The two lives of Ed­ward Thache

RE­SEARCHERS STILL TRY­ING TO UN­DER­STAND THE MYTHIC FIG­URE BLACK­BEARD

Calgary Herald - - NEWS - Nick Faris Na­tional Post [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/nickm­faris

Late in 1706, in the Ja­maican vil­lage of Port Royal, a Bri­tish navy sea­man whose ship was moored in the har­bour re­ceived word that his fa­ther had died else­where on the is­land.

Ed­ward Thache was the 20-some­thing son of a mon­eyed English­man who had sailed his fam­ily to the Caribbean two decades ear­lier to farm sugar and own land and slaves. Now Thache was pre­sented with a fate­ful choice. He could aban­don his bud­ding naval ca­reer to man­age his fa­ther’s es­tate in Span­ish Town, a ma­jor colo­nial set­tle­ment — or for­sake that in­her­i­tance and keep serv­ing the Crown.

On board HMS Wind­sor, Thache signed the land over to his step­mother, Lu­cre­tia, writ­ing that he hoped she could take care of his beloved sib­lings. With a few pen strokes, Thache made clear his burn­ing de­sire to re­main on the ship.

“I think he fell in love with the sea,” said Bay­lus Brooks, an Amer­i­can mar­itime his­to­rian.

Three hun­dred years after his death in bat­tle on Nov. 22, 1718, re­searchers are still try­ing to un­der­stand the life story of Ed­ward Thache, the fam­ily man and mariner be­hind the mythic fig­ure of Black­beard — the pi­rate, thanks to Hol­ly­wood, re­mem­bered to­day as the ma­rauder who roved the At­lantic.

Lit­tle was known about Black­beard’s up­bring­ing or his path into piracy un­til a few years ago, when Brooks, comb­ing on­line an­ces­tral records to in­ves­ti­gate the pi­rate’s lin­eage, sug­gested that the Thache who re­nounced his name­sake fa­ther’s prop­erty went on to be­come, a decade later, the un­shaven, red-coated me­nace ref­er­enced in films and TV se­ries.

Brooks’ re­search in­di­cates that the Thache fam­ily set out for Ja­maica from the English city of Bris­tol in the mid-1680s, mean­ing Thache was raised there from the age of four or five.

He be­lieves Thache was work­ing as a mariner in Kingston or Port Royal by 1699, when, burial doc­u­ments show, his mother El­iz­a­beth passed away. Around that time Thache had a daugh­ter he named El­iz­a­beth, whom he soon sent to live with his fa­ther Ed­ward and new step­mother on the es­tate.

Thache joined the Bri­tish navy in April 1706. Se­duced by the sea, he re­lin­quished con­trol of the es­tate to stay with the navy and was sub­se­quently em­broiled in Queen Anne’s War, where Bri­tain fought France for North Amer­i­can ter­ri­to­ries. When Bri­tain won the war in 1713, the no­ble­man from old wealth be­gan to shape-shift into Black­beard.

Brooks be­lieves Thache likely left the navy after the war and sought work as a mariner on a slave ship.

Within a few years, he re­al­ized an­other call­ing would be far more lu­cra­tive.

In 1715, 11 Span­ish ships car­ry­ing un­told quan­ti­ties of sil­ver cap­sized in a hur­ri­cane, scat­ter­ing the trea­sure on the coast of Flor­ida.

English sea­men and pri­va­teers — many of whom, like Thache, had lost their chief aim in life when the war ended — quickly con­verged on the wreck­age for “a on­cein-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to strike it rich,” as Trent Univer­sity his­tory pro­fes­sor Arne Bialuschewski de­scribed the raid in an email. We don’t know what im­pelled Thache to turn crim­i­nal in the years fol­low­ing the war.

An­gus Kon­stam, a pi­rate ex­pert from Scot­land, said Thache’s lit­er­acy and abil­ity to nav­i­gate a ship would have proved es­sen­tial in the tran­si­tion: “These are skills that mean you need to be quite an ex­pe­ri­enced mariner.”

Kon­stam said the first ev­i­dence ty­ing Thache to piracy dates to late 1716, when a ship com­man­der re­ported Thache had stopped him from cross­ing through a pas­sage north of Ja­maica. In 1717, a cap­tain who found him­self in a sim­i­lar shake­down in­tro­duced to the his­tor­i­cal record a new nick­name for his ac­coster: Black­beard.

In an era where most pi­rates were clean-shaven, Black­beard grew his fa­cial hair un­usu­ally long to in­tim­i­date his marks.

It was a per­ilous time for any­one to sail the At­lantic: storms, dis­eases and pi­rates were in dan­ger of dy­ing at the hand of an armed mer­chant ship. Re­mark­ably, Black­beard never killed any­one dur­ing his loot­ing days, so eas­ily con­vinced were the ves­sels he tar­geted to sur­ren­der be­fore things got vi­o­lent.

“If you wanted to mug some­body on the streets of New York, it’s much bet­ter if they give up their wal­let and their phone with­out a fight,” Kon­stam said. Black­beard, he said, was a “bit of a pussy­cat — but he looks scary.”

If two life-al­ter­ing de­ci­sions did in fact set Thache on course to be­com­ing Black­beard, he never sur­vived to con­firm this.

Three hun­dred years ago Thurs­day, Black­beard was killed and be­headed dur­ing a skir­mish with sailors from Vir­ginia. The gov­er­nor of the colony, Alexan­der Spotswood, was dis­pleased the pi­rate and his men had been spot­ted in nearby wa­ters.

The sailors, led by Bri­tish navy lieu­tenant Robert May­nard, am­bushed Black­beard at Ocra­coke Is­land off North Carolina. His piracy ca­reer had lasted all of two years.

Sev­eral men on ei­ther side died, but May­nard sailed away un­scathed with Black­beard’s head on the bowsprit of his ship, un­aware of the sur­pris­ing legacy his slain foe would de­velop.

“He’s the face of piracy,” Kon­stam said. “Any­one who imag­ines a pi­rate, they close their eyes and pic­ture Black­beard.”

Ed­ward Thache — “the face of piracy,” ac­cord­ing to ex­pert Agnus Kon­stam — faces a ca­reer-end­ing am­bush, as il­lus­trated in this 1920 paint­ing by Jean Leon Gerome Fer­ris: Cap­ture of the Pi­rate, Black­beard 1718.

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