Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates/Chapter 5

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Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921), p. 187a.jpg




WE, of these times, protected as we are by the laws and by the number of people about us, can hardly comprehend such a life as that of the American colonies in the early part of the eighteenth century, when it was possible for a pirate like Capt. Teach, known as Blackbeard, to exist, and for the governor and the secretary of the province in which he lived perhaps to share his plunder, and to shelter and to protect him against the law.

At that time the American colonists were in general a rough, rugged people, knowing nothing of the finer things of life. They lived mostly in little settlements, separated by long distances from one another, so that they could neither make nor enforce laws to protect themselves. Each man or little group of men had to depend upon his or their own strength to keep what belonged to them, and to prevent fierce men or groups of men from seizing what did not belong to them.

It is the natural disposition of everyone to get all that he can. Little children, for instance, always try to take away from others that which they want, and to keep it for their own. It is only by constant teaching that they learn that they must not do so; that they must not take by force what does not belong to them. So it is only by teaching and training that people learn to be honest and not to take what is not theirs. When this teaching is not sufficient to make a man learn to be honest, or when there is something in the man’s nature that makes him not able to learn, then he only lacks the opportunity to seize upon the things he wants, just as he would do if he were a little child.

In the colonies at that time, as was just said, men were too few and scattered to protect themselves against those who had made up their minds to take by force that which they wanted, and so it was that men lived an unrestrained and lawless life, such as we of these times of better government can hardly comprehend.

The usual means of commerce between province and province was by water in coasting vessels. These coasting vessels were so defenseless, and the different colonial governments were so ill able to protect them, that those who chose to rob them could do it almost without danger to themselves.

So it was that all the western world was, in those days, infested with armed bands of cruising freebooters or pirates, who used to stop merchant vessels and take from them what they chose.

Each province in those days was ruled over by a royal governor appointed by the king. Each governor, at one time, was free to do almost as he pleased in his own province. He was accountable only to the king and his government, and England was so distant that he was really responsible almost to nobody but himself.

The governors were naturally just as desirous to get rich quickly, just as desirous of getting all that they could for themselves, as was anybody else only they had been taught and had been able to learn that it was not right to be an actual pirate or robber. They wanted to be rich easily and quickly, but the desire was not strong enough to lead them to dishonor themselves in their own opinion and in the opinion of others by gratifying their selfishness. They would even have stopped the pirates from doing what they did if they could, but their provincial governments were too weak to prevent the freebooters from robbing merchant vessels, or to punish them when they came ashore. The provinces had no navies, and they really had no armies; neither were there enough people living within the community to enforce the laws against those stronger and fiercer men who were not honest.

After the things the pirates seized from merchant vessels were once stolen they were altogether lost. Almost never did any owner apply for them, for it would be useless to do so. The stolen goods and merchandise lay in the storehouses of the pirates, seemingly without any owner excepting the pirates themselves.

The governors and the secretaries of the colonies would not dishonor themselves by pirating upon merchant vessels, but it did not seem so wicked after the goods were stolen—and so altogether lost—to take a part of that which seemed to have no owner.

A child is taught that it is a very wicked thing to take, for instance, by force, a lump of sugar from another child; but when a wicked child has seized the sugar from another and taken it around the corner, and that other child from whom he has seized it has gone home crying, it does not seem so wicked for the third child to take a bite of the sugar when it is offered to him, even if he thinks it has been taken from some one else.

It was just so, no doubt, that it did not seem so wicked to Governor Eden and Secretary Knight of North Carolina, or to Governor Fletcher of New York, or to other colonial governors, to take a part of the booty that the pirates, such as Blackbeard, had stolen. It did not even seem very wicked to compel such pirates to give up a part of what was not theirs, and which seemed to have no owner.

In Governor Eden’s time, however, the colonies had begun to be more thickly peopled, and the laws had gradually become stronger and stronger to protect men in the possession of what was theirs. Governor Eden was the last of the colonial governors who had dealings with the pirates, and Blackbeard was almost the last of the pirates who, with his banded men, was savage and powerful enough to come and go as he chose among the people whom he plundered.

Virginia, at that time, was the greatest and the richest of all the American colonies, and upon the farther side of North Carolina was the province of South Carolina, also strong and rich. It was these two colonies that suffered the most from Blackbeard, and it began to be that the honest men that lived in them could endure no longer to be plundered.

The merchants and traders and others who suffered cried out loudly for protection, so loudly that the governors of these provinces could not help hearing them.

Governor Eden was petitioned to act against the pirates, but he would do nothing, for he felt very friendly toward Blackbeard—just as a child who has had a taste of the stolen sugar feels friendly toward the child who gives it to him.

At last, when Blackbeard sailed up into the very heart of Virginia, and seized upon and carried away the daughter of that colony’s foremost people, the governor of Virginia, finding that the governor of North Carolina would do nothing to punish the outrage, took the matter into his own hands and issued a proclamation offering a reward of one hundred pounds for Blackbeard, alive or dead, and different sums for the other pirates who were his followers.

Governor Spottiswood had the right to issue the proclamation, but he had no right to commission Lieutenant Maynard, as he did, to take down an armed force into the neighboring province and to attack the pirates in the waters of the North Carolina sounds. It was all a part of the rude and lawless condition of the colonies at the time that such a thing could have been done.

The governor’s proclamation against the pirates was issued
Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921), p. 191.jpg

“Jack Followed the Captain and the Young Lady up the Crooked Path to the House”
Illustration from
by Howard Pyle
Originally published by
The Century Company, 1894

upon the eleventh day of November. It was read in the churches the Sunday following and was posted upon the doors of all the government custom offices in lower Virginia. Lieutenant Maynard, in the boats that Colonel Parker had already fitted out to go against the pirates, set sail upon the seventeenth of the month for Ocracoke. Five days later the battle was fought.

Blackbeard’s sloop was lying inside of Ocracoke Inlet among the shoals and sand bars when he first heard of Governor Spottiswood’s proclamation.

There had been a storm, and a good many vessels had run into the inlet for shelter. Blackbeard knew nearly all of the captains of these vessels, and it was from them that he first heard of the proclamation.

He had gone aboard one of the vessels—a coaster from Boston. The wind was still blowing pretty hard from the southeast. There were maybe a dozen vessels lying within the inlet at that time, and the captain of one of them was paying the Boston skipper a visit when Blackbeard came aboard. The two captains had been talking together. They instantly ceased when the pirate came down into the cabin, but he had heard enough of their conversation to catch its drift. “Why d’ye stop?” he said. “I heard what you said. Well, what then? D’ye think I mind it at all? Spottiswood is going to send his bullies down here after me. That’s what you were saying. Well, what then? You don’t think I’m afraid of his bullies, do you?”

“Why, no, Captain, I didn’t say you was afraid,” said the visiting captain.

“And what right has he got to send down here against me in North Carolina, I should like to ask you?”

“He’s got none at all,” said the Boston captain, soothingly. “Won’t you take a taste of Hollands, Captain?”

“He’s no more right to come blustering down here into Governor Eden’s province than I have to come aboard of your schooner here, Tom Burley, and to carry off two or three kegs of this prime Hollands for my own drinking.”

Captain Burley—the Boston man—laughed a loud, forced laugh. “Why, Captain,” he said, “as for two or three kegs of Hollands, you won’t find that aboard. But if you’d like to have a keg of it for your own drinking, I’ll send it to you and be glad enough to do so for old acquaintance’ sake.”

“But I tell you what ’tis, Captain,” said the visiting skipper to Blackbeard, “they’re determined and set against you this time. I tell you, Captain, Governor Spottiswood hath issued a hot proclamation against you, and ’t hath been read out in all the churches. I myself saw it posted in Yorktown upon the customhouse door and read it there myself. The governor offers one hundred pounds for you, and fifty pounds for your officers, and twenty pounds each for your men.”

“Well, then,” said Blackbeard, holding up his glass, “here, I wish ’em good luck, and when they get their hundred pounds for me they’ll be in a poor way to spend it. As for the Hollands,” said he, turning to Captain Burley, “I know what you’ve got aboard here and what you haven’t. D’ye suppose ye can blind me? Very well, you send over two kegs, and I’ll let you go without search.” The two captains were very silent. “As for that Lieutenant Maynard you’re all talking about,” said Blackbeard, “why, I know him very well. He was the one who was so busy with the pirates down Madagascar way. I believe you’d all like to see him blow me out of the water, but he can’t do it. There’s nobody in His Majesty’s service I’d rather meet than Lieutenant Maynard. I’d teach him pretty briskly that North Carolina isn’t Madagascar.”

On the evening of the twenty-second the two vessels under command of Lieutenant Maynard came into the mouth of Ocracoke Inlet and there dropped anchor. Meantime the weather had cleared, and all the vessels but one had gone from the inlet. The one vessel that remained was a New Yorker. It had been there over a night and a day, and the captain and Blackbeard had become very good friends.

The same night that Maynard came into the inlet a wedding was held on the shore. A number of men and women came up the beach in oxcarts and sledges; others had come in boats from more distant points and across the water.

The captain of the New Yorker and Blackbeard went ashore together a little after dark. The New Yorker had been aboard of the pirate’s sloop for all the latter part of the afternoon, and he and Blackbeard had been drinking together in the cabin. The New York man was now a little tipsy, and he laughed and talked foolishly as he and Blackbeard were rowed ashore. The pirate sat grim and silent.

It was nearly dark when they stepped ashore on the beach. The New York captain stumbled and fell headlong, rolling over and over, and the crew of the boat burst out laughing.

The people had already begun to dance in an open shed fronting upon the shore. There were fires of pine knots in front of the building, lighting up the interior with a red glare. A negro was playing a fiddle somewhere inside, and the shed was filled with a crowd of grotesque dancing figures—men and women. Now and then they called with loud voices as they danced, and the squeaking of the fiddle sounded incessantly through the noise of outcries and the stamp and shuffling of feet.

Captain Teach and the New York captain stood looking on. The New York man had tilted himself against a post and stood there holding one arm around it, supporting himself. He waved the other hand foolishly in time to the music, now and then snapping his thumb and finger.

The young woman who had just been married approached the two. She had been dancing, and she was warm and red, her hair blowzed about her head. “Hi, Captain, won’t you dance with me?” she said to Blackbeard.

Blackbeard stared at her. “Who be you?” he said.

She burst out laughing. “You look as if you’d eat a body,” she cried.

Blackbeard’s face gradually relaxed. “Why, to be sure, you’re a brazen one, for all the world,” he said. “Well, I’ll dance with you, that I will. I’ll dance the heart out of you.”

He pushed forward, thrusting aside with his elbow the newly made husband. The man, who saw that Blackbeard had been drinking, burst out laughing, and the other men and women who had been standing around drew away, so that in a little while the floor was pretty well cleared. One could see the negro now; he sat on a barrel at the end of the room. He grinned with his white teeth and, without stopping in his fiddling, scraped his bow harshly across the strings, and then instantly changed the tune to a lively jig. Blackbeard jumped up into the air and clapped his heels together, giving, as he did so, a sharp, short yell. Then he began instantly dancing grotesquely and violently. The woman danced opposite to him, this way and that, with her knuckles on her hips. Everybody burst out laughing at Blackbeard’s grotesque antics. They laughed again and again, clapping their hands, and the negro scraped away on his fiddle like fury. The woman’s hair came tumbling down her back. She tucked it back, laughing and panting, and the sweat ran down her face. She danced and danced. At last she burst out laughing and stopped, panting. Blackbeard again jumped up in the air and clapped his heels. Again he yelled, and as he did so, he struck his heels upon the floor and spun around. Once more everybody burst out laughing, clapping their hands, and the negro stopped fiddling.

Near by was a shanty or cabin where they were selling spirits, and by and by Blackbeard went there with the New York captain, and presently they began drinking again. “Hi, Captain!” called
Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921), p. 197.jpg

“He Led Jack up to a Man Who Sat upon a Barrel”
Illustration from
by Howard Pyle
Originally published by
The Century Company, 1894

one of the men, “Maynard’s out yonder in the inlet. Jack Bishop’s just come across from t’other side. He says Mr. Maynard hailed him and asked for a pilot to fetch him in.”

“Well, here’s luck to him, and he can’t come in quick enough for me!” cried out Blackbeard in his hoarse, husky voice.

“Well, Captain,” called a voice, “will ye fight him to-morrow?”

“Aye,” shouted the pirate, “if he can get in to me, I’ll try to give ’em what they seek, and all they want of it into the bargain. As for a pilot, I tell ye what ’tis—if any man hereabouts goes out there to pilot that villain in ‘twill be the worst day’s work he ever did in all of his life. ‘Twon’t be fit for him to live in these parts of America if I am living here at the same time.” There was a burst of laughter.

“Give us a toast, Captain! Give us something to drink to! Aye, Captain, a toast! A toast!” a half dozen voices were calling out at the same time.

“Well,” cried out the pirate captain, “here’s to a good, hot fight to-morrow, and the best dog on top! ‘Twill be, Bang! bang!—this way!”

He began pulling a pistol out of his pocket, but it stuck in the lining, and he struggled and tugged at it. The men ducked and scrambled away from before him, and then the next moment he had the pistol out of his pocket. He swung it around and around. There was perfect silence. Suddenly there was a flash and a stunning report, and instantly a crash and tinkle of broken glass. One of the men cried out, and began picking and jerking at the back of his neck. “He’s broken that bottle all down my neck,” he called out.

“That’s the way ‘twill be,” said Blackbeard.

“Lookee,” said the owner of the place, “I won’t serve out another drop if ’tis going to be like that. If there’s any more trouble I’ll blow out the lantern.”

The sound of the squeaking and scraping of the fiddle and the shouts and the scuffling feet still came from the shed where the dancing was going on.

“Suppose you get your dose to-morrow, Captain,” some one called out, “what then?”

“Why, if I do,” said Blackbeard, “I get it, and that’s all there is of it.”

“Your wife’ll be a rich widdy then, won’t she?” cried one of the men; and there was a burst of laughter.

“Why,” said the New York captain,—“why, has a—a bloody p-pirate like you a wife then—a—like any honest man?”

“She’ll be no richer than she is now,” said Blackbeard.

“She knows where you’ve hid your money, anyways. Don’t she, Captain?” called out a voice.

“The divil knows where I’ve hid my money,” said Blackbeard, “and I know where I’ve hid it; and the longest liver of the twain will git it all. And that’s all there is of it.”

The gray of early day was beginning to show in the east when Blackbeard and the New York captain came down to the landing together. The New York captain swayed and toppled this way and that as he walked, now falling against Blackbeard, and now staggering away from him.


Early in the morning—perhaps eight o’clock—Lieutenant Maynard sent a boat from the schooner over to the settlement, which lay some four or five miles distant. A number of men stood lounging on the landing, watching the approach of the boat. The men rowed close up to the wharf, and there lay upon their oars, while the boatswain of the schooner, who was in command of the boat, stood up and asked if there was any man there who could pilot them over the shoals.

Nobody answered, but all stared stupidly at him. After a while one of the men at last took his pipe out of his mouth. “There ben’t any pilot here, master,” said he; “we ben’t pilots.”

“Why, what a story you do tell!” roared the boatswain. “D’ye suppose I’ve never been down here before, not to know that every man about here knows the passes of the shoals?”

The fellow still held his pipe in his hand. He looked at another one of the men. “Do you know the passes in over the shoals, Jem?” said he.

The man to whom he spoke was a young fellow with long, shaggy, sunburnt hair hanging over his eyes in an unkempt mass. He shook his head, grunting, “Na—I don’t know naught about t’ shoals.”

“‘Tis Lieutenant Maynard of His Majesty’s navy in command of them vessels out there,” said the boatswain. “He’ll give any man five pound to pilot him in.” The men on the wharf looked at one another, but still no one spoke, and the boatswain stood looking at them. He saw that they did not choose to answer him. “Why,” he said, “I believe you’ve not got right wits—that’s what I believe is the matter with you. Pull me up to the landing, men, and I’ll go ashore and see if I can find anybody that’s willing to make five pound for such a little bit of piloting as that.”

After the boatswain had gone ashore the loungers still stood on the wharf, looking down into the boat, and began talking to one another for the men below to hear them. “They’re coming in,” said one, “to blow poor Blackbeard out of the water.” “Aye,” said another, “he’s so peaceable, too, he is; he’ll just lay still and let ’em blow and blow, he will.” “There’s a young fellow there,” said another of the men; “he don’t look fit to die yet, he don’t. Why, I wouldn’t be in his place for a thousand pound.” “I do suppose Blackbeard’s so afraid he don’t know how to see,” said the first speaker.

At last one of the men in the boat spoke up. “Maybe he don’t know how to see,” said he, “but maybe we’ll blow some daylight into him afore we get through with him.”

Some more of the settlers had come out from the shore to the end of the wharf, and there was now quite a crowd gathering there, all looking at the men in the boat. “What do them Virginny ’baccy-eaters do down here in Caroliny, anyway?” said one of the newcomers. “They’ve got no call to be down here in North Caroliny waters.”

“Maybe you can keep us away from coming, and maybe you can’t,” said a voice from the boat.

“Why,” answered the man on the wharf, “we could keep you away easy enough, but you ben’t worth the trouble, and that’s the truth.”

There was a heavy iron bolt lying near the edge of the landing. One of the men upon the wharf slyly thrust it out with the end of his foot. It hung for a moment and then fell into the boat below with a crash. “What d’ye mean by that?” roared the man in charge of the boat. “What d’ye mean, ye villains? D’ye mean to stave a hole in us?”

“Why,” said the man who had pushed it, “you saw ’twasn’t done a purpose, didn’t you?”

“Well, you try it again, and somebody’ll get hurt,” said the man in the boat, showing the butt end of his pistol.

The men on the wharf began laughing. Just then the boatswain came down from the settlement again, and out along the landing. The threatened turbulence quieted as he approached, and the crowd moved sullenly aside to let him pass. He did not bring any pilot with him, and he jumped down into the stern of the boat, saying, briefly, “Push off.” The crowd of loungers stood looking after them as they rowed away, and when the boat was some distance from the landing they burst out into a volley of derisive yells. “The villains!” said the boatswain, “they are all in league together. They wouldn’t even let me go up into the settlement to look for a pilot.”

The lieutenant and his sailing master stood watching the boat as it approached. “Couldn’t you, then, get a pilot, Baldwin?” said Mr. Maynard, as the boatswain scrambled aboard.

“No, I couldn’t, sir,” said the man. “Either they’re all banded together, or else they’re all afraid of the villains. They wouldn’t even let me go up into the settlement to find one.”

“Well, then,” said Mr. Maynard, “we’ll make shift to work in as best we may by ourselves. ‘Twill be high tide against one o’clock. We’ll run in then with sail as far as we can, and then we’ll send you ahead with the boat to sound for a pass, and we’ll follow with the sweeps. You know the waters pretty well, you say.”

“They were saying ashore that the villain hath forty men aboard,” said the boatswain.[1]

Lieutenant Maynard’s force consisted of thirty-five men in the schooner and twenty-five men in the sloop. He carried neither cannons nor carronades, and neither of his vessels was very well fitted for the purpose for which they were designed. The schooner, which he himself commanded, offered almost no protection to the crew. The rail was not more than a foot high in the waist, and the men on the deck were almost entirely exposed. The rail of the sloop was perhaps a little higher, but it, too, was hardly better adapted for fighting. Indeed, the lieutenant depended more upon the moral force of official authority to overawe the pirates than upon any real force of arms or men. He never believed, until the very last moment, that the pirates would show any real fight. It is very possible that they might not have done so had they not thought that the lieutenant had actually no legal right supporting him in his attack upon them in North Carolina waters.

It was about noon when anchor was hoisted, and, with the schooner leading, both vessels ran slowly in before a light wind that had begun to blow toward midday. In each vessel a man stood in the bows, sounding continually with lead and line. As they slowly opened up the harbor within the inlet, they could see the pirate sloop lying about three miles away. There was a boat just putting off from it to the shore.

The lieutenant and his sailing master stood together on the roof of the cabin deckhouse. The sailing master held a glass to his eye. “She carries a long gun, sir,” he said, “and four carronades. She’ll be hard to beat, sir, I do suppose, armed as we are with only light arms for close fighting.”

The lieutenant laughed. “Why, Brookes,” he said, “you seem to think forever of these men showing fight. You don’t know them as I know them. They have a deal of bluster and make a deal of noise, but when you seize them and hold them with a strong hand, there’s naught of fight left in them. ’Tis like enough there’ll not be so much as a musket fired to-day. I’ve had to do with ’em often enough before to know my gentlemen well by this time.” Nor, as was said, was it until the very last that the lieutenant could be brought to believe that the pirates had any stomach for a fight.

The two vessels had reached perhaps within a mile of the pirate sloop before they found the water too shoal to venture any farther with the sail. It was then that the boat was lowered as the lieutenant had planned, and the boatswain went ahead to sound, the two vessels, with their sails still hoisted but empty of wind, pulling in after with sweeps.

The pirate had also hoisted sail, but lay as though waiting for the approach of the schooner and the sloop.

The boat in which the boatswain was sounding had run in a considerable distance ahead of the two vessels, which were gradually creeping up with the sweeps until they had reached to within less
Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921), p. 205.jpg

“The Bullets Were Humming and Singing, Clipping Along the Top of the Water”
Illustration from
by Howard Pyle
Originally published by
The Century Company, 1894

than half a mile of the pirates—the boat with the boatswain maybe a quarter of a mile closer. Suddenly there was a puff of smoke from the pirate sloop, and then another and another, and the next moment there came the three reports of muskets up the wind.

“By zounds!” said the lieutenant. “I do believe they’re firing on the boat!” And then he saw the boat turn and begin pulling toward them.

The boat with the boatswain aboard came rowing rapidly. Again there were three or four puffs of smoke and three or four subsequent reports from the distant vessel. Then, in a little while, the boat was alongside, and the boatswain came scrambling aboard. “Never mind hoisting the boat,” said the lieutenant; “we’ll just take her in tow. Come aboard as quick as you can.” Then, turning to the sailing master, “Well, Brookes, you’ll have to do the best you can to get in over the shoals under half sail.”

“But, sir,” said the master, “we’ll be sure to run aground.”

“Very well, sir,” said the lieutenant, “you heard my orders. If we run aground we run aground, and that’s all there is of it.”

“I sounded as far as maybe a little over a fathom,” said the mate, “but the villains would let me go no nearer. I think I was in the channel, though. ’Tis more open inside, as I mind me of it. There’s a kind of a hole there, and if we get in over the shoals just beyond where I was we’ll be all right.”

“Very well, then, you take the wheel, Baldwin,” said the lieutenant, “and do the best you can for us.”

Lieutenant Maynard stood looking out forward at the pirate vessel, which they were now steadily nearing under half sail. He could see that there were signs of bustle aboard and of men running around upon the deck. Then he walked aft and around the cabin. The sloop was some distance astern. It appeared to have run aground, and they were trying to push it off with the sweeps. The lieutenant looked down into the water over the stern, and saw that the schooner was already raising the mud in her wane.

Then he went forward along the deck. His men were crouching down along by the low rail, and there was a tense quietness of expectation about them. The lieutenant looked them over as he passed them. “Johnson,” he said, “do you take the lead and line and go forward and sound a bit.” Then to the others: “Now, my men, the moment we run her aboard, you get aboard of her as quick as you can, do you understand? Don’t wait for the sloop or think about her, but just see that the grappling irons are fast, and then get aboard. If any man offers to resist you, shoot him down. Are you ready, Mr. Cringle?”

“Aye, aye, sir,” said the gunner.

“Very well, then, be ready, men; we’ll be aboard ’em in a minute or two.”

“There’s less than a fathom of water here, sir,” sang out Johnson from the bows. As he spoke there was a sudden soft jar and jerk, then the schooner was still. They were aground. “Push her off to the lee there! Let go your sheets!” roared the boatswain from the wheel. “Push her off to the lee.” He spun the wheel around as he spoke. A half a dozen men sprang up, seized the sweeps, and plunged them into the water. Others ran to help them, but the sweeps only sank into the mud without moving the schooner. The sails had fallen off and they were flapping and thumping and clapping in the wind. Others of the crew had scrambled to their feet and ran to help those at the sweeps. The lieutenant had walked quickly aft again. They were very close now to the pirate sloop, and suddenly some one hailed him from aboard of her. When he turned he saw that there was a man standing up on the rail of the pirate sloop, holding by the back stays. “Who are you?” he called, from the distance, “and whence come you? What do you seek here? What d’ye mean, coming down on us this way?”

The lieutenant heard somebody say, “That’s Blackbeard hisself.” And he looked with great interest at the distant figure.

The pirate stood out boldly against the cloudy sky. Somebody seemed to speak to him from behind. He turned his head and then he turned round again. “We’re only peaceful merchantmen!” he called out. “What authority have you got to come down upon us this way? If you’ll come aboard I’ll show you my papers and that we’re only peaceful merchantmen.”

“The villains!” said the lieutenant to the master, who stood beside him. “They’re peaceful merchantmen, are they! They look like peaceful merchantmen, with four carronades and a long gun aboard!” Then he called out across the water, “I’ll come aboard with my schooner as soon as I can push her off here.”

“If you undertake to come aboard of me,” called the pirate, “I’ll shoot into you. You’ve got no authority to board me, and I won’t have you do it. If you undertake it ‘twill be at your own risk, for I’ll neither ask quarter of you nor give none.”

“Very well,” said the lieutenant, “if you choose to try that, you may do as you please; for I’m coming aboard of you as sure as heaven.”

“Push off the bow there!” called the boatswain at the wheel. “Look alive! Why don’t you push off the bow?”

“She’s hard aground!” answered the gunner. “We can’t budge her an inch.”

“If they was to fire into us now,” said the sailing master, “they’d smash us to pieces.”

“They won’t fire into us,” said the lieutenant. “They won’t dare to.” He jumped down from the cabin deckhouse as he spoke, and went forward to urge the men in pushing off the boat. It was already beginning to move.

At that moment the sailing master suddenly called out, “Mr. Maynard! Mr. Maynard! they’re going to give us a broadside!”

Almost before the words were out of his mouth, before Lieutenant Maynard could turn, there came a loud and deafening crash, and then instantly another, and a third, and almost as instantly a crackling and rending of broken wood. There were clean yellow splinters flying everywhere. A man fell violently against the lieutenant, nearly overturning him, but he caught at the stays and so saved himself. For one tense moment he stood holding his breath. Then all about him arose a sudden outcry of groans and shouts and oaths. The man who had fallen against him was lying face down upon the deck. His thighs were quivering, and a pool of blood was spreading and running out from under him. There were other men down, all about the deck. Some were rising; some were trying to rise; some only moved.

There was a distant sound of yelling and cheering and shouting. It was from the pirate sloop. The pirates were rushing about upon her decks. They had pulled the cannon back, and, through the grunting sound of the groans about him, the lieutenant could distinctly hear the thud and punch of the rammers, and he knew they were going to shoot again.

The low rail afforded almost no shelter against such a broadside, and there was nothing for it but to order all hands below for the time being.

“Get below!” roared out the lieutenant. “All hands get below and lie snug for further orders!” In obedience the men ran scrambling below into the hold, and in a little while the decks were nearly clear except for the three dead men and some three or four wounded. The boatswain, crouching down close to the wheel, and the lieutenant himself were the only others upon deck. Everywhere there were smears and sprinkles of blood. “Where’s Brookes?” the lieutenant called out.

“He’s hurt in the arm, sir, and he’s gone below,” said the boatswain.

Thereupon the lieutenant himself walked over to the forecastle hatch, and, hailing the gunner, ordered him to get up another ladder, so that the men could be run up on deck if the pirates should undertake to come aboard. At that moment the boatswain at
Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921), p. 211.jpg

“The Combatants Cut and Slashed with Savage Fury”
Illustration from
by Howard Pyle
Originally published by
The Century Company, 1894

the wheel called out that the villains were going to shoot again, and the lieutenant, turning, saw the gunner aboard of the pirate sloop in the act of touching the iron to the touchhole. He stooped down. There was another loud and deafening crash of cannon, one, two, three—four—the last two almost together—and almost instantly the boatswain called out, “‘Tis the sloop, sir! look at the sloop!”

The sloop had got afloat again, and had been coming up to the aid of the schooner, when the pirates fired their second broadside now at her. When the lieutenant looked at her she was quivering with the impact of the shot, and the next moment she began falling off to the wind, and he could see the wounded men rising and falling and struggling upon her decks.

At the same moment the boatswain called out that the enemy was coming aboard, and even as he spoke the pirate sloop came drifting out from the cloud of smoke that enveloped her, looming up larger and larger as she came down upon them. The lieutenant still crouched down under the rail, looking out at them. Suddenly, a little distance away, she came about, broadside on, and then drifted. She was close aboard now. Something came flying through the air—another and another. They were bottles. One of them broke with a crash upon the deck. The others rolled over to the farther rail. In each of them a quick-match was smoking. Almost instantly there was a flash and a terrific report, and the air was full of the whiz and singing of broken particles of glass and iron. There was another report, and then the whole air seemed full of gunpowder smoke. “They’re aboard of us!” shouted the boatswain, and even as he spoke the lieutenant roared out, “All hands to repel boarders!” A second later there came the heavy, thumping bump of the vessels coming together.

Lieutenant Maynard, as he called out the order, ran forward through the smoke, snatching one of his pistols out of his pocket and the cutlass out of its sheath as he did so. Behind him the men were coming, swarming up from below. There was a sudden stunning report of a pistol, and then another and another, almost together. There was a groan and the fall of a heavy body, and then a figure came jumping over the rail, with two or three more directly following. The lieutenant was in the midst of the gun powder smoke, when suddenly Blackbeard was before him. The pirate captain had stripped himself naked to the waist. His shaggy black hair was falling over his eyes, and he looked like a demon fresh from the pit, with his frantic face. Almost with the blindness of instinct the lieutenant thrust out his pistol, firing it as he did so. The pirate staggered back: he was down—no; he was up again. He had a pistol in each hand; but there was a stream of blood running down his naked ribs. Suddenly, the mouth of a pistol was pointing straight at the lieutenant’s head. He ducked instinctively, striking upward with his cutlass as he did so. There was a stunning, deafening report almost in his ear. He struck again blindly with his cutlass. He saw the flash of a sword and flung up his guard almost instinctively, meeting the crash of the descending blade. Somebody shot from behind him, and at the same moment he saw some one else strike the pirate. Blackbeard staggered again, and this time there was a great gash upon his neck. Then one of Maynard’s own men tumbled headlong upon him. He fell with the man, but almost instantly he had scrambled to his feet again, and as he did so he saw that the pirate sloop had drifted a little away from them, and that their grappling irons had evidently parted. His hand was smarting as though struck with the lash of a whip. He looked around him; the pirate captain was nowhere to be seen—yes, there he was, lying by the rail. He raised himself upon his elbow, and the lieutenant saw that he was trying to point a pistol at him, with an arm that wavered and swayed blindly, the pistol nearly falling from his fingers. Suddenly his other elbow gave way and he fell down upon his face. He tried to raise himself—he fell down again. There was a report and a cloud of smoke, and when it cleared away Blackbeard had staggered up again. He was a terrible figure his head nodding down upon his breast. Somebody shot again, and then the swaying figure toppled and fell. It lay still for a moment—then rolled over—then lay still again.

There was a loud splash of men jumping overboard, and then, almost instantly, the cry of “Quarter! quarter!” The lieutenant ran to the edge of the vessel. It was as he had thought: the grappling irons of the pirate sloop had parted, and it had drifted away. The few pirates who had been left aboard of the schooner had jumped overboard and were now holding up their hands. “Quarter!” they cried. “Don’t shoot!—quarter!” And the fight was over.

The lieutenant looked down at his hand, and then he saw, for the first time, that there was a great cutlass gash across the back of it, and that his arm and shirt sleeve were wet with blood. He went aft, holding the wrist of his wounded hand. The boatswain was still at the wheel. “By zounds!” said the lieutenant, with a nervous, quavering laugh, “I didn’t know there was such fight in the villains.”

His wounded and shattered sloop was again coming up toward him under sail, but the pirates had surrendered, and the fight was over.


  1. The pirate captain had really only twenty-five men aboard of his ship at the time of the battle.