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Black Beard the pirate was a real person. His name is believed to have been Edward Teach, although that may have been an alias. Pirates are not likely to have used their real names for a number of reasons. They were criminals, after all. While they were sometimes pardoned, there were often warrants for their arrest.
Not much is known about the historical Black Beard, although there are many legends. We do know that his appearance was purposefully “scary”. His long black beard that he sometimes kept in braids tied with colorful ribbons made of hemp is the reason for his nickname. The way he dressed was meant to intimidate the captains and crews of the ships he encountered.
He was taller than most men and usually wore dark clothing. He was often seen wearing a long velvet coat over the traditional poet’s or pirate shirt adorned with large ruffles down the front. This was the type of shirt that was worn by wealthy men in the 17th century.
He always carried a cutlass, a broad sword meant for slashing. What we think of as a pirate sword is a cutlass. The weapon is heavier, thicker and stronger than a dueling sword. When Black Beard used his cutlass against a regular sword, he could break it. This happened early in his last battle with Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the HMS Pearl. Maynard was responsible for Black Beard’s death.
Historians have said that when he was preparing for battle or to board a captured ship, he would put on his wide captain’s hat, probably a cocked hat, which was popular among the military at the time and similar to what we think of as a “pirate hat” today. On his chest he would strap bandoliers to carry three or more pistols in holsters. Legends say that under his hat he would place long fuses and light them, so that when he boarded a ship, his hair appeared to be on fire.
The flag that flew on one of Black Beard’s ships (he owned several) was not one of the traditional pirate flags. Most pirates flew some version of the Jolly Roger, also called the skull and cross bones, a symbol of death. On the flag of Black Beard the pirate was the picture of a full skeleton wearing a crown or having horns like the devil.
The skeleton holds either an hourglass (a symbol of death) or a cup in one hand. Sources that say that the cup meant the skeleton is “toasting the devil”. In his other hand the skeleton holds a long arrow which points to a large red heart.
In the lower right corner, to the right of the heart, are three drops of blood, another symbol of death. Like his clothing and everything else, Black Beard’s flag was meant to be intimidating.
Most of us are fascinated by the lives and stories of pirates. Modern movies like Pirates of the Caribbean have contributed to the legends living on today. There are stores in beach towns devoted to Teach and other pirates. You can also find all kinds of pirate-related items online, including flags, hats, pirate coins and many kinds of pirate toys for kids. What we think of as a pirate map where “x marks the spot” likely has originated from fictional movies or books.
Pirates were not actually known to bury their booty and no treasure has ever been found. In most cases, the products they stole were things like flour, rum, wine, weapons, clothing, etc. There was some money, just not a lot. But the pirate’s maps are fun and some of them look nice when they are framed.
In the later part of his life, Black Beard the pirate liked to hang around on the island of Ocracoke off the coast of present day North Carolina. From the Ocracoke Inlet, he could watch for approaching ships coming from the colonies or heading to them. Maps showing the way that the inlet looked in the years of his life are also popular for framing. After all, pirates aren’t just for kids.
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