Thursday, April 06, 2017

Blackbeard's Fatal Battle with Politics - Lies!

Haematoxylum "bloodwood" campechianum or Logwood
Capt. William Wyer of Boston traded in Jamaica routinely for at least a decade in the early 18th century. After a brief stop in that island about the middle of March 1718, he left the Jamaican port of Port Royal in his ship, Protestant Caesar, bound for the Bay of Honduras. Like many before him, his intent was to load with logwood, a 30-40 foot tall, irregular-trunked tree whose dark heartwood is still used today as a source of dark bluish-red dye, nearly black, most notably in the biological stain hematoxylin. 

This profitable tree was found from southern Mexico to Central America, straddling the Bay of Campeach north of the Yucatan Peninsula, and to the south in the Bay of Honduras, both territories that long belonged to Spain. English crews, either under treaty with the Spanish or not, had often illegally cut the lucrative wood for nearly a century, despite the dangers from their Spanish owners.*  
* Later, Dr. Henry Barham Jr. (once husband of Elizabeth Thache before her death, presumed daughter of the famed pirate Edward "Blackbeard" Thache),  transplanted logwood to his plantation in St. Elizabeth Parish, Jamaica in the mid-18th century. This Henry was the son of naturalist and author Henry Barham and his wife Alice, who made their home in Spanish Town, Jamaica in the late 17th century.
Stealing Spanish trees was only part of the ideology of the times. The formative years of America was the century of Stuart rule (former Scottish king James VI or England's James I from 1603 to Queen Anne, ending in 1713). Virginia, New England, and Carolina were all settled by the Stuarts during this period. Furthermore, in the England and West Indies of the Stuarts, the main point was treasure - greed and profit - to steal everything Spain and France owned, including the land and the trees that grew there. Piracy was policy.

William Wyer, master of briganteen Adventure, shown in this 1712 Jamaican shipping record on the same page as later pirate Henry Jennings, then master of the sloop Diamond.

After departing Port Royal and sailing 360 miles (120 leagues) toward the Bay of Honduras, Protestant Caesar encountered a pirate sloop of ten guns off the island of Rattan [Roatan] nearly two weeks later. Protestant Caesar well over matched and outgunned the 10-gun sloop, at 400 tons and 26 guns. Still, at nine o'clock on the evening of March 28, 1718, the daring pirate sloop came under Wyer's stern and fired several cannon and a round of small shot into Protestant Caesar. 


Determined to resume his voyage, Wyer returned fire with two stern chase guns and a similar volley of small shot. The pirate hailed Wyer in English that if he fired again, they would "give him no Quarter." Not intimidated by the smaller vessel, Wyer continued his defense. The two vessels exchanged fire for three hours, with the pirate sloop breaking off the engagement and making sail northward. Wyer's Protestant Caesar must have been alone, for the pirate sloop would not have dared take on more ships!

Wyer continued his course for the southern coast of modern Belize to gather the logwood, arriving on the first of April. He remained there for a week, loading his ship. On the 8th, Wyer and his crew had already loaded 50 tons with more cut and ready to load waiting on shore. On the following 12th, Capt. Wyer's Protestant Caesar would see its demise... again, at the hands of pirates. The pirate sloop would return... with a much larger companion.

While Capt. Wyer loaded his wood, north of Roatan, near the island of Turneff, Thomas Newton in the sloop Land of Promise, spied a large ship accompanied by several sloops approaching him on April 5th. As they neared, he must have recognized the "black flags with death's heads" in them and realized they were pirates. It may have been a relief to Newton that they were not Spaniards because the Spanish would probably not treat them as well as Englishmen, pirate or not! He would soon surrender and come face to face with Blackbeard himself - Capt. Edward Thache of the Queen Anne's Revenge. With Newton in tow, Thache continued on to the Bay of Honduras. He was in search of Protestant Caesar, specifically, and he had a score to settle! He found Wyer and his crew loading their cargo of logwood.

Artist's conception of QAR at Bequia in the French Windward Islands, ca Dec 1717
A Little About Edward Thache:

These events seem incidental, but they are very important in regards to a part of Blackbeard's tale that has maligned him for 300 years! Specifically, the "notorious" parts found in a long-revered text of 1724 and added to his final days in North Carolina: beginning with the alleged purposeful wrecking of his flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge. The details following this event of his sexual carnage and evil behavior are legend - they are probably also outright lies.

Son of wealthy plantation owner Capt. Edward Thache, Edward Thache, Jr. of St. Jago de la Vega or Spanish Town, Jamaica, was an ex-Royal Navy man who had served aboard HMS Windsor during Queen Anne's War. After the war and the end of Stuart rule, this Jamaican gentleman turned pirate for probable political reasons against the new Whiggish or liberal German King George I (who spoke no English) and to fish highly lucrative Spanish wrecks on the coast of Florida - an unprecedented 11 wrecked vessels in all with 14,000,000 pesos worth of silver alone! A fortune for thousands and, for Thache and gentlemen like him, a damned good reason to defy a liberal or anti-Stuart government 3,000 miles away!

Before coming to the Bay of Honduras, he had just captured the French slaver La Concorde about four months earlier. That was 60 miles northeast of Martinique. Captain Charles Johnson, in the questionable A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724), stated that Benjamin Hornigold (the supposed mentor) and Edward Thache (surprisingly, the alleged "pupil" of a common pirate) together had accomplished this feat. 

This story had long held favor among pirate enthusiasts for lack of records to admonish Johnson's account. French records, however, do just that and completely dispel this rumor, stating that the two pirate vessels were 12-gun (Revenge) and an 8-gun sloop (probably Thache's older vessel), both under Thache's command. Still, Johnson's derogatory account persists. See French record excerpt for the capture of La Concorde below:

Actual copy of French record showing that "tous les deux," or "both vessels were commanded by Edward Thache, Englishman."
After taking La Concorde, Thache fitted her with extra guns and assumed command. He quit the sloop Revenge, in which he had captured the undermanned and undergunned slaver, giving command of Revenge to one Richards. Thache's pirates had lingered among the French Windwards until nearly Christmas, when the pirate forces in America had supposedly plotted an attack upon the French capital of St. Domingue (modern Haiti and long an old enemy of Jamaica). Rumors told to the French authorities by French pirate Jean Martel (also declared to be English by the fallible Johnson) were that as many as 17 pirate vessels planned the attack on Pètit Goâve. Martel had been worried that his brother and sister-in-law, who lived there would be in danger. 

Apparently, the massive attack on Pètit Goâve never occurred. Pirates, especially wealthy gentlemen with much to lose, likely lost interest in such radical endeavors after the king offered his pardon. Thache, though, as a staunch Stuart conservative, obviously wanted to continue the fight. La Concorde was the perfect weapon to do just that. He renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge, signifying his intent to fight against the liberals in a new Britain who wanted piracy eradicated in America. 

The newly -formed Board of Trade passed reforming legislation to that effect since the day it formed in 1694, following in the footsteps of William of Orange a few years earlier. Piracy, the tool of older Stuart Tory conservatives no longer served the national purpose - indeed, pirates hampered Britain's endeavors in times of peace. The days of pirate heroes ended - at least for England - poetically coinciding with the death of Sir Henry Morgan on Jamaica in 1688. Still, America, 3,000 miles away from a government they began to despise, still remembered the ideology that made them great and profitable. They longed for the glory days of the Stuarts to return!

For most of December 1717 and the winter to come, Thache and Richards probably remained in the Caribbean. They also probably had contact with Thache's family in Spanish Town, Jamaica, perhaps to dispose of slaves they had taken in La Concorde. Capt. Jonathan Bernard, whose family was also of Spanish Town, and some of his vessels probably accompanied Thache and Richards to the Bay of Honduras the next Spring 1718, flying "bloody red flags," usually meant to indicate "no quarter" to be given. 

By late March and early April, Thache and his flotilla cruised the Bay of Honduras. Revenge and QAR briefly split up, Revenge meeting with Protestant Caesar on the 28th of March and losing the fight. After Richards in Revenge rejoined Thache and informed him of the lost battle, the experienced pirate searched for Protestant Caesar, finding Land of Promise first at the Island of Turneff.

Details of these events in the Bay of Honduras are supplied through Thomas Newton and William Wyer, both of whom found their way to Rhode Island in Newton's sloop. Their story is found in the Boston News-Letter issue of June 16, 1718. No one had reason to dispute them.


There is, however, another contradictory tale of these events from a few months later. It is found in the deposition of David Herriot at pirate Stede Bonnet's trial at Charleston, South Carolina, in October 1718. This tale is probably not entirely true - having evolved through an elaborate deception by Herriot, trying to avoid the noose, and colonial administrators to ruin Capt. Edward "Blackbeard" Thache. The Board of Trade wanted more than to capture the dangerous Thache. As a pirate, he was certainly dangerous to British shipping concerns, but perhaps there was also a political reason to stop this ex-Royal Navy pirate.

David Herriot's trial deposition in Charleston was a key piece of evidence used by Johnson in his book - evidence against Blackbeard. Still, Herriot appears to have lied in that deposition about his own innocence and - probably through coercion of Board-appointed Admiralty authorities in Charleston - about Edward Thache's actions in North Carolina. Johnson's list of Thache's foul deeds in North Carolina is unparalleled for its ruthlessness - and also for its lack of proof - other than this deposition!

Events surrounding Herriot's joining with Thache, Bonnet, and Richards, allegedly at the Bay of Honduras, may not have occurred as Herriot told in his deposition. He probably joined them freely in Jamaica, but wanted to exonerate himself, to be sure. Freely joining pirates would not look so innocent to the Admiralty. The Admiralty was after Thache and Herriot likely recognized similar goals between them. They developed a pact. 

The following is Herriot's version of events at the Island of Turneff in early April when Thache and his partners arrived and took Land of Promise. Herriot explained in his deposition:
That about the 4th or 5th of April last this Deponent [Herriot] came into the Bay of Turneff, about ten Leagues from the Bay of Honduras, and there saw a Ship and two Sloops [Newton mentioned no other ships with him in his version], which this Deponent first apprehended to be Capt. Wyar, who came out of Jamaica with four other Sloops about a Week before this Deponent, and designed to come to an Anchor there. But soon after he perceiving the said Ship did not belong to the said Wyar, this Deponent took them for Spaniards, and then tacked about, and then the Ship fired a Gun at this Deponent's Sloop [Adventure]; and the said Sloop Revenge, then commanded by one Richards, a Pirate, slipped her Cable, and came up to this Deponent with a Black Flag hoisted, and ordered this Deponent to hoist out his Boat, and come on board them, which he did; and then the said Sloop Revenge sent five of their Hands in this Deponent's Boat back again to this Deponent's Sloop, and brought this Deponent's Sloop to an Anchor under the Ship's Stern. [Herriot testified - probably falsely - that he was taken on April 4th or 5th, 1717.]
Says, That the Ship which this Deponent imagined to belong to Mr. Wyar, was a Ship of forty Guns mounted, named the Queen Anne's Revenge, commanded by one Edward Thatch, a Pirate. And says, He then was inform'd by the Pirate Crew, that the said Major Stede Bonnet was on board the said Thatch, but out of Command, being some time before turn'd out of his Command by the said Thatch and the Pirate Crew, as he was inform'd.
Herriot had likely worded his version of the tale to make it appear that he had been innocently passing by when Thache and Richards captured him and forced him and his ship to join their pirate band. Still, Daniel Axtell, the man who contracted for Herriot to go to that location was the co-owner of pirate sloop Barsheba and co-conspirator with Capt. Henry Jennings, gentleman pirate of Bermuda and Jamaica. According to one deposition [Joseph Eels], the future Jamaican Assemblyman was complicit in disposing of the French goods stolen by Jennings in April 1716 and was then arrested for it. Axtell was likely also friends with Thache and Bernard. Axtell was an important man, so Herriot probably felt confident by mentioning him in his deposition.

David Herriot feared that he may be hanged for piracy at White Point in Charleston. His testimony, offered in trade for his release, differed greatly from the story told by Thomas Newton and William Wyer to port authorities in Rhode Island. Herriot said that Bernard's three ships had accompanied Wyer earlier to the Bay of Honduras. He also indicated two other sloops with Newton. The Boston News-Letter's account, however, suggests that there were no other ships with either Wyer or Newton. Herriot's Adventure probably sailed with Thache, Richards, and Bernard's vessels when they left Jamaica, also suggested by the newspaper article. Furthermore, neither Wyer nor Newton, nor any other witnesses to these events were present in Charleston during the trial and would not be able to dispute Herriot's testimony - nor was this Bay of Honduras part ever questioned. Following is the Boston News-Letter article of June 16, 1718, shown in its entirety below: 

Boston News-Letter article from issue of June 16, 1718, page 2
Though seen as innocent and immune to prosecution because of this deposition's benefits to him, David Herriot must have still felt some guilt. He yet attempted to escape custody with Stede Bonnet and was killed in the attempt - not the act of an innocent man! 

As for the Board of Trade's wishes to damage Thaches reputation, Herriot also deposed (probably at the urging of Admiralty officers): 
'Twas generally believed the said Thatch run his Vessel a-ground on purpose to break up the Companies, and to secure what Moneys and Effects he had got for himself and such other of them as he had most Value for.
Note that Herriot and Ignatius Pell were the only two of Stede Bonnet's pirates immune to prosecution because of their testimony. They were also the only two (actually one) of forty odd pirates to say that Thache wrecked QAR on purpose. Herriot gave the almost 5-page deposition that indicated this - Pell, in the last paragraph, merely agreed with him. As witnesses for the prosecution, neither of these men were listed in the indictment, nor were they to ever be charged for their piracies. 

Johnson took this deposition at face value and quoted these trial records closely, elaborating on this specific damning sentence. Still, why would Thache wreck his own vessel on purpose when it should have been his greatest advantage to keep QAR intact. 

It simply does not make sense. QAR should have been of enormous advantage to Thache - assuming he planned to keep pirating. He even refused an offer of pardon from the governor of South Carolina a week earlier because he intended to continue his fight. 

Thache was not the monster presented to the new king by the new Board of Trade and the Admiralty or later written about in A General History. As indicated by Wyer and Newton, Thache's fair treatment of his captives exonerates him from the damaging rhetoric of Charles Johnson. And, by contrast to the Board and Admiralty, the king seemed fairly inclined toward all his subjects, even Edward Thache!

As the Boston News-Letter continues...

After securing Land of Promise with Newton and his crew aboard QAR, Thache's flotilla weighed anchor in search of Protestant Caesar. Newton later related the tale to port authorities in Rhode Island, that Thache intended that "Wyer might not brag when he went to New England that he had beat a Pirate," referring to Capt. Wyer's battle with the sloop Revenge a week earlier at Roatan Island. There would be more to tell of Thache's not-so-brutal thinking. 

On the 8th of April, as Wyer and his crew loaded their logwood, cut from the surrounding forest ashore, several vessels rose from the horizon in the bay. Wyer called his crew together. Wyer saw the black and red flags and believed them to be pirates and still intended to defend his ship. The crew agreed that, if they were Spaniards, they would fight every man to the death, but if they were English pirates, they should just surrender, no doubt expecting better treatment from their own. They were, after all, stealing Spanish trees from Spanish land.

Wyer acquiesced and sent his second mate in their pinnace to greet the ships, discovering that they were indeed pirates, in five vessels, the largest of which, QAR, had 40 guns and 300 men! Wyer had to agree that their 26 guns and 50 men were certainly no match for all five of these ships. Wyer's officer then informed Capt. Edward Thache of their surrender. 

Thache requested that Wyer come aboard, promising no harm to him or his men. Once aboard, Thache learned of their origin. Unfortunately for its owners, Protestant Caesar was a ship of Boston. Thache informed Wyer that he burned all vessels from Boston. He informed the captain that he good reason for this. Some months earlier, a storm had driven Samuel Bellamy's Whydah into the rocks off Cape Codd in Massachusetts, destroyed her, and killed almost all of Bellamy's pirate crew. The few survivors were captured and placed on trial by the Admiralty Court there, who hanged them. For Thache, this offense needed an answer - so, he burned ships belonging to Bostonians who allowed it.

Wyer's crew were then all removed and sent ashore from Protestant Caesar, which Thache set ablaze before them in the bay on April 12th. Newton and Wyer and their crews who had not joined with pirates, returned to Rhode Island on Newton's sloop, given back to them by Thache, who had not harmed a soul. Edward Thache had his Stuart-conservative political views, but still behaved as a reasonable man.

After the events at the Bay of Honduras, Thache and his flotilla headed north to Charleston for his famous blockade, the wrecking of his flagship in Beaufort Inlet, and his final destiny in the colony of North Carolina at the hands of Virginian forces. David Herriot's false accusations would ring in American's ears for another 300 years, thanks to Johnson's polemical reinforcement. 

Par for the course, Virginia's Lt. Gov. Spotswood violated colonial sovereignty, the king's wishes, and murdered Edward Thache on November 22, 1718. Spotswood's personally-paid assassin, Lt. Robert Maynard cut Thache's head from his body and displayed it in triumph on his Ranger. It was mounted on a poll at Lynhaven Bay - a symbol of Spotswood's control and domination over his little piece of America.

Blackbeard died less than a month before the start of the War of the Quadruple Alliance, a war that King George knew was coming and in which he would again need the experienced ex-Royal Navy man, Capt. Edward "Blackbeard" Thache. Anticipation of that war was probably the very reason that he extended the pardon to August 18, 1718 - to include Blackbeard's continued piracies from the Charleston blockade that May. The king must have hoped that losing the QAR might make Thache see reason. 

With the new war looming, the Admiralty finally had to agree. London merchant Micajah Perry, in close communication with the Admiralty, sent Capt. Joshua Lirland in Avarilla in haste to Virginia with the newly-dated pardon, leaving England in October. He arrived too late - by then, Thache's gruesome rotting head welcomed him at the mouth of James River

Head of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache hanging from Lt. Robert Maynard's Ranger

 A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates (1724) - the final rhetorical nail in Thache's reputation - 52 years to successful revolution.

Thache's death was not the end of his troubles, "for the evil that men do lives long after them while the good is oft interred with their bones."

The Board of Trade probably influenced Capt. Charles Johnson, or Nathaniel Mist as he is known to readers of his Jacobite (Stuart favoring) polemical newspaper, Weekly Journal of London. Mist suffered arrest by their agents quite often, accompanied with heavy fines. He was in great need of money and was easily influenced to do their bidding. 

Eventually, he had gone too far and fled Britain in 1728 for France. But, before he left, a few years before his flight, in 1724, having possibly been convinced by the Board of Trade six years after Blackbeard's death, Johnson-Mist wrote these harsh words about Edward "Blackbeard" Thache:
Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet that has appeared there a long Time. 
If he had the look of a Fury, his Humours and Passions were suitable to it; we shall relate two or three more of his Extravagancies, which we omitted in the Body of his History, by which it will appear, to what a Pitch of Wickedness, human Nature may arrive, if it’s Passions are not checked.
Some of his Frolicks of Wickedness, were so extravagant, as if he aimed at making his Men believe he was a Devil incarnate; for being one Day at Sea, and a little flushed with drink:—Come, says he, let us make a Hell of our own, and try how long we can bear it; accordingly he, with two or three others, went down into the Hold, and closing up all the Hatches, filled several Pots full of Brimstone, and other combustible Matter, and set it on Fire, and so continued till they were almost suffocated, when some of the Men cried out for Air; at length he opened the Hatches, not a little pleased that he held out the longest.
One Night drinking in his Cabin with Hands, the Pilot, and another Man; Black-beard without any Provocation privately draws out a small Pair of Pistols, and cocks them under the Table, which being perceived by the Man, he withdrew and went upon Deck, leaving Hands, the Pilot, and the Captain together. When the Pistols were ready, he blew out the Candle, and crossing his Hands, discharged them at his Company; Hands, the Master, was shot thro’ the Knee, and lam’d for Life; the other Pistol did no Execution. —Being asked the meaning of this, he only answered, by damning them, that if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was.
Teach began now to think of breaking up the Company, and securing the Money and the best of the Effects for himself, and some others of his Companions he had most Friendship for, and to cheat the rest: Accordingly, on Pretence of running into Topsail Inlet to clean, he grounded his Ship, and then, as if it had been done undesignedly, and by Accident; he orders Hands’s Sloop to come to his Assistance, and get him off again, which he endeavouring to do, ran the Sloop on Shore near the other, and so were both lost.
Few of these details are supported by any evidence. For Edward Thache, specifically, perhaps the single most damning words against him, also unsupported, are these:
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 to come ashore, and he would force her to prostitute her self to them all, one after another, before his Face.
The message was clear - pirates of America could not be trusted! Does this sound like the Edward Thache just described above? Johnson-Mist abused Thache in especial fashion. Charles Vane deserved Thache's reputation, but was never treated so roughly by this author. It was in his section on Blackbeard that Johnson-Mist also wrote a message directly about piratical America:
In the Commonwealth of Pyrates [America], he who goes the greatest Length of Wickedness, is looked upon with a kind of Envy amongst them, as a Person of a more extraordinary Gallantry.
It was a warning to all of civilized Europe that America was wild - an unsafe, despotic abode of pirates! It may also have been intended to wake America up - to come to their senses!

Many threw accusations at Jamaica's gentleman Edward Thache, but Johnson-Mist truly created the evil character of Blackbeard, the "notorious" Pirate! Despite all of Britain's greatest efforts with rhetoric - untrue words - however, their attempts to eradicate America's love of Stuart piracy and policy apparently failed. Fifty-two years later, Thache's "Stuart" nation, a gentleman's nation of profit and freedom, became reality. Unfortunately, the new independent America lost the West Indies in the 1783 treaty that ended the Revolution - and the logwood that came with it.

See more at  Capt. Charles Johnson's Dishonesty!
And more at American Pirates in the News!
And again at French Pirate Jean Martel


"Quest for Blackbeard" is now available in ebook format and can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and other online booksellers. Look for it on my Lulu site at:

The book is already previewable on Google Books.

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