Monday, July 23, 2018

Reply from Historian Kevin Duffus

Friday's post was about the last days of Blackbeard the pirate and his quartermaster, William Howard. Author and historian Kevin Duffus (The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate) sent me these comments (my blog post in plain font, his comments in boldface):
A brief account of the last days of Blackbeard's crew:

Blackbeard was defeated near Ocracoke Island, November 22, 1718 (old calendar), by Lt. Maynard and sailors of the Royal Navy. After his death (he was wounded 25 times with sword and pistol), Blackbeard's head was cut off and his body thrown overboard. 

There is no official record stating that his body was thrown overboard.

At least eight pirates were killed in that final battle. 

Ten pirates, including Blackbeard, were killed during the hand-to-hand fighting which was said in Royal Navy documents to last less than six minutes. 

Fourteen others were captured and taken to Williamsburg, Virginia, where they were tried for piracy. 

Nine suspected pirates (including Samuel Odell and the slave-pirate Caesar) were captured at Ocracoke and six more (including Israel Hands, Edward Salter, John Martin, and Joseph Brooks, Jr.) were arrested at Bath.

Samuel Odell, it was learned, had been captured by Blackbeard the day before the battle. Although Odell participated in the battle, it became clear that he was an unwilling participant, and he was acquitted.

The source for the Samuel Odell story came from the 1724 book General History of Pirates and cannot be relied upon as fact.

The other thirteen pirates were hanged.

There is no official or otherwise reliable source to confirm that 13 pirates were hanged. A number of the men listed as having been hanged in General History of Pirates can be found in the deeds and estate records of Bath County many years later. For example, Caesar was not hanged because his name appears in Tobias Knight’s estate inventory in Sep. 1719. Likewise, Edward Salter, John Martin, and Joseph Brooks, Jr. can be found in the records after their purported hangings.

Two of Captain Teach's officers, Israel Hands and William Howard, are not on the list of pirates killed or executed in Williamsburg. Why is that?

Israel Hands, one of Blackbeard's most loyal sailors, had left Blackbeard after the captain wounded him in the knee with a pistol shot (!). After Teach's death Hands was captured in Bath, North Carolina. He was tried for piracy in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1718. He was convicted, but later pardoned. When last heard of he was begging on the streets of London.

The same pardon that benefited Israel Hands, a second, more generous proclamation of mercy from George I, also applied to any of Blackbeard’s pirates who did not bear arms at the battle of Ocracoke, including those six men arrested at Bath as well as Caesar and James Robbins who were captured at Ocracoke.

William Howard, Blackbeard's Quartermaster, also was not with his captain in the battle at Ocracoke Inlet. In the summer of 1718 Howard was apprehended in Virginia, and taken to the jail in Williamsburg as a vagrant pirate. 

Howard was likely arrested in late-September or early-October. He was held in the brig aboard HMS Pearl.

In November he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. In December, the day before his scheduled execution, a pardon arrived in Williamsburg. The pardon was executed by a commission in London, and offered amnesty for any piratical acts committed before July 23, 1718. 

In fact, the second proclamation of mercy from George I stated that those pirates who surrendered by July 1, 1719 would be forgiven for any and all acts of piracy committed “before such time as having received notice of this Our Royal Proclamation. This meant that Blackbeard and those men with him at Ocracoke would have been eligible for the terms of the second pardon had they not bore arms against the King’s sailors. By virtue of the fact that Blackbeard ordered his gunners to open fire after being threatened by Lt. Maynard that they would be taken “dead or alive,” the pirates committed an act of treason for which no pardon would forgive them.

As expected, William Howard was quick to accept the pardon! He was not heard from for many years. Forty-one years later a William Howard purchased Ocracoke Island. Most historians believe William Howard the pirate and William Howard of Ocracoke were the same person. 

In fact, on the 22nd of Nov. 1721, William Howard testified at the pirate trial of physician William Howell at the Bahamas. Howell had been forced into the pirate company of Benjamin Hornigold at the time when Howard served as Hornigold’s quartermaster.

William Howard, Bath/Beaufort County deeds suggest, was the son of Pamlico River plantation owner Phillip Howard who was the son of William Howard of the Chowan/Albemarle area. Even though no extant record proves conclusively that Pamlico River plantation owner Phillip Howard’s son William was the same man as Blackbeard’s quartermaster on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the statistical probabilities (partly based on the identities of other Bath-based pirates including John Martin and Caesar) are sufficiently strong to conclude that they were the same man. Likewise, the pirate William Howard, an experienced mariner from the Pamlico area, was very likely the same man as William Howard, harbor pilot, mariner, and 1759 purchaser of Ocracoke Island.
This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a delightful story written by Dr. Warren Silverman, who in 1981 became the island's resident physician after forty years without a doctor. The story is about Dr. Silverman's very first Ocracoke patient, island native Maltby Bragg (1904-1985). You can read the story here:  


  1. Very cool breakdown of the various parts. As always, a GREAT read! Have a great week!

  2. Anonymous5:36 PM

    I've read his book on blackbeard...very good and make sense. This guy can do some research! As to the real identity of black beard....I am leaning toward his findings.
    Anyway, pick it up-good read and good for a library collection. Good stuff again, thanks Philip. NS