The hold filled with sulphurous fumes. One after the other, the crew, gasping and choking, scrambled up the hatchway into the fresh air. Blackbeard, of course, was said to be the only one who stood among the fires. When he came up, he snarled at them, "Damn ye, ye yellow-bellied sapsuckers! I'm a better man than all ye milksops put together!" (Daily Mail)
Before a battle, he normally tied slow-burning cannon fuses under his fur hat. These were made of hemp cord and dipped in a solution of saltpetre and lime, which enveloped his face in smoke. No wonder adversaries believed him to be the devil incarnate. Now, they may have an answer to this bizarre behavior. When divers at Beaufort Inlet began excavating and recovering artifacts, they came up with plenty of wine bottles, platters, grenades and even specks of gold. In addition, they found a pewter syringe, 61/4in long, with a curved funnel tip containing traces of mercury. It was painfully used to administer mercury into the penis for the treatment of venereal diseases.
Did Blackbeard have syphilis? The hope is to find the medicine chest with the rest of supplies, which may provide some more answers. This is only one of four boats that went down, so it may have been brought to another one.
It is nearly absolute that this was one of Blackbeard's boats, since the bronze bell, one of the first items brought to the surface, is inscribed with the date 1709, and the name IHS Maria. Historians theorize the foot-tall bell was taken from a captured vessel or a plundered port town. Pewter dishes made by London pewterer George Hammond date to the early 1700s. Two onion-shaped English wine bottles are circa 1714, which is the time of Queen Anne's Revenge.
Not all pirates were as bad as Blackbeard, but they were not the most ethical and nonviolent men around. Why are people so fascinated today, besides that Johnny Depp is onboard the ship? One reason may be the desire for rebellion, in this case, against the government. The songwriters Gilbert and Sullivan put it this way in the Pirates of Penzance when the Pirate King compares himself favorably to actual monarchs. "Many a king on a first-class throne / if he wants to call his crown his own / Must manage somehow to get through / More dirty work than ever I do."
Nostalgia may be another reason for the popularity of such bad guys as blackbeard, says Erin Mackie, senior lecturer and program director of English in the School of Culture, Literature, and Society at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Nostalgia might be one to feel the effects of historical complicity and continuity. "Even as it laments an irrevocable past, nostalgia evokes and so revives the past, or a desirable version of that past, in the here and now. Figured as an object of desire, the past enshrined by nostalgia memorializes, in the shape of this figuration, complicities it seeks to contain or evade."
Much of the information that people know and love about pirates is misinformation. According to the Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida that has an exhibit on pirates, the common practice of forcing victims to "walk the plank" was not true. The pirates' favorite form of punishment was to tie their victims to the boat with a length of rope, toss them overboard, and drag them under the ship, a practice known as "keel hauling." Buried treasures and maps are also largely a myth, since they used it up almost as quickly as they stole it on women and booze.
Regardless of what is right or wrong information or right or wrong behavior, people of all ages will probably continue to romanticize about the life of a pirate. If their boat was stopped by today's pirates on one of the oceans, it would not take them long to know why Blackbeard had such a bad reputation.
Mackie, E.(2005). Welcome the outlaw. Cultural Critique. 59: 24-62
Pyle, H., and Johnson, M. (1921). Howard Pyle's Book of…