the Royal Navy on the 60-gun HMS Windsor.

Cox may have apprenticed at an early age to an artilleryman and later became the captain of artillery at Fort Nugent in nearby Kingston. Capt. (later, Vice-Admiral) Edward “Old Grog” Vernon had met Cox Thache and referred to him in a letter to Charles Leslie in which he also mentioned his mother and brother “Blackbeard,” probably not long after Blackbeard’s death in Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina on 22 November 1718 and also around the time of Cox’s entry into his new captaincy. 

The reason that we know of this slave woman Jane is because of the child that she bore, and the grandchild by that child, two known mixed-race descendants of the artillery captain Cox Thache. There may have been many other children that may never have appeared in christening records. Those that did only appeared at much later dates than their births, presumably for another reason, perhaps upon their sale, rather than to merely record their existence as with other residents.

Here, in Kingston, Cox met Jane – at least by 1721. The next year, she gave birth to a baby girl and Cox was posthumously named as her father a quarter of a century later. They, or perhaps he, more accurately, named the child “Lucretia,” after his own mother in Spanish Town.
The younger Lucretia was not christened by the Kingston Parish Church at birth, which most likely could have performed the ceremony since records there began in 1722. Rather, her christening occurred on 2 January 1746, when she was 24 years old, after the death of Jane’s master William Tindale in 1734 and Cox Thache’s death in 1737. At her christening, Jane was still bound to Tindale’s estate.

Lucretia "Teach's" christening record in Kingston, 2 Jan 1746
Cox’s daughter Lucretia may have had a brother – or Blackbeard, who also lived in Kingston, may have had a son – for on 24 February 1730, a “John Teach” was buried in Kingston. His age and race are not mentioned, as with other English and Huguenot residents, and he is presumed to be white:

Burial record of "John Teach" in Kingston, 24 Feb 1730
Several slaves, listed as either “Negro” or “Mulatto” were born in relation to the Thache family or the slaves that they owned. In 1731, a “mulatto” Mary “Teatch” was born in St. Catherines Parish and may have been the daughter of either Cox or his brother, mariner Thomas Thache with a slave, possibly one from the Thache estate. 

Another “negro” “Lucretia Theach” of St. Catherines Parish was born ca 1706 and christened in 1753, probably the daughter of one of the Thache family’s own slaves. She, too, was named for the matriarch of the Thache family, Capt. Edward’s second wife, three-time widow Lucretia Poquet [Maverly Axtell] Thache.

Just one year after her christening, on 18 January 1747, Cox’s 25-year-old daughter Lucretia “Teach” gave birth to a baby boy named “Jonathan,” the son of John Parkinson. He was christened the following 30 December 1748. The Anglican Church of Jamaica seems to have begun christening most children born at this mid-eighteenth-century stage.

At this time, Jane was still bound to Tindale’s estate. Cox had returned to the family estate in Spanish Town at least by 1736. He made his will there, but apparently he did not take Jane with him, for he neither listed her in his will, made no provision for her manumission, nor did he do the same for his daughter Lucretia – the girl that he named for his mother. He did leave instructions that a “Negro Man Slave Joe” be manumitted after the death of his own mother, Lucretia, perhaps to serve her needs in her advancing age. But, no mention of his daughter, the possible son, or the slave woman who bore them. 

This seems heartless to us in the modern day, but judging Cox Thache on this basis may make us guilty of presentism. We cannot make the error of removing him and his actions from his historic context. In the eighteenth century, especially to aristocratic families, class was a strong factor in human relations and was not ignored in favor of moral argument as it is in more progressive societies today.

Codicil of Cox Thache's will of 1736 in which he manumits a slave named "Joe"

What we do know is that none of the Thache men survived or had surviving male children. Edward “Blackbeard” Thache was hunted down by the Royal Navy in Ocracoke Inlet, near to his famed “Thache’s Hole,” or hiding place in 1718. His half-brother Cox passed in 1737, step-mother Lucretia in 1743, and younger half-brother mariner Thomas Thache in St. George Middlesex, England in 1748. None by the name of “Thache” remained in Jamaica afterward.

Jane may have lived a long life there in Kingston, most likely as a slave, but the newer records that we have are surprisingly not for the same Jane. We have no other sources to date concerning what happened to the mother Jane, slave of William Tindale. 

Still, the younger Jane Teach, possibly a sister of Lucretia Teach also born to her father Cox (Edward died in 1718, 4 years before her birth), gained her freedom. On 10 April 1787, at the age of 65, Jane “Teache” was buried in the “Negro Burying Ground” on the west end of Kingston. She was also listed as a “free Negro woman.” This Jane had gained her freedom. She was also the last person named “Teach” or other variant to have ever lived on Jamaica!

This Jane would be almost exactly the same age as Lucretia, perhaps a sister. It’s hard to tell, the records are distressingly sparse. It is evident that her location of Kingston probably paired her to Blackbeard’s brother.

"Jane Teache" burial in "Negro Burying Ground" of Kingston, 10 Apr 1787
Portion of Hay's map of Kingston (1745) showing the "Negro Burying Ground"
The Thache brothers all died young and apparently left no surviving male heirs, thus no one named “Thache.” Still, the matrilineal blood of Edward “Blackbeard” Thache and his family may still course in the veins of the Jamaicans of African descent population still alive today. The Thache women may have persevered.

Jane is perhaps patiently and quietly awaiting our departure in that banner photo… her descendants, the women, have kept the Thache family secret these many centuries and she would continue to keep the faith – only we have disturbed the seal on their remote Caribbean island time capsule, abruptly driving the truth back to the light of inquiry.  I almost feel sad for that. Still, it was almost 300 years and we just had to know!

Read more about the family of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache and the world in which he lived in the book Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World, to be released around the beginning of January 2016. 

Preview book at:

Author's website:

Get the posters of Blackbeard's genealogy and pirate timeline at this address:

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