Some of you have expressed an interest in my latest book, Blackbeard’s Legacy, a story of Blackbeard and history. My goal in the book was to provide an image of the real Blackbeard and the world he lived in, and to make the story emerge from history as I could best determine the facts.
Blackbeard certainly was a famous pirate, but what did that really mean in 1713? He was branded a pirate by customs officials and governors who wanted to collect “fees” from him. If he paid the tax of the day he was free and clear, an honest citizen. If he didn’t, he was a pirate, a criminal, someone who could be attacked and murdered according to the whims of a governor of a foreign state. No matter where his so-called crimes occurred, his enemy could vanquish him provided he commanded the will and sufficient force. Blackbeard had to know how to defend himself, and so did all persons who sought to get along in the world of his day.
In 1713, there were no laws of the sea that could be enforced, because even powerful seafaring countries had no navies. They depended on privateers who worked for the state in exchange for payment. Blackbeard began as a privateer in Queen Anne’s War which ended in 1713, and he named his great warship the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
How does one become a criminal where there are no laws? This was a world without courts and without police. Governor Spotswood of Virginia could kidnap people from neighboring North Carolina, steal whatever goods he could find. He could then imprison them, convene his own court, specify the charges and preside over the court hearing. He could also decide the sentence, in spite of the ridicule he received from Virginians who knew about the common law and the normal rights of the accused.
Blackbeard’s reputation today comes from folk tales of the time and the works of authors and movie makers who never saw him, and who never understood the importance of international trade to isolated small settlements like the American colonies. Blackbeard was a hero to the people who knew him. All the glamour of pirate sex and violence was invented much later by Hollywood and its imitators.
If you are interested, I will be signing my three historical novels this Saturday at the William & Mary Bookstore in Williamsburg, 2:00 pm-6:00 pm.