Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Blackbeard in Philadelphia?


Quest for Blackbeard: The True Story of Edward Thache and His World attempts to right the wrongs of many past historians and authors, amateur and professional. One of those wrongs is warping the conservative war veteran Edward "Blackbeard" Thache into a virtual comic character, notorious and villainous, a "swaggering merciless brute," as Hugh Rankin called him, based upon simply the acts - as assumed by everyone but Thache, I might add - of the last two years of his life. But, in doing so, we tend to hide from our past and our true natures as citizens of a true "Pirate Nation."

Hiding from ourselves created modern America and destroyed the reputations of gentlemen like Edward Thache. Especially by the latter nineteenth century, a lot of our rhetoric was aimed against our former heroes – privateers and pirates - misunderstood founders of what "Capt. Charles Johnson" or Jacobite newspaper publisher Nathaniel Mist referred to as the "Commonwealth of Pyrates," or America. Still, holding pirates closely to our breasts, turn-of-the-century claims of a local origin for Blackbeard, in the United States, as opposed to Jamaica, appear greatly embellished – ahistorical, but sometimes directly covert.

Why? It seems that, in the latter nineteenth century, once the United States began to assert its own dominance and identity apart from England, Blackbeard became less of an historical figure and more of an ephemeral abstract object, about whom anything could be spoken or invented.

America "adopted" Blackbeard the Pirate! We liked the pirate... and probably his methods!

These literary inventions first appeared in 1844 in a book on Philadelphia – not his actual home of Jamaica – a book relying strongly on hearsay that incurred much damage to Edward Thache’s reputation, while also popularizing him as a local villain – perhaps to avoid the inevitable comparison to capitalists of the era, whose own methods were not so dissimilar.

John F. Watson, in writing the Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in 1844, first claimed Blackbeard to be a member of a family in North America rather than Jamaica in the West Indies. Watson pulled his information from an informant who told him that he knew the family and that “Captain Drummond was a half-crazed man, under high excitements, by his losses and imprisonment by the French.”  This account gave great detail about being a privateersman out of Liverpool (not Bristol?) – even mentioned a doctor who served with him. Drummond supposedly had been the wild son of Gov. William Drummond, first governor of North Carolina, and was later executed by the governor of Virginia, which invited speculation upon local politics as a factor. Watson’s early work planted a seed: that Blackbeard was not from Bristol or Jamaica, but Virginia and/or North Carolina.

This seed grew through the years, with ex-Confederate Thomas T. Upshur’s twilight-year genealogical theories of an Accomack County, Virginia family of Teaches. It continued through many local theories to Robert E. Lee’s mid-twentieth-century version, until the present day with other local North Carolina-biased work. They all repeated and enhanced the demonized version of Johnson’s “villainous” Blackbeard while also oddly claiming him as one of their own. But, why? Why did demonization of pirates become so popular at this time as opposed to earlier? Was it simply entertainment to the masses or was it more broad – cultural in context? And, why love the demon so much?

Still, Philadelphia held the first and most "supportable" fascination over Blackbeard and it has spawned many a "midnight theory" of notoriety by centuries of authors. Thache and his semi-pirate acquaintance Stede Bonnet visited the Delaware Capes around October - November 1717. A local Pennsylvania councilman named James Logan, and/or his fellow councilman Jonathan Dickinson, apparently remembered Edward Thache when he was the mate of a brigantine from Jamaica who had recently visited their port. Logan wrote about his experience in his peculiar early eighteenth-century literary style:
Some of our Mastrs. Say, they knew almost every man aboard, most of them having been lately in this River [-] their Comandr. is one Teach who was here a Mate from Jamca. [Jamaica], about 2 yrs. agoe...
Note this phrase "Mate from Jamca." The Boston News-Letter, Thursday, Nov 11, 1717, Boston, MA, Issue: 708, on page 2 shows:


Note here the phrase "formerly Sail'd Mate out of this Port." It sounds similar to the James Logan quote above and I believe it was bastardized from his letter. The intent was probably "sailed mate of a Jamaican brigantine out of this port." Newspapers of the day were notoriously unreliable in this respect. But, that does not stop the many authors who would dearly love to have the notorious and villainous comic character as "one of their own."

It's my opinion that Blackbeard never lived in Philadelphia or on the American mainland - in any part of the current United States. He visited that port of Philadelphia about the year 1715 while serving as a "Mate" on a Jamaican brigantine, certainly. He may have remained for a few weeks, maybe a month, as he and the crew exchanged cargoes. This was routine for most mariners and their vessels. But, then he sailed back to his home in Jamaica.

I apologize to all Americans for dashing their "piratish" hopes!


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Exciting new detail, including information from French and English depositions, appears in a new book, Sailing East: West-Indian Pirates in Madagascar, now available! 

Find further details at baylusbrooks.com
Author's Bookstore
Author's Amazon.com  page


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