Teach the Rover
DESCRIPTION: Teach, an outlaw captain, goes to Carolina after the Act of Grace, but soon turns pirate. Finally he is overtaken by Maynard's crew. In the desperate battle that follows, Maynard boards the pirate ship and himself kills Teach
EARLIEST DATE: 1891 (Ashton-RealSailorSongs)
KEYWORDS: pirate battle
1717 - Act of Grace pardons most of the Jacobite leaders of the 1715 rebellion.
1718 - Lieutenant Robert Maynard's frigate captures the pirate ship of Edward Teach. Teach is shot in the fighting
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 78, "Teach the Rover" (1 text)
Ashton-RealSailorSongs, #79, "The Downfall of Piracy" (1 text)
Frank-NewBookOfPirateSongs 17, "The Downfall of Piracy" (1 text, 1 tune; from separate sources; #17 in the first edition)
ADDITIONAL: C. H. Firth, _Publications of the Navy Records Society_ , 1907 (available on Google Books), p. 166, "The Downfall of Piracy" (1 text)
ST PBB078 (Partial)
NOTES [690 words]: Edward Teach is the actual name of the pirate usually known as "Blackbeard." (At least, "Teach" is the name he acknowledged; Hendrickson, p. 208, mentions a report that he was born Edward Drummond.) This song agrees with The General History of Pirates (usually attributed to Daniel Defoe, but this is now much doubted) in describing him as quite successful and bloody, but available records (such as the log of a ship the History asserts fought against Teach) seem to indicate that much of the History's account is fiction (e.g. DictPirates, p. 26, says that the History "combined fact and fiction," declaring that "To straightforward reporting of Teach's adventures, Defoe added lurid stories portraying him as a horrifying monster.")
What is fact is that Teach's short career did not yield many rich prizes, and the records do not indicate that he harmed his victims.
According to Herman, pp. 248-249, Teach was a Bristolman who had fought in the War of the Spanish Succession. He made his base in the maze that was North Carolina's Outer Banks, making it hard for large ships to pursue him. This kept him safe from the two Royal Navy sloops of war sent to hunt him down, but the captain of the Pearle sent Lt. Maynard aboard a small boat to catch Teach. Their battle, on November 21, was fought in conditions of no wind, so apart from one broadside Teach managed to fire at the navy force, it was all hand-to-hand combat.
Reportedly Teach's body had been pierced by five pistol shots and 25 sword wounds. But the corpse was beheaded and the body thrown overboard, so this cannot be proved.
But, of course, what counts is not what actually happened but what people thought happened. Amazing stories were legend -- e.g. that Blackbeard's body, after it was thrown in the sea, swam around the ship several times before sinking (Hendrickson, p. 209). There was also a report that he married 14 different women (Hendrickson, p. 208), although few of them seem to have been named. And then there is the hair. Cordingly, p. 13, quotes the History as follows:
"Captain Teach assumed the cognomen of Black-beard, from that large quantity of hair, which, like a frightful meteor, covered his face, and frightened America more than any other comet that has appeared for a long time.
"This beard was black, which he suffered to grow of an extravagant length; as to breadth, it came up to his eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with ribbons... and turn them about his ears; in time of action, he wore a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoliers, and stuck lighted matches under his hat, which appearing on both sides of his face, his eyes naturally looking fierce and wild, made him altogether such a figure, that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury, from Hell, to look more frightful."
Brumwell/Speck, p. 293, report a legend that he drank his rum spiked with gunpowder.
Some of this, like the part about the matches, is probably exaggerated (DictPirates, p. 26, says that Teach's "bizzare beard and clothing [were] not mentioned by anyome who met Teach"), but Cordingly, pp. 13-14, quotes several sources supporting his long beard tied with ribbons.
There was, according to Cordingly, p. 24, a successful (but far from accurate) play from 1798 called "Blackbeard, or The Captive Princess." I don't know if it influenced this song; it doesn't sound like it would have. Robert Louis Stevenson's Master of Ballantrae (1889) is perhaps a more likely influence. DictPirates, pp. 27-28, mentions movies allegedly about Teach ("Blackbeard the Pirate," 1952, and "Blackbeard's Ghost," 1968); these obviously had no effect on tradition.
According to Firth, the earliest version of this is from The Worcester Garland, a copy of which is in the British Library (1162.c.4 ). But he offers no date. Frank says it is from c. 1765.
Frank also mentions, without rejecting it out of hand, a report that this was written by a young Benjamin Franklin based on news reports of the time. His only evidence seems to be that Franklin wrote other pieces based on reports from the same paper. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Brumwell/Speck: Stephen Brumwell and W. A. Speck, Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cassell & Co., 2001
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates, 1995 (I use the 1997 Harcourt Brace edition)
- DictPirates: Jan Rogozinsky, Pirates, Facts on File, 1995 (reprinted 1997 by Wordsworth as The Wordsworth Dictionary of Pirates; this is the edition I used)
- Firth: C. H. Firth, Publications of the Navy Records Society, 1907 (available on Google Books)
- Hendrickson: Robert Hendrickson, The Ocean Almanac, Doubleday, 1984
- Herman: Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, 2004 (I use the 2005 Harper Perennial edition)
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