Friday, October 17, 2008 10/17/08-Blackbeard

In today's excerpt--in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the "golden age" of piracy off the Atlantic coast of America, pirates such as Blackbeard routinely gave kickbacks to governors and other prominent merchants and government officials--and received support and protection in return. In this excerpt, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, whose men had just killed Blackbeard in battle, finds a packet of letters in the fallen pirate's cabin:

"Maynard made his way to the pirate's cabin. It was small but surprisingly well kept. A journal lay next to the bed, though it would offer little insight into the man who kept it. 'Rum all gone,' one entry ran. 'Knaves a'plotting. Weather clear.' Maynard moved on. The desk was as sparse as the rest of the cabin, but on it lay a small strongbox with a lock. A few moments' job with the sharp end of a dirk and it was open. A packet of letters was revealed. One seemed to bear an official seal. Maynard scooped them up and left the cabin. ...

"From the letters themselves and the testimony of surviving pirates, an incredible picture emerged. There were letters from prominent New York traders, assuring the pirates of their goodwill. There were letters from Tobias Knight, colony secretary and personal friend and agent of [North Carolina] Governor Charles Eden. 'My dear friend ...' Cargo manifests revealed that Blackbeard had been liberal with his prizes, sharing some twenty hogsheads of sugar with Knight and another sixty with Eden. And there were other letters, each bearing the distinctive seal of the Royal Governor of His Majesty's Colony of North Carolina. Maynard must have shaken his head in wonderment. Even as [Virginia] Governor Alexander Spotswood was dispatching Maynard south [to attack Blackbeard], Governor Eden sent his own emissary, Knight, to warn the pirate of his approach. ...

"This [type of] sordid scandal of pirate patronage had been and would be played out again and again like a Renaissance comedy throughout the Atlantic world for more than three decades. Blackbeard's case was neither the last nor the worst. ...

"In the long history of piracy in the Atlantic, [these scandals stand in stark contrast to the official story, which is] one of heroism and valor pitted against rank treachery and treason, of brave governments with valiant navies warring against a band of seagoing miscreants that one historian has dubbed 'the lowest form of human scum.' "

Douglas R. Burgess, Jr., The Pirates Pact, McGraw Hill, Copyright 2009 by Douglas Burgess, pp. 7-11.


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