September 13, 2007 — Before about a month ago, my only real experience with pirates was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, and, of course, the recent Johnny Depp franchise that I won’t bother to name (just kidding, I need the SEO: Pirates of the Caribbean.). As a result, I never really developed any real affinity for them. I guess I thought they werecool, but irrelevant to me. But now I’m a bit obsessed with them, especially Blackbeard. Let me tell you how and why. But, first, judge me for calling all of the above “real experience” in the first sentence.
It all started on what should have been a relaxing, oddity-free trip to Bogue Banks, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. On the drive down, my girlfriend whips out a few pieces of text-ridden printer paper and says, “By the way, there’s a small town near where we’re staying called Beaufort. Blackbeard lived there. Might be interesting. Here’s some information on it. I’m hungry.” Next thing I know I’m shin-deep in Bojangles chicken, frantically poring over every laser-printed word on the pirate like it was the inspired Word of God and my salvation was at stake...again.
This is what I learned that now makes me internally react every time I come across the name “Blackbeard.”. And I'll tell it to you in the least flowery language possible, to show you how incredible this guy was without hyperbole. So for the rest of this paragraph, no more “-ly” adverbs. Blackbeard, who went by the name Edward Teach (or Thatch, depending on things I don’t understand), commanded four vessels and some 400 crewmen at the peak of his piracy at the beginning of the 18th century. He would entwine treated cannon fuses into his hair and beard and then light them to augment his already fierce and diabolical appearance. He captured at least 45 vessels in his career, many of which didn’t even offer a fight because of his reputation. He once blockaded the entire city of Charleston, SC, for a week until they surrendered medical supplies to him. He died in battle at Ocracoke Inlet, NC, with 20 sword cuts and five musket-ball wounds before being beheaded.
This guy was bad, bad Leroy Brown. And if you still have doubt, lean in closer to your computer screen and listen to me tell of the resting place of his cranium. While his body was thrown to the caprices of Ocracoke Inlet, his decapitated head ended up shoved on a pike in Hampton Harbor, VA. John the Baptist, William Wallace, James Earl Jones in Conan the Barbarian. You pretty much have to shake the world a bit to have your head valued as a trophy.
Oh, and did I mention he did all of this in a time span of less than two years? Any man that can make a myth of himself in that short a period deserves all the romanticizing that people do to him. Including me. So from here on out, tons of “-ly” adverbs.
Back to his house, though. The coastal town of Beaufort, NC, was founded in 1709 so that the word idyllic could be invented and used without irony. Wild horses graze on marsh grasses there. Boats of pleasant sizes find safe harbor there. Seafood is inhaled like incense there. Most interestingly perhaps, the Old Burying Ground is there. It has nothing to do with Blackbeard, but definitely Google that one sometime when you’re bored at work.
Just about every house in the town is a few centuries old and has been christened. You know this because each one bears a blue and white shield on the front stating the name of the house and the year it was built. The homeowners association there must be tyrannical. Just kidding. Every homeowners association is tyrannical.
So what’s a scurvy pirate like Blackbeard doing in a nice place like Beaufort?
Living there, of course. Blackbeard stayed for a time in what is now the oldest house in Beaufort. It was built around the same time as the town’s founding and came to be called Hammock House because of one of the rarely used definitions of the word hammock. Nobody’s really sure whether Blackbeard owned it at one time or just rented one of the rooms occasionally, but he definitely resided there. Either way, doesn’t matter, anyway. It’s Blackbeard’s house now.
Over the course of the house’s history, it saw other-than-pirate types of violence, too, spawning quite a few tales that have inevitably evolved into ghost stories. It’s also changed hands like 31 times in its three-century history. Currently, it’s a private residence. Somebody microwaves macaroni where a notorious pirate once murdered one of his 14 wives.
Blackbeard’s house is located on a small dead-end road called Hammock Lane. There are only about five houses on the court, and the only reason you know which one is Hammock House is because of an obligatory-seeming sign well-hidden in an unobtrusive patch of bushes in the front yard. It's the first house on the left, and a small “No Trespassing” sign on the front step pleads for peace.
Other than snapping a few self-conscious photos in front of the house, there’s nothing really much else to do at Blackbeard’s place. But you’re so not done with Blackbeard in Beaufort. A few blocks down the road stands the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Sounds boring, I know. Like one of those places your parents tried to lure you into instead of playing Gameboy in the back seat of the car on family vacations. In fact, we almost didn’t go to this. Way worth stopping by, though.
It’s free, and besides some nice displays on the animals, history, and shipcraft of the area, they have a small section dedicated to Blackbeardia, including a model of his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, some pop culture relics influenced by the pirate, and a massive portrait of him. It looks like the type used in old spooky movies to depict the recently deceased owner of a mansion from whom you’ve suspiciously inherited said mansion out of nowhere and which you investigate while the eyes of the portrait follow you around the room until you find the treasure and free the mansion’s ghost from its torment.
Also usually displayed at the museum, but which wasn’t while we visited because of a recent flood, were relics dredged from the bottom of Beaufort Inlet from a wreck that they believe to actually be the Queen Anne’s Revenge. It’s always been known that the ship was sunk somewhere in Beaufort Inlet during a “crew downsizing” by Blackbeard, but a possible wreck site wasn’t discovered until 1996.
Now, more than a decade later, they haven’t found any evidence for or against the wreck being Blackbeard’s ship, but they keep at it, ever hopeful. Archaeology’s always slower than legless camels in the best of circumstances; underwater archeology might as well just be another term for “frozen in time.” You can see the inlet where the salvage is taking place from Fort Macon, a simple little Civil War fort that is camouflaged as flat ground. Like the museum, it’s free, and it’s part of a state park, so it’s worth visiting for other reasons than just wringing a bit more Blackbeardia from your travels.