Tuesday, July 02, 2019

William Howard

From 1717 to the summer of 1718 William Howard served as quartermaster (senior officer) of Blackbeard's crew.

Lt. Robert Maynard and his Royal Navy sailors defeated Blackbeard in a naval battle at Ocracoke on November 22, 1718.  After the battle the sixteen surviving pirates (Blackbeard was killed, so was not among them) were taken to Virginia to stand trial. According to most accounts, all but two were convicted and hanged by the neck.* Samuel Odel was released because he just happened to be aboard Blackbeard's ship and was not actually a member of the pirate crew. Israel Hands, former sailing master, was pardoned, perhaps because he had been crippled by a gunshot from Blackbeard some time before the final battle.

In 1759 William Howard purchased Ocracoke Island. Most historians and scholars believe William Howard, owner of Ocracoke Island, was the same William Howard who had served as Blackbeard's quartermaster. But how could William Howard the pirate have purchased Ocracoke if all of Blackbeard's crew (with the exception of Samuel Odel and Israel Hands) were either killed in the battle of Ocracoke or hanged in Virginia?

As it turns out, William Howard had departed Blackbeard's company in July or August, 1718. Shortly thereafter he was among those seen in taverns in coastal Virginia. Alexander Spotswood, Governor of Virginia, had William Howard seized as a vagrant seaman having no lawful business in Virginia.

Public Gaol, Williamsburg
Image Source: Galenfrysinger.com

Criminal proceedings were instituted against him. In spite of employing John Holloway, "one of the chief lawyers" of the colony, Howard was tried without a jury, and convicted of "Pyracy and Robbery" on the High Seas.

William Howard was found guilty of piracy and sentenced to be hanged. Fortunately for him, on the night before his scheduled execution the king's Act of Grace (pardon for all piratical acts committed before July 23, 1718) arrived in Williamsburg. William Howard was released...good news for all residents of Ocracoke who can trace their roots to William Howard!  


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*Kevin Duffus, author of The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate, contends that most of Black Beard’s captured crew members were not hanged in Virginia and that several returned to their communities in eastern North Carolina. 


  1. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Good posting. What do you think about the k.duffus book and his contention that Blackbeard was from around Bath,nc? Will we ever really know...than again Philip.

  2. Anonymous11:08 PM

    To set the record straight, my research, based on primary sources, indicates that members of Blackbeard’s crew who were arrested at Bath and who did not bear arms against the king’s colors at Ocracoke, were eligible for the same pardon that benefited William Howard. Those men included John Martin, the son of Bath co-founder Joel Martin, former pirate-cooper Edward Salter, and Joseph Brooks, Jr. Their names appear in the Beaufort County deed book after their purported hangings in VA. Salter, in particular, has a well-documented and distinguished life that lasted another 20 years after he was convicted of piracy at Williamsburg. Mariner and Bath plantation owner James Robbins, and the pirate slave Caesar owned by the governor’s executive council secretary Tobias Knight, also retuned to Bath after their convictions and “so-called hangings.” There is absolutely no record that supports the notion that “all but two of Blackbeard’s pirates were hanged.” None. The long-held assumption of the Williamsburg pirate hangings is today perpetuated by monolithic institutions, poor scholarship by historians, and authors who simply parrot one another. Lastly, Royal Navy records are clear that the few hangings that did occur—two white pirates and four black pirate-slaves—took place at Hampton, Virginia.

    Kevin Duffus
    author, The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate

  3. Anonymous11:03 PM

    Here we go again, the Blackbeard Blues. There is an entire genre of Pirate literature available on e-books -- if I am able to find out the name of the popular author i am aware of, I will report back

  4. Anonymous11:10 PM

    The popular writer ( former journalist ) her name Darlene Marshall if interested check it out-- I am not related to this person, but I know of her from way back when er, the 70's yikes!