Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Blackbeard's Family? You've got to be Joking!

By now, many of you probably realize that I have written something of a controversial article. It's not controversial anywhere else - just here in North Carolina - but with good reason. This article, titled “Born in Jamaica, of Very Creditable Parents” or “A Bristol Man Born”? Excavating the Real Edward Thache, “Blackbeard the Pirate,” in the July 2015 North Carolina Historical Review contradicts much that we North Carolinians have come to believe about our most popular pirate rock star. 

NOTE: This article has been reprinted as Blackbeard Reconsidered: Mist's Piracy, Thache's Genealogy, available on Amazon.com 

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It was never my intention to rebut our state's most "treasure"d history (little pun there). It is. You only have to call the Beaufort Maritime Museum and listen to their phone message that says "Home of the Queen Anne's Revenge," Blackbeard's 40-gun frigate.  It's not my imagination. 

I'm particularly aware of this problem - almost as disappointed as all of you. Still, before the Jamaican records discovery, none of us had a solid clue about Blackbeard's true origins, except for one somewhat unreliable source from 1724. Still, on his second try, Capt. Charles Johnson (actually, Nathaniel Mist) was right - Blackbeard probably was born in Bristol and he did live on Jamaica! But, owing to the lack of supporting evidence, Blackbeard's true name has, since 1724, become wide open to speculation and debate, as I explained in my article, in fact. 

Recent work on Blackbeard's family in North Carolina relied on the work of Beaufort County genealogists: the late John H. Oden III, Jane Stubbs Bailey and Allen Hart Norris. Their original theory that "Black Beard" may have been named "Edward Beard" and was the son of James Beard of Bath and Goose Creek, SC was an enticing idea and theory. Moreover, it explained many details. Not only that... it made Blackbeard one of our own! 

I loved this fresh idea! Alas, it was too good to be true. I definitely will miss that son of North Carolina part. Still, Lt. Gov. Spotswood murdered the guy in our backyard and the Queen Anne's Revenge is still lying on the bar of Beaufort, in our waters! So, we still own the guy, right? Right!

In fact, the story of how I found the Jamaican records intimately involved this same enticing Beard theory. It was August of last year (2014). I'm not really sure of the exact day, but I was actually working on an article for my blog. That article involved the social history of James Beard and his family. Like I said, I loved the Beard idea, too.

Let me just say that I have expertise in Colonial North Carolina's history, but I never saw myself as a pirate historian. I never sought to be a Blackbeard scholar. I liked social history far too much than to concentrate on anything of such violence as piracy entails. Besides, there is a lot of confusion in pirate history, most owing to Capt. Charles Johnson's A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates and of course, Treasure Island. Still, a significant portion of that confusion is directly owed to the plethora of unsubstantiated legend and speculation that has evolved throughout the last 125 years or so. So, to avoid the mess, I would study coastal communities, slavery, etc. - things that don't necessarily relate to murder, theft, explosions, and other popular and uniquely-American cinematic fare. 

Well, I was intrigued by the Beard possibility and, that one day in August, I thought I'd write about it - in my own social historian way - telling the genealogy of the Beard family. I never dreamed that I would one day (actually within the next few hours) be able to tell the Thache family history! 

Note: A fabulous result came through Blackbeard's brother, Cox Thache's Kingston family.

As I was writing this article, it occurred to me that someone may have a dispute about the Beard theory (had already heard about many) and wanted to be sure that there was no obvious record out there about any bloke named "Edward Teach" or appropriate variation living on Jamaica in the first two decades of the 18th century. If there was, there would be no point to writing the Beard blog entry, would there? I just hate it when someone nails me on something I should have caught - seeing as how I have two degrees (almost) and a reputation as a professional historian. It happens because I make mistakes, but the fewer I can get caught making... you know. So, I drive myself nuts trying to avoid these mistakes. I may need medication for this, too.

So, I carefully explored Ancestry.com (as I said, I am a social historian and have a world subscription to their site). I checked for "Edward Teach" on Jamaica between 1700 and 1720. To my complete and utter surprise and shock, I found one - well, "Thatch" anyway! I mean, I was just looking to cover my own tender backside - with damn good reason, as it turned out!


First record that I found on Jamaica for Edward "Thatch" and his family.


I checked the source: it was the Church of Latter Day Saints (well, of course!) and I found out that it came from microfilm (recently digitized, but available in Utah since the 1960s! - In Jamaica since the early 18th century!). I emailed the inter-library loan guys at ECU and asked if we could get those reels - they told me that it was already online!

After I picked myself off the floor - actually, I was still seated in my lounge chair, but astounded nevertheless - I explored those records and was able to put my genealogy talents to work (30 years in that). I had Blackbeard's family figured out in about two hours. Even more amazing, there was only one Thache family on the island, so if this was Blackbeard's home, like Johnson said in 1724, these simply had to be his kin. I was still in my lounge chair... and, by now, very hungry. 

A few months later, some searching (http://www.genealogyplusjamaica.com/ ) at the Register General's Department in Spanish Town, Jamaica based on these records revealed this deed:

Theache to Theache, 17 Dec 1706
Imagine my surprise when this elder Edward Thache had a son named Edward and he was in the Royal Navy in 1706!! Yep, a mariner... I was beyond saving, now!

I was in shock. I thought for sure that someone was playing a really nasty trick on me. Thus, the title exclamation: "Blackbeard's family! You've got to be joking!!" Why didn't this happen thirty years ago? Well, no internet or record digitization back then... still, why couldn't this happen to Lindley Butler or Colin Woodard or David Cordingly or - you get the idea - someone recognizable that no one would lynch or take after with pitchforks?

Anyway, I bravely went forward - nothing else I could do. Damn the torpedoes... er... pitchforks! 

Anyway, these days, I spend a lot of time working on the Thaches of Perquimans County, not just to restore Blackbeard to North Carolina, but they may actually belong to his Jamaican family - at least, there's some slight circumstantial evidence that may link them - still, no more real evidence than that which supported the Beard theory. Shall we expect a whole new set of theories and legends for Perquimans County? Yeah, probably...

So, my apologies to all those who got burned. Yes, I was one, too.

By the way, it turns out that a social historian can actually find social history in piracy. I learned that, thanks to Capt. Edward Thache of Spanish Town and his family. Thus, the book that I'm writing on... the families of pirates and what this actually means for how we perceive them in our world. 

Incidentally, early Anglican ministers in Jamaica are really to blame for our losing Blackbeard - they had the gall to record the births, marriages, and burials of his family - but on a remote island of the West Indies!!! And, maybe the LDS Church deserves some of that blame for hiding the microfilm from us in their vaults in Utah for the last half century and kept us from knowing long ago! Damn them!

I understand if you don't want to believe me - some guy you haven't even heard of - or the records' existence, but you have to believe David Stick. The eternal North Carolina conservationist, folklorist, and writer spent a lifetime studying and living in the Outer Banks. Stick well understood the lessons of history: Blackbeard was not North Carolinian. “The truth is, however,” he wrote, “that Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, was not born in North Carolina, or even in North America, and his activities around the Outer Banks lasted less than a year.”  

The facts even then, and as we now better understand them, do not support such a North Carolina origin. Still, he wrecked his ship here and we still  guard the gold dust and cannon with piratical precision!

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Note that this article has been edited from its original content. 11/5/15
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Blackbeard Reconsidered: Mist's Piracy, Thache's Genealogy on Amazon.com

Today's popular image of the pirate Blackbeard as a bloodthirsty criminal, "a Devil incarnate," has its origins in Nathaniel Mist's A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724). Mist's narrative only accounts for the last two years of Blackbeard's life, yet subsequent historians and scholars accepted and promoted this colorful but unsubstantiated image for three centuries. In Blackbeard Reconsidered, historian Baylus Brooks examines the myth of Blackbeard in the light of official government records in Jamaica and Church of England records. This new evidence allows Brooks to present the immediate lineage of Edward Thache, a respected resident of Spanish Town, Jamaica, and to place the gentleman's actions within an accurate historical context that successfully challenges the violent image of Blackbeard.


Was Blackbeard a GENTLEMAN? Historical records show feared pirate was actually an aristocratic family man who gave up his wealth to help his brother and sister







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If you still feel so inclined, 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 Christmas of 2015. 




Get the poster of Blackbeard's family history and other gift ideas at this address:
http://www.zazzle.com/quest4blackbeard

Come see my website at http://baylusbrooks.com - don't bring any pitchforks! Please. :)

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