He had intercepted the French ship on its way to Martinique from the notorious slaving port of Whydah, in present day Nigeria. It was loaded with 516 slaves, twenty pounds of gold dust, and 40 cannons which had to be unloaded before the hull could be properly cleaned. This was not the last visit that Blackbeard would make to Roatan waters.
Thatch was born to a respectable family in Bristol, England, a coastal city located not far from Liverpool, England’s main slaving port and its second largest city. He served in the Royal Navy with honors, and only turned to piracy during his mid-30’s when a temporary ceasefire between England and Spain left Thatch and hundreds of able seamen without jobs and itching for income.
With Jamaica and Isla de Tortuga both firmly under the control of the English and French and Roatan abandoned, Thatch and his band chose New Providence Island in the Bahamas as their base. The island was close to American and Spanish shipping lanes and housed a modest English settlement. Fortunately for Thatch the government turned a blind eye to their illicit comings and goings, because of the pirates outnumbered the local population by three to one.
Thatch joined the “The Flying Gang“, a group of outlaws whose members included: Josiah Burgess, Thomas Nichols, Charles Vane and Benjamin Hornigold. Along with them came Calico Jack Rackham so named on account of his preference for wearing women’s undergarments, which he found to be more comfortable attire in the tropics. Another man named Stede Bonnet, “the Gentleman Pirate”, was a wealthy plantation owner from Barbados. Stede turned to piracy as a business venture. Not one of these men would reach forty years of age, all were either hanged or went down with their ships. Vane was captured on a cay near Roatan. As a rule the Spanish treasure ships were too heavily defended to attack so The Flying Gang took to using fast, open sloops to intercept smaller trading ships and relieve them of their cargo to sell in America.
All were either hanged or went down with their ships.
Thatch’s first venture as a pirate was as first mate for Benjamin Hornigold on a successful excursion into the Gulf of Mexico, around the Yucatan peninsula and along the coast of Honduras in the summer of 1717. Their thirty-gun sloop, “Ranger”, intercepted Spanish flour merchants’ ships and Portuguese wine traders from Madeira. Later in the year, Thatch and Hornigold intercepted a boatload of Englishmen sailing to Roatan. Clad in black and wearing burning fuses twisted into his hair, Thatch looked truly ferocious surrounded by a cloud of smoke from the fuses. The English sailors were truly surprised when Thatch explained that he and his men had thrown their hats overboard during a drunken party the previous night, and that he had boarded their boats only to relieve them of their hats. Thatch was never known to have killed anyone until his final battle the following year. He simply preferred to look the part of the Devil incarnate and to intimidate his foes.
Later in 1717 Thatch and Hornigold parted ways and Thatch was given “The Revenge” as a reward for his work. As captain of “The Revenge” Blackbeard went on a rampage throughout the Caribbean that cemented his place in pirate lore and history.
His reputation made it impossible for Thatch to return to Providencial, so he sailed to Charleston, North Carolina. There he received a full pardon from the colony’s corrupt Governor, Charles Eden with whom he then conspired to rob ships leaving the port in order to sell the goods on the black market. Blackbeard was now considered to be such a menace on the Atlantic seaboard, that Governor Spotswood of Virginia, sent Lieutenant Robert Maynard with two sloops to hunt him down.
On November 22, 1718, Thatch was cornered in an inlet off the shore of North Carolina. With most of his men onshore and with his crew outnumbered by three to one, Thatch put up a desperate last stand after consuming some wine to fortify him. He was killed in hand-to-hand combat by Maynard on the deck. It was discovered that his body had five gunshot wounds as well as twenty cutlass slashes. As a deterrent to others he was decapitated, and his head hung on a pole at the mouth of the Hampton river. Blackbeard’s notorious, yet short lived, pirating career had come to an end.