90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Blackbeard And The Golden Age Of Pirates

On Valentine’s Day, we’re talking booty —pirate booty—and the last days of the world’s most notorious pirate, Blackbeard.

"Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718" depicting the battle between Blackbeard the Pirate and Lieutenant Maynard in Ocracoke Bay. (Jean Leon Gerome Ferris / Creative Commons)

“Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718″ depicting the battle between Blackbeard the Pirate and Lieutenant Maynard in Ocracoke Bay. (Jean Leon Gerome Ferris / Creative Commons)

It turns out, almost everything we imagine about the classic pirate of the Caribbean – the swagger, the cutlass, the cannon, the booty – comes from one short and period of wild pirate supremacy.  1713 to 1720.  The golden age of the pirate on the Spanish Main.  For seven short years they ruled in a kind of pirate rebellion against class and imperial tyranny.  Brutal robbers who were also, in their way, political revolutionaries.  And the greatest of all – Blackbeard.  This hour On Point:  The golden age of pirates, and the incredible rise and fall of the man with the burning beard, Blackbeard.

– Tom Ashbrook


Colin Woodard, award-winning journalist and author. Author of “The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down.” Also author of “American Nations” and “The Lobster Coast.” State and national affairs writer for the Portland Press-Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram. (@WoodardColin)

Captain Mike Daniel, ship captain, maritime explorer and underwater explorer. Founder of the Maritime Research Institute.

From Tom’s Reading List

Smithsonian Magazine: The Last Days of Blackbeard — “Out of all the pirates who’ve trolled the seas over the past 3,000 years, Blackbeard is the most famous. His nearest rivals—Capt. William Kidd and Sir Henry Morgan—weren’t really pirates at all, but privateers, mercenaries given permission by their sovereign to attack enemy shipping in time of war. Blackbeard and his contemporaries in the early 18th-century Caribbean had nobody’s permission to do what they were doing; they were outlaws. But unlike the aristocrats who controlled the British, French and Spanish colonial empires, many ordinary people in Britain and British America saw Blackbeard and his fellow pirates as heroes, Robin Hood figures fighting a rear-guard action against a corrupt, unaccountable and increasingly tyrannical ruling class.”

National Geographic: Blackbeard’s Shipwreck — “No one knows where the man named Edward Teach, or Tache, or Thatch, called home. Capt. Charles Johnson (who some believe was Daniel Defoe) claimed he came from Bristol in his 1724 tome, ‘A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates,’ the primary source of most Blackbeard legends. Others trace him to a prominent family on Jamaica, or to the Carolinas.”

History: 8 Real-Life Pirates Who Roved the High Seas –”Blackbeard intimidated enemies by coiling smoking fuses into his long, braided facial hair and by slinging multiple pistols and daggers across his chest. In November 1717 he captured a French slave ship, later renamed the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and refitted it with 40 guns. With that extra firepower he then blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina, until the town’s residents met his demands for a large chest of medicine. “

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

    Blackbeard would always win in pirate competitions.
    “Hey I just stole a chest full of gold, what did you steal?”
    “Oh nothing much, just CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA.”

  • John Fitzhugh Millar

    Blackbeard gets all the publicity, but Edward Davis has him beat hands down. In 1682 he set sail on the Bachelors Delight around Cape Horn and returned 5 years later. He and three others were captured and tried, at which point they made a bargain with the judge to pay about $10 million (today’s money) to found the College of William & Mary — and when it burned down in 1705 Davis contributed to the rebuilding.

  • Coastghost

    Anyone who knows pirates KNOWS that Blackbeard remains only the most celebrated pirate of the era, and granted, his blockade of Charlestown harbor is memorable, as is his grisly end at Ocracoke. Yet, as David Cordingly assures us in his book Under the Black Flag, the MOST SUCCESSFUL Atlantic pirate of the era was Bartholomew Roberts.
    Ranging from Brazil to Newfoundland to the west coast of Africa, in his roughly two-year career Roberts and his crew(s) commandeered or plundered some 400 ships: Blackbeard, in his career of comparable length, commandeered or plundered about 20 ships.

    • Bluejay2fly

      Well Done! I was going to state the same thing ,but you beat me to it you scurvy dog.

      • Coastghost


    • ToyYoda

      I just know of pirates by playing Sid Meier’s computer game, “Pirates!”. :) YEah, I know, I’m pathetic. But I’m curious. How do the top pirates in Sid Meier’s game compare to history? Here’s the list I got off a “Pirates!” wiki:

      Henry Morgan, Large Frigate, Treasure worth 10,000 gold

      Blackbeard, Frigate, Treasure worth 9,000 gold

      Captain Kidd, Brig of War, treasure worth 8,000 gold

      Jean Lafitte, Brig, treasure worth 7,000 gold

      Stede Bonnet, Brigantine, treasure worth 6,000 gold

      L’Olonnais, Brigantine, treasure worth 5,000 gold

      Roc Brasiliano, Royal Sloop, treasure worth 4,000 gold

      Bart Roberts, Sloop of War, treasure worth 3,000 gold

      Jack Rackham, Sloop of War, trasure worth 2,000 gold

      • Coastghost

        In his attack on Portuguese ships in the Bay of Los Todos Santos, Roberts & crew made off with some 90,000 gold moidores and the diamond-encrusted cross (intended for the King of Portugal) which Roberts was wearing into battle at the time of his death.

    • Jim Breashears


      The most successful pirate was Owen Lloyd. He stole more treasure than Blackbeard in his entire career but all one afternoon. He did it without a shot being fired AND, ironically, it happened at Teaches Hole on Ocracoke! Read about it here: http://www.treasureislandtheuntoldstory.com

      The thief’s wife’s family plantation was next door to Robert Louis Stevenson’s great uncle’s plantation.

      R.S.L.’s son’s middle name is the same as this pirate’s.

  • J__o__h__n
  • Steve__T

    Amazing, I’m wearing my Black Beard T shirt I got from Ocracoke,NC

  • Coastghost

    One thing I’ve never heard explained concerning Black Bart (Roberts): we understand he hailed from Haverfordwest, Wales, and was pressed into service as pirate captain only after being captured by pirates. Did Roberts give ANY evidence of harboring Welsh nationalist sympathies after his years of service aboard English ships? (I’ve wondered often about the motivations of his conversion to piracy.)

  • ToyYoda

    Is there any similarities between modern day pirates in Somali and the pirates of Blackbeard’s time? (Aside from the obvious that they stole stuff?)

  • ToyYoda

    Is there any truth to pirates owning parrots?

    • Coastghost

      It does seem so (monkeys were not as popular). No one listened to Jimmy Buffett, tho.

    • Art Toegemann

      A good homonym, the two of them talking to each other.

  • Coastghost

    All the way to Newfoundland, Tom!

  • creaker

    All the murder and mayhem stuff – one thing that gets glossed over is all the government and “good people” sanctioned murder and mayhem.

  • Steve__T

    Here is the spot where you can find out more. After visiting this island place I did not want to leave. I had what the natives call “Ocracoma”. Some of the people that live their can trace their family back to the 1700′s they have the tombstones in their back yards.


  • Denise & Biff

    Greetings Capt. Mike Daniel. Please never forget that had it not been for all the hard work of Phil Masters, QAR would not have been found. Your friends from The Gam.

  • manoog

    Captain Kidd used to sail under the flag (only) of the most respected merchants of the times (e.g. the Armenian merchant were amongst such respected). So pirates would rater use such cover to cozy into lanes of best booty. OP do not discuss the capture of Kidd and what said merchant returned him to England for hanging. I have used such historical events to convince a post soviet Armenian presidential cabinet secretary that they should commence looking into their own pre-soviet histories to find they that may not necessarily be bereft of business acumen. Accordingly, I used the above story of an Armenian merchant in India who pursued and brought pirate Captain Kidd to justice. Example(s) of ‘points of consideration’ for On Point on this subject. ^ Under what flag did Blackbeard’s “flagship” fly.

Apr 18, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. President Vladimir Putin has urged an end to the blockade of Moldova’s separatist province of Trans-Dniester. Trans-Dniester, located in eastern part of Moldova on border with Ukraine, has run its own affairs without international recognition since a 1992 war. Russian troops are stationed there.  (AP)

Deadly clashes in Eastern Ukraine. A white supremacist rocks Kansas City. The Marathon bombing anniversary. And Bloomberg on guns. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Apr 18, 2014
This undated photo provided by NASA on April 2, 2014 shows Saturn's moon Enceladus. The "tiger stripes" are long fractures from which water vapor jets are emitted. Scientists have uncovered a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon, they announced Thursday, April 3, 2014. Italian and American researchers made the discovery using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn and its rings 17 years after its launch from Cape Canaveral. (AP)

Oceans in Space. The new discovery on a moon of Saturn, and the possibility of life there.

Apr 17, 2014
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men burn leavened items in final preparation for the Passover holiday in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, April 14, 2014. Jews are forbidden to eat leavened foodstuffs during the Passover holiday that celebrates the biblical story of the Israelites' escape from slavery and exodus from Egypt. (AP)

In the week of Passover and anti-Semitic gunfire, we look at the history of the Jews with acclaimed historian Simon Schama. Plus, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church today.

Apr 17, 2014
Students cheer and wave as President Barack Obama, not pictured, exits the podium after speaking at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, beginning his two day bus tour speaking about college financial aid.  (AP)

The inside dope on college financial aid. The way it really works, who gets what, and how.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: April 18, 2014
Friday, Apr 18, 2014

Space moon oceans, Gabriel García Márquez and the problems with depressing weeks in the news. Also: important / unnecessary infographics that help explain everyone’s favorite 1980′s power ballad.

More »
Some Tools And Tricks For College Financial Aid
Thursday, Apr 17, 2014

Some helpful links and tools for navigating FAFSA and other college financial aid tools.

More »
How Boston Is Getting Ready For the 2014 Boston Marathon
Tuesday, Apr 15, 2014

Boston Globe metro reporter Maria Cramer explains how the 2014 Boston Marathon will be different than races in the past.

More »