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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blackbeard's Land at Plum Point?

Does this terrify you?
Does the image at left terrify you?  Would red glowing, demon-like eyes do the trick? If you were confronted by this man, would you tremble with fear?  Maybe wet your garters?  Well, the image was supposed to do just that and many believed in this image and more.  Part of the image was of Edward Thache's own making... part the fantasy of his biographer, Johnson. Where the boundary lay is purely guesswork.

Legend has it that Blackbeard the pirate came to North Carolina, purposely wrecked a 40-gun frigate to murder his crew, marooned Bonnet's crew, partied/reveled... well, like a pirate, then accepted a pardon from Gov. Charles Eden, was married to Mary Ormond (for the 14th time) and finally "settled" on Plum Point, near the mouth of Bath Town Creek on the north side of Pamlico River.  

Actually, a lot of this image was due to the literary license of the man who wanted to sell more books: Capt. Charles Johnson, author of the 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates.  In this book, Johnson says that the brutal "Teach," "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." 

True to the questionable nature of the historical value in this book, "Johnson" was also probably a pseudonym for Jacobite polemicist Nathaniel Mist, owner of the London newspaper Weekly Journal.

Incidentally, I'm writing a book, too. And I, too, would like to sell a few copies.  Still, I don't plan on brutalizing the truth for book sales.  I'm also a professional historian who found new records for Edward Thache that show him as really just a man... a sugar planter on the island of Jamaica... sans the theatrics.  This simple planter had a mother, step-mother, sister, two half-brothers and a half sister. He was also a junior who deeded his inheritance from his father's estate to his step-mother to help out his family, with little left after his part was taken out.  His grandfather may also have been an Anglican minister who studied at Oxford. He probably had a personal coach and driver, too...

So much for the terrifying image, right?  The red demon lights in the eyes just winked out!

What I try to argue in my new book is that, in reality, Blackbeard (yes, the red-eyed "notorious pirate") was probably more civilized than for which we give him credit. Other mariners, most notably James Robbins who was caught drinking rum in bed with Elizabeth Gooden and Sarah Montague, might not have measured up to the well-educated Thache.  Bath County courts investigated Robbins' indiscretions the year after Gov. Alexander Spotswood of Virginia had Blackbeard killed at Ocracoke in November 1718. Robbins was supposed to have been hung in Williamsburg as one of Thache's pirates... still, he came back to Bath and purchased half of the governor's old estate on the west side of Bath Town or Old Town Creek. He died there in 1725... not as wealthy as his old shanghaied pirate-mate, Edward Salter, but he had done alright for himself. Also, no red eyes...

Blackbeard, though credited with a great deal, in actuality, when studied through the records, rarely ever expressed those characteristics of which he was often accused... by, well... Johnson.  Character assassination was probably this author's greatest talent. Again, it sells books.

Plum Point, Bath, North Carolina

Three genealogists of Beaufort County have attempted to discover more about the noted pirate of the "Golden Age." One point: they attempted to find the owners of Plum Point at the time that Blackbeard would have been in Bath... and they were close. Archaeologists from East Carolina University, having located an 18th-century foundation in that location have spurred local speculation upon whether it might be the infamous pirate's home. One can just imagine the many dirty stinking syphilitic pirates lining up outside at Thache's plantation about a mile from Bath Town to have a turn at the vile pirate's 16-year-old child-like bride. Yeah, I'm laying it on thick, but, still, you'd think that Goodin and Montague would have given her a break, you know?

Mouth of Bath Town Creek today showing Plum Point
Jane Stubbs Bailey, Allen Hart Norris, and John Oden III surmise quite correctly that rebel proprietor Seth Sothel granted himself 12,000 acres including the whole of Bath Town and Bath Town creek, called "Pamtico Indian Town" and "Old Town creek" in 1684.  Patent records support this. And, the researchers also allege difficulty with interpreting early deeds.  No one knows this better than I after the two-year Hatteras Island project!  Many subsequent deeds were simply repeated word for word from the original, even though the actual transfer included only portions of the original.  The Indian Elks deeds on Hatteras stated the whole "200 acres" in three deeds, but included only 100, 50, and an unspecified amount respectively. It was easier just to assume the new bounds and copy the original wording. Also, a surveyor's compass, magnetically charged with lodestone, often varied in strength and could sometimes throw the survey off by as much as 30 degrees, maybe more.  Furthermore, the magnetic declination for 1730 was 10 degrees, quite a bit more than today's value.  So, yeah, there are many things to consider in interpreting these early deeds!

Illustration of Sothell's 1681 grant of "Pamtico Town and Creek"
What Seth Sothel did with his grants seems not to matter.  He left in disgrace, after trying to seize the government in 1691, was removed by the other proprietors and he appears to have had his many large grants revoked.

After Sothel's debacle, the three genealogists further surmise: "The first owner of Plum Point was Henderson Walker, who held it in partnership with John Buntin. When he died in 1704, Walker left his land in Yawpim in Perquimans Precinct to his daughter Elizabeth, who later married Henry Warren. Walker left the rest of his estate to his wife Ann (Lillington) Walker, daughter of Alexander Lillington. Ann married second [in 1704], by 4 Oct 1706, Edward Moseley, who on that date patented the Plum Point property that had become his in right of his wife." [Abstracts of Beaufort Deeds I, p. 172]

The problem with this assumption, however, is that Moseley never owned Plum Point. Moseley's own map of 1708 shows [Bunting]'s land to the east of Plum Point, just past a small creek:

1708 Map of North Carolina by Edward Moseley

Drawing the little creek is pretty specific... He also places Christopher Gale nearest to Plum Point. However, Gale's land, "Kirby Grange" was actually on the north side of "Back Creek" or "East branch of Old Town Creek."  This may have been a slight error on Moseley's part, intending merely to show the "Kirby Grange" area, but not having enough room to write it there. 

Still, the Buntin land is too far east to be Plum Point.  Was this also an error of Moseley's? Again, there's that creek....

Another Beaufort Deed for William Jones to carpenter William Adams for 228 acres - 17 Jan 1726 gives detailed information confirming Buntin's property and line and the creek that separates him from John Sullivant's property.  This 640-acre property was originally granted to John Barras in 1704, who split it half and half with John Sullivant in 1706. Barras still retained 100 acres of this property in 1726 on the waterfront which included his home.

The following diagram (approximation) shows this 1726 transaction and the Buntin line location:

William Jones to William Adams, 228 acres - 17 Jan 1726

Now, this becomes significant since the three genealogists argue that the land that Moseley owned, thanks to Walker was on "Old Town Creek," but it wasn't.  They say that John Buntin died in 1713 and deeded his land to Moseley.  This land was still east of Plum Point; it did not include it.

Furthermore, the William Reed deed of 1720 to Thomas Jewell wherein he states that he got this land from Edward Moseley says that it was "700 acres North side Pampticough River in Bath Co., adjoining on west land where William Jones now dwells, to east, land belonging to Daniel Holland."  So, it lay between two other properties... again, not on the creek.

Remember William Jones?  He sold the above plot to William Adams in 1726. Reed's 1720 deed confirms that Jones owned this property before 1726 when he deeded part of it to Adams. Jewell's purchase was east of this land (as the Reed deed also states).

That still leaves Plum Point.  Who the heck owned that!? Was it William Jones? Probably not.  I can say that with some assurance, too.

Another clue comes from another map of Moseley's in 1733 and this clue takes us back to 1708!  Moseley had worked on this map for many years, about a decade.  Names written by the creeks on such maps of the time appear because subscriptions were sold to them so that they may be included on the map, which was certain to be popular. It was advertisement.

1733 Edward Moseley Map of North Carolina

According to Moseley's new map, the owner of the area of Plum Point is named "Shute," with another Jones tract north of him and Isaac Ottiwell owning the land just east of Shute. Let's hope that Moseley had become more accurate since 1708 and isn't making an idiot out of me. Note also that Thomas Jewell is listed just east of him, again confirming the old Reed estate to be away from the mouth of the creek and Plum Point.

Looking back at the deed records, we do indeed find Gyles Shute, the son of tobacconist and merchant Gyles Shute of London, lately accused of stealing a horse in Maryland in 1703, when he hightailed it to Bath, apparently with his cash (why he needed to steal a horse is beyond me). Because, besides from becoming a Justice of the Peace for Beaufort County, he also bought a few lots in town and 852 acres (over the customary 640) including what we now call Plum Point. He was granted this land five days before Christmas in 1708. So, he just missed advertising on Moseley's first map of 1708!

Gyles Shute patent 20 Dec 1708 - reassignment to Provost Marshall Emanuel Cleaves "for a valuable consideration" 14 Feb 1709.

Incidentally, Gyles Shute gave a deposition against Elizabeth Goodin for having a bastard child... maybe the child of James Robbins (remember, he's the guy who slept and drank rum with her and Sarah Montague)?  Or maybe another.  Anyway, she claimed the child to belong to Capt. Roger Kenyon, who hotly protested.  Gyles' deposed in Kenyon's defense:

  • That on Dec. 24, 1719, “being at house of William JONES, Pamptico River, Capt. Roger KENYON, coming up the said house, desired my company to carry me home, upon which the said Deponent coming home with the said KENNYON), informed him that he was going to Core Sound and thereupon the said KENNYON desired the Deponent’s company thereto, offering him his cabin, and that upon the 28th Day of December (to the best of this Deponent’s remembrance) the said KENNYON in company with this Deponent, departed from Bath town creek in a small sloop, and sailed direct for Core Sound, and there remained in company with this Deponent, until the 5th Day of February following, at which time the said Deponent and the said KENNYON returned to Bath town creek, to the best of this Deponent’s knowledge.

It appears from this deposition that Jones and Shute were sort of neighbors. Gyles Shute dies in June 1730, but leaves his plantation at the "mouth of town creek" to his son Samuel Shute, who apparently is never heard from again.  Still, since Moseley sold subscriptions to his 1733 map probably well before 1730, the notation on the map may refer to Gyles and not his son Samuel.

Gyles Shute's Approximate Patent of 1708

The interesting part is that this land was turned over to the young provost marshall Emanuel Cleaves (b. 1681 and 27 years old) less than two months after Gyles' patent in 1708!  What did he do? Was this a bribe? There was no specific value specified. The land was offered for "a valuable consideration to me in hand paid."  Maybe the old horse thief needed a favor from the sheriff. It should be noted that the 1717 Beaufort Tax List shows Shute's land as only 182 acres at "town creek." Again, this tract to Cleaves did not have to include the entire 852-acre tract and the "182 acres," having the "2" at end is kind of odd.  The note in the records simply refers to the earlier grant but doesn't give bounds. It may only have been for only 670 acres (852-182) and not the 182 acres that Shute may have kept. Cleaves might have deeded this land to John Sullivant or William Jones later... in time for William Adams to purchase it and in time for Gyles Shute to hitch a ride with Jones to Core Sound in 1719!

Indeed, Emanuel Cleaves' will of 1718 (died at 36 years of age) says nothing about this land and by this, we almost loose track of it. There's neither deeds from Cleaves since 1708 , nor sales of this property from his son Benjamin afterwards.  These may have been lost to us.

Moseley's map also hints that Jones, in 1733, lay north of Shute, while in 1719, we know him to also be south of Shute's location, in the Ottiwell location in 1733. He may have purchased the 670-acre tract that Shute sold to Cleaves in 1709, surrounding Shute's home. This could explain the data on Moseley's 1733 map. Essentially, Jones' tract may have surrounded Plum Point. The diagram below shows this (keep in mind that this is purely speculation, placing Shute's bounds between Plum Point gut and Teach's Point gut. Shute does not have to be the owner of Plum Point, you understand. Still, his home is somewhere within his original 1708 grant and is 182 acres. It just makes sense and an 1874 map shows a structure just south of Plum Point gut and it's likely a good homestead location compared to the actual point which is low and swampy.):

Cleaves to Jones maybe? 1709-1719?

Gyles kept a portion, probably this 182-acre tract, which he willed to his son Samuel... including the house "whereon I now dwell." Apparently, Shute retired there, too. The 18th-century plantation located at Plum Point by archaeologists may have belonged to Shute.  Today, its just a big tree farm for a paper manufacturer.

So, it's at least possible that when Blackbeard arrived, he either squatted on the Shute property, maybe was entertained by the an old horse thief there at Plum Point, or somehow arranged to camp on it.  Maybe he simply careened there on the swampy point and thereby started a rumor. Maybe he was never there at all!

Then again, Johnson started all this speculation in 1724 and he was notoriously faulty when it came to elaborating with literary filler.  While he was accurate in regards to what details can be found in other records, i.e. newspapers, depositions, etc., the rest seems to be sheer fantasy. 

Still, he tried to sell books and was successful at it! He made a lot of money and left historians with a lot to weed through and sort out.  

P.S. Don't be afraid of Blackbeard...  His step-mom vouched for him.


The July issue of North Carolina Historical Review will feature an article by Baylus C. Brooks titled "“Born in Jamaica, of Very Creditable Parents” or “A Bristol Man Born”? Excavating the Real Edward Thache, “Blackbeard the Pirate”"

This publication will feature a genealogical chart of the Thache family, from Gloucestershire to Jamaica. Finally, after almost 300 years of misinterpretation, this genealogy is the documented and definitive family history of "Blackbeard the Pirate." This heavily researched and verified chart has been enhanced and reproduced in multiple poster sizes available on

Genealogical Chart of Edward Thache, aka "Blackbeard the Pirate" - Copyright 2015 Baylus C. Brooks

Keep a weather eye out for the journal article which explains the sources of these genealogical relationships. Also sight your spyglass on the book which expands upon this genealogy into his family and friends. It also explains the implications for this knowledge in relation to Blackbeard's birth, life, and death. Edward Thache and his world can finally be accurately realized!

Blackbeard Reconsidered:

Coming Soon!

Baylus C. Brooks' books:

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