It’s thought that Blackbeard was born in Bristol, England, around 1680. At that time Bristol was a thriving slave-trading hub, and it’s widely believed that Teach worked on slave ships from an early age giving him nautical skills he would later use as a pirate.
It’s also speculated that he might have come from a well-to-do family because he was well educated and enjoyed fine dining. Once he had a ship of his own, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, he hired a French chef to cook all the crew’s meals. The chef would make elaborate dishes from around the world.
His navigational skills, his knowledge, love of reading, and culinary preferences hint towards a background in England’s high society. However, this is this speculation.
Initially, Teach was a privateer which was not much different than a pirate except that they were government-sanctioned to harass enemies. Privateers were only allowed to attack ships bearing the flag of a government’s enemy. The pirates could sink the vessel and take their bounty if they gave a percentage back to their government sponsor.
Privateers were useful during times of war. However, when the wars ended, most of the privateers, not having many other valuable skills, continued what they were doing and became pirates. They flew a black flag to symbolize their independence and would keep the riches themselves.
Blackbeard’s transition to pirate occurred when the war ended in 1713. He no longer had the royal sanction to attack Spanish ships freely under the English flag. Rather than return to England, he joined the crew of pirate Benjamin Hornigold.
Hornigold gave him a small sloop, and at the beginning of 1917, Hornigold and Blackbeard used the straits of Florida to sail toward Virginia, where they attacked several ships carrying cargo and some gold. Here off the coast of Florida is where Blackbeard’s pirating career began.
He and Hornigold came across a French slave-trading ship that had already been attacked twice by pirates. Teach took the ship ashore and gave the men a choice: join him or stay on the island. A handful of men joined him. He refitted the ship with forty cannons and christened it The Queen Anne’s Revenge. He now had a formidable pirate ship of his own.
During 1717 and 1718, Blackbeard and his crew raided and sunk dozens of ships, amassing wealth and infamy. While the Queen Anne’s Revenge was not the biggest of boats, it was designed to be quick and agile, allowing it to shoot cannons and avoid cannon fire. Blackbeard would attack ships and then retreat to Barbados to sell his ill-gotten gains.
Sometime in late 1718, Benjamin Hornigold signed a treaty with the English government, granting him a pardon for his crimes, and he became a pirate hunter. One of his main targets was Blackbeard.
It was at the same time that Blackbeard met Steve Bonnet. Bonnet was a rich man from Barbados with a sugar plantation who seemingly had it all. He had wealth, status, and a family but left it all behind to buy a large ship, hire a crew and become a pirate. He attempted this on his own before meeting Blackbeard.
Bonnet Decided to join Blackbeard’s crew, and Blackbeard was more than willing to add another ship to his fleet. The two men set sail, but it wasn’t long before Bonnet realized he was more of a prisoner than a captain.
After sailing for almost a year, Blackbeard betrayed Bonnet by running his ship ashore and abandoning the men on an island. Bonnet swore revenge on Blackbeard, much like Hornigold did, but would not get a chance to enact his revenge. He was caught by an English ship and hanged. But because of his hanging, historians were able to gain information as to the career of Blackbeard’s early days from a diary kept by Bonnet.
Blackbeard’s fleet began to grow along with his dreadful reputation. During Black Caesar’s trip to Nassau, he heard about a pirate who struck fear in his enemies’ eyes. He was a tall, muscular man with a long black beard and beady eyes. He brandished six guns on his chest alongside his sword.
Before boarding a ship, he would light his beard on fire and be the first of his men to board the enemy ships, causing terror among the men he was fighting. Most ships simply gave up once they saw his flag raised on the mast of an approaching vessel.
In 1918, Blackbeard left the Caribbean and the Florida straits and set sail to Charleston. Among his crew was Black Caesar. Blackbeard was impressed with the Black Caesar’s exploits and his size and made him a captain of one of his five ships.
Along the way, the crew ran the vessels ashore to clean and fix the bottom of the hulls. Unfortunately, they could get the Queen Anne’s Revenge back into the ocean, and the ship was lost forever to “Davey Jones’s locker.”
They made their way in the remaining ships to Charleston, where the governor allowed Blackbeard to plunder vessels as long as he got a cut. The pirate even received a pardon and was licensed as a privateer.
Blackbeard and Black Caesar freely and legally plundered boats and formed a blockage going into Charleston. While the governor of Charleston was fine with this arrangement, the nearby Governor of Virginia was not.
Alexander Spotswood wanted an end to the piracy of terror caused by these men and set a trap for them. On the morning of November 22, 1718, he sent a small fleet of ships to Charleston and made it appear they were mostly empty, appearing like an easy haul for Blackbeard.
However, once Blackbeard boarded the ship and started fighting, dozens of men hiding below deck came out to fight. Blackbeard ordered black Caesar to go below deck and ignite the powder kegs to blow the ship up while he fought on deck.
According to the leader, Robert Maynard, the battle lasted six minutes, and by the end, Blackbeard had been stabbed twenty times and shot five times. That was the end of the infamous Blackbeard.
Black Caesar was captured in his attempt to go below deck. Along with the rest of Blackbeard’s crew, he was hanged to death in Virginia that same year. Black Caesar’s pirating career lasted just under ten years, which is an astonishing amount of time compared to Blackbeard’s pirate career, which was only two years.
These two intertwining fates beg the question, what would have happened if Black Caesar had simply remained in Florida. Would he have gone on to become as legendary as Blackbeard himself?
Today, archeologists and treasure hunters alike scour the small island where Black Caesar supposedly buried his gold, but none has been found to date. In fact, other than legend and some documentation, it’s unclear if Black Caesar existed. If he did, it’s unclear what is fact and what is a myth.
Black Caesar’s island is now a part of Biscayne National Park and can be visited by anyone interested in doing a little treasure hunting.