May 27, 1718
South Carolina Coast
A red-orange smear across the shimmering horizon announced the new day as First Mate Hand scanned the ocean to the east with his spyglass. Gulls cried out and swooped among the riggings and down to the deck, searching for scraps of food, and waves slapped at and rocked the vessel. The only other sound was the groaning of the mast and riggings as the ship dipped and rose with the waves.
It was the rising sun that made the sail on the horizon visible to Hand. A shimmering shadow approached from the distance, rising and falling in rhythm with the movement of his own vessel.
His arms began to tremble as he watched the ship draw nearer. Collapsing the spyglass like an accordion, he gulped and ran to notify the captain.
He raised his hand to rap on the door to the captain’s cabin and hesitated. The captain had been up late, drinking heavily and celebrating their recent plunderings. His head would not be happy about being awakened at dawn. Still, an approaching ship was an urgent event.
His grip tightened on the spyglass as he brought the knuckles of the other hand against the wood three times hard.
Still no answer.
This time he heard stirring in the cabin. A woman groaned. Heavy footfalls approached the door.
“What is it, Hand? Do you realize what bloody time it is?”
“Cap’n,” Hand repeated, leaning close to the door, “a ship approaches from the East!”
“What!?” Roared the voice from within. “Why the bloody hell didn’t you say so?!”
Rustling sounds emanated from within and what might have been a wooden chair toppling over.
“How far out?” Came the rumbling bass from within.
“Half a league maybe.”
The voice in the cabin laughed.
“Let me get my britches on and then I’ll be up. Don’t raise the flag until we can see theirs, understood?”
Hand ran back to the deck to watch the approaching vessel as he waited for the captain. The sun was now an orange half-circle framing the ship.
Other crewmembers had awakened and, having noticed the approaching ship, began to gather at the rail to watch. Their expressions were anxious as they leaned forward, vainly attempting to see the ship’s flag. They were eager for this one, for they all knew it would be the last. Already they had enough booty in the hold on which to retire, and this would be bonus treasure before they sailed north to settle down. Hand shared their desire to get out of pirating. He’d been in it for long enough. He first served under Hornigold and stayed with the ship when Hornigold got out. It was a rare thing to leave the business with one’s neck still intact and the same length as when one started.
That’s what Hand wanted too. Out before he got his neck stretched.
The governor of
North Carolina had
promised amnesty to anyone who chose to abandon piracy and settle in the
colonies, and with the loot they carried, they could all make a good go of it.
Hand knew that was only a dream for some, for the captain would not want to split the treasure with so many hands. He wasn’t sure exactly what the captain planned to do with those he wanted to cut out of the bargain, but he was sure that it would be more than a few. He also knew that he, loyal first mate, would retire a wealthy man.
Thundering footfalls on the deck behind him heralded the captain’s approach. Hand turned and nodded to his commander.
The captain was in full garb. A black cap sat atop his black-haired head and a red coat hung down to behind his knees. Four pistols protruded from holsters on leather straps slung around his neck, and two cutlasses dangled in ornate scabbards at his sides. A dagger was strapped to each thigh, and two more were tucked in his belt.
He was braiding his scraggly beard as he approached the rail.
“The spyglass, Mr. Hand,” he said.
Hand gave him the glass, and the captain gazed out at the approaching ship.
“Okay, Mr. Hand,” we can raise the flag now.
Hand barked the order to raise the flag, and a crewmember ran from the rail to carry out the command. Hand watched as the black flag rose up the mast.
Catching the light of the rising sun, the familiar flag was surely visible by now to the approaching vessel.
* * * * *
As the sun rose behind them illuminating the emerald coast of South Carolina, the crew and passengers aboard the Edinburgh Venture gazed westward at several ships between them and the Port of Charleston.
“Looks like they’ve sent an escort or perhaps a welcome from the governor,” remarked the first mate, a green sailor from a well-to-do
Commander Albert Macbright grunted as he squinted at the distant ships.
“What flag are they flying?” He asked.
Though of average height, Macbright was broad shouldered and a seasoned war veteran who commanded respect among his crew. He was formal in all his dealings and paid attention to the smallest details in the operation of his ship and the behavior of his crew. Unlike many of his peers, Macbright was clean shaven and discouraged facial hair among his crew. Meticulous grooming, he maintained, was a sign of industriousness and discipline.
Macbright’s eyes narrowed.
“None? Give me the glass.”
Macbright snapped the leather-bound scope to his eye, extended it to its full 34 inches and peered through it a long moment before shoving it back into the first mate’s hand.
Some of the colonials had begun gathering on the deck to see the welcoming committee that had come to greet them.
Macbright motioned some of the crew to him.
“Man your stations and stand ready,” he told them. “Say nothing to alarm the passengers.”
The first mate scurried to Macbright.
“You think it’s pirates, captain?”
Macbright glared at him.
“Watch yourself, Willhite,” he snapped. “I don’t want the passengers bloody panicking and jumping overboard, hear?”
Willhite swallowed hard and nodded.
“Our job is to transport these ladies and gentlemen to the Colony of South Carolina unmolested. I’ll not have my crew jumping to conclusions and feeding the flames of mass hysteria among the passengers.” As he spoke, he nodded and smile amiably at the passengers who hurried toward the rail.
Willhite nodded again.
“Now watch that big ship in the middle and tell me if and when it raises a flag.”
Macbright whirled away from Willhite and strode across the deck, simultaneously smiling at the passengers while watching his crew to ensure that they were following orders.
First timers to the colonies were commenting on how beautiful the coast was, how green the foliage was. It was like a giant emerald in the early sun. Some waved at the waiting ships.
Macbright clenched his teeth.
Come plunder us, he thought. We’re bloody wealthy travelers transferring all of our belongings to the
His thoughts also strayed to the chest in the hold, the one that had been delivered just as they were preparing to leave port with a message from former Prime Minister Walpole. It was actually two messages that accompanied the chest; both notes bore
Walpole’s seal. One
contained specific instructions about what to do with the chest and its
contents; the other was not to be opened until they reached the colonies.
Macbright had opened both of them anyway. He did not fully understand the
meaning of the messages, but he would not question them, especially the order
that the chest not be opened under any circumstances. It was well that they had
come from the former prime minister, for had the pedantic German sent the
missives, Macbright would surely have tossed them and the package overboard.
The chest was purposefully nondescript, an ordinary wooden crate that would, Macbright hoped, be dismissed as containing ordinary supplies. It bore no distinguishing markings but was tightly closed and secured in chains in the hold.
Having made a quick inspection of the ship, Macbright returned to stand behind Willhite.
“The middle ship is raising a flag,” Willhite said as he gazed through the spyglass.
“I can’t see the whole of it yet. It’s black. Let’s see. It’s—it’s a devil skeleton, looks like, holding an hourglass and pointing a spear at a bloody heart.”
“Bloody Christ! Can you see the captain of the vessel?”
“Aye,” Willhite replied. “Tall man, black hair and long beard. He’s carrying swords and guns and—and it looks like he’s on fire! There’s smoke all around his head!”
“Christ, Christ, Bloody Christ!”
“Wh—what is he?” Willhite asked, lowering the telescope. “He’s a demon … or a warlock!”
“You don’t know who that is, man?!” Macbright snapped, snatching the scope from his hand.
Willhite shook his head.
Macbright peered through the scope once more, studying the ship and its captain. Then he shook his head, collapsed the glass and returned it to Willhite.
“You are green, Willhite, and right now I’m glad of it. Keep your mouth shut and keep an eye on that ship.”
Macbright mingled with the passengers and quietly requested that they calm down and return to their cabins and rest until it was time to land. This request, however, was largely ignored.
The passengers pressed against the rails trying to see the
and the welcoming ships.
When he heard one passenger comment on the pirate flag the ship was flying, Macbright decided it was time to at least attempt to take control.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he called over the hubbub. “If I may have your attention please.”
The crowd quieted down and turned their attention to Macbright.
“Do not be alarmed,” he began, “but we are about to be boarded. If we remain calm and do as we are instructed, all will be well.”
Some of the passengers gasped; women cried out and some even swooned. Male passengers shouted angrily at Macbright and shook their fists at him as if it were his fault that the raiders had lain in wait for them.
“We’ve got two cannon!” one man shouted. “Let’s use them!”
This elicited a chorus of agreeing shouts from many others.
Macbright motioned with his hands for the crowd to be quiet.
“You can’t just let them board us without putting up a fight!” one man blurted after the crowd had quieted.
“Don’t be a damned fool!” Macbright shouted back. “That’s the bloody Queen Anne’s Revenge out there! She’s got forty gun, and if we put up a fight, she’ll sink us with one volley!”
This news caused the crowd to begin shouting and screaming anew. The panic that Macbright had hoped to avoid set in full force. Passengers knocked each other down trying to reach their cabins, and a few even jumped overboard. Macbright motioned for some crewmen to fetch those who’d jumped and then yelled to get the attention of the rest.
He blew a strong blast on the whistle he carried on a chain around his neck, and this finally, at least for a moment, settled the riot.
“Listen to me people,” Macbright said in his most authoritative voice. “If we remain calm and do as we are told, we’ll survive this assault. If we panic, scream, try to flee or fight back, we’ll likely be keel hauled or hanged or both.
“Which would you rather do, ladies and gentlemen—lose some of your wealth, which can be rebuilt or lose your lives?
“Let’s keep our heads here and try to survive.”
His last statement was punctuated by his crewmen shoving the soggy deserters onto the deck.
Macbright motioned the wet crewmen to him.
“There’s an unmarked chest in the hold below, the last to be loaded before we set sail,” he whispered to them. “Go down there and hide it somewhere as best you can. Teach’s men are not to get their hands on it, do you hear me?”
The men nodded and quickly disappeared down the hatch.
“What if they decide to cut our throats anyway, Macbright?” a passenger shouted. “What then?”
Macbright strode to the man and grabbed him by the collar.
“Listen and listen well,” he snarled. “I’m an experienced seafarer, and I’ve survived encounters like this before. Pirates—even bloody Blackbeard—want nothing more than booty. If we give them what they want, they’ll send us on our way—a little lighter in the pocket, mind you, but alive.
“Right now I don’t give a bloody damn who it is you know back in jolly old
England. Just keep your mouth shut
and do as I say.”
The passengers fell silent and huddled together on the deck. Husbands pulled wives and children close to them. Women clutched at their sobbing children.
Macbright had succeeded in calming the crowd and regaining the control. He pulled himself erect and smoothed his coat.
And just in time. The Queen Anne’s Revenge was pulling even with them.
Blackbeard himself stood at the prow, burning fuses sending smoke curling about his head. He held a cutlass in one hand and a pistol in the other.
“Prepare to be boarded!” he yelled across to the Edinburgh Venture.
Many female passengers began to weep.
Crewmen from the Revenge threw grappling hooks over and pulled the ships together. Blackbeard and several of his crew jumped onto the deck of the Venture.
Blackbeard strode to Macbright and looked him in the eye.
“I believe I know you,” he told Macbright.
He thought a moment.
“Well, Captain Teach,” Macbright offered, “when you were signing on as a privateer for the Queen, I was joining the ranks of Her Majesty’s Navy.”
“Ah, yes. The Scot. Macbright?”
“Well, Captain Macbright,” Teach said, “I’m going to lighten your load a bit.”
He motioned his men to the hold of the ship.
“And,” he added, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take some of your passengers for a brief stay on my ship.”
“Now just a bloody minute here, Teach!” Macbright started to protest but closed his mouth and set his jaw.
“Don’t worry, Captain Macbright,” Teach said. “I assure you no harm will come to them. I need a little leverage against the good governor, and nothing less than your passengers will do.”
While they chatted, the crewmen of the Queen Anne’s Revenge were busily emptying the hold of all its contents.
“In addition,” Teach continued, “I require that you deliver a message to the governor for me. Once my demands are met, you may return for the passengers. Agreed?”
Macbright took the rolled up message from Teach. It bore a wax seal with the same design as the Revenge’s flag. He clenched his teeth to still his trembling jaw.
Suddenly gunshots rang out from the hold.
Teach’s grim visage grew angry, and he thrust his pistol under Macbright’s chin.
“What in bloody hell is going on here, Macbright?” He growled.
Two of Teach’s crew emerged from the hold carrying an unmarked, padlocked chest.
“Two of his men were guarding this,” one man said in a thick
“What is it?” Teach demanded of Macbright.
“I don’t know. It was turned over to us just as we were leaving port with two messages bearing
“Yes,” Macbright replied. “I don’t know what’s in it or why it was turned over to us, but I was given explicit instructions to make sure it arrived at its destination at all costs.”
Teach laughed harshly.
“Perhaps it’s the crown jewels,” he said, and his crew laughed heartily.
He motioned for his men to carry on with the chest.
“In any event,” he said, slipping the pistol back into his belt, “it’s reached its destination, eh, Macbright? I’m sure it won’t be missed.”
Macbright swallowed hard.
After the hold had been emptied, Teach signaled for his crew to begin transferring passengers to the Revenge. Many women resisted fiercely, screaming and kicking, but eventually calmed down and allowed themselves to be pulled over a wobbly plank to the other ship.
Macbright watched silently through fiery eyes.
“Stop worrying, Macbright,” Teach assured him. “No harm will come to them as long as the governor does as we request. Mind you, it will be up to you to impress upon him that I’ll follow through on my threats if he does not honor the bargain.”
When all of the transfers had been made and the hold of the Venture thoroughly scoured, Teach and his men returned to the Revenge with final instructions to Macbright to seek out the governor and deliver the ransom demands.
Macbright immediately set sail and navigated past Teach’s ships and into the
* * * * *
“Which one you reckon we’ll be taking first?” A swarthy deckhand asked, tossing a thick rope over yard arm.
The other man, whose skin was wrinkled and brown as leather, merely shrugged and went about the business of securing the other end of the rope to the mast.
The men had fashioned a noose and were making the last preparations for the first hanging. They were testing the rope when the Venture reappeared in the distance. Some shook their heads disappointedly. The wise among them, however, breathed a sigh of relief.
As the Venture pulled alongside the QAR, it was grappled and the crew formed a chain to haul the medical supplies they’d requested aboard. The business of exchanging supplies and passenger was over in less than an hour’s time. The passengers were sent back to Macbright’s ship over gangplanks, some staring at the noose swinging under the yardarm.
With ample booty and supplies in the holds of their ships, Teach and his men weighed anchor and sailed north.
That night Teach called Hand into his cabin.
“You called for me, Captain?”
Teach wiped his hands on a formerly pristine linen napkin and finished chewing the remains of his ample dinner.
“Sit down, Hand,” he said, motioning his first mate to a chair. “Best meal I’ve had in months.”
Hand nodded and sat in the chair in front of Teach’s desk/dining/map table.
“Hand, you’ve been with me since I took over the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and I want you to be a part of my plans. Now, the rest of these scurvy mongrels I wouldn’t trust enough to turn my back on them for a glance through the spyglass. So I don’t mind telling you I plan to double-cross the lot of them. And that bloody Bonnet is an incompetent of the highest order; I’ve had my fill of his ineptitude.
“I’m retiring, Hand, and I’m taking the booty with me. I don’t know what’s in that chest that
Walpole wanted Macbright
to defend so stalwartly, but it’s a king’s ransom, I’ll warrant, and enough for
us to make a good living in the Colonies.”
He punctuated his speech by downing a goblet of wine and then poured two more, handing one to Hand.
“Anyway, Hand, I’m asking you to back me up on my next maneuver. What’s in it for you is a cut of whatever booty we’ve collected, including a share of what’s in the
Walpole chest. All I’m
asking is for someone to watch my back and help me see the whole thing through.
“I want out, Hand. I’ve pirated enough, and I want to settle down. I was only in it for the money, anyway, and I’ve got plenty of that now.
“So, here’s to retirement.”
With that, he held up the goblet of wine.
Dumbfounded, Hand raised his own goblet, and Teach clapped his against it and downed it all in one long gulp.
Hand did the same, knowing full well he’d just signed a bloody pact with the nefarious Blackbeard.
Teach belched loudly and leaned forward.
“I tell you, Hand, I’ve built quite a reputation now, haven’t I? Folks think I’m the devil himself, and I’ve done all I could to foster that. You probably think me cruel for the things of I’ve done, but I tell you I’ve done it all for one reason and one reason only—to stay alive. Why, if a man thought he could defy me without retribution, then I’d’ve been keelhauled years ago and drowned like a rat in a bucket.
“No, no, not me.
“When Hornigold took amnesty and turned the Concorde over to me, I knew then I’d have to be a merciless bastard to stay alive. And that’s what I became.”
Hand sat silent while Teach filled another goblet and drank more wine.
Teach then abruptly swept the platter of food and empty wine bottle off the desk and unrolled a map of the coast of the
“Here’s my plan, Hand. Pay attention …”
And he proceeded to reveal all to his first mate.
Hold of the Adventure
“He’s going to bloody keelhaul us,” the stocky Mareth growled as he clenched and unclenched his fists and paced the floor.
“Nah,” replied Smoot, a wiry pickpocket with a quick sword and quicker wit, “he’d’ve done that already. I’m guessing he’s going to turn us over to
This sent a wave of grumbling among the 25 men held prisoner in the hold of the Adventure.
“What’re we going to do in the meantime,” one man snapped, “sit here and wait to be killed?”
Smoot flowed lithely to his feet from the sack of flour on which he’d been resting.
“’Course not,” he said looking about at the men who sat on crates or stood about wondering at their fate. “We’re going to collect as much of this booty as we can and stow it away.”
Some of the men laughed.
Mareth flashed Smoot an angry grin.
“And what good’ll that do us rotting in a colonial jail?” He snarled.
“I don’t know that that’s what Teach plans,” he replied, “but it’s a possibility. The other possibility is that he’ll maroon us somewhere.”
“Sure. He’s sent Bonnet off to seek a pardon. When Bonnet returns, he’s sure to figure things out and come looking for Teach and find us.”
“Look,” Smoot beseeched, “Teach ain’t going to maroon us without supplies, and we’re sure to be picked up by some ship along the way. All I’m saying is, if this is the case, we’d be fools not to try to sneak some booty with us.”
A chorus of agreement rose from the gathered crowd.
“Here’s what I figure,” Smoot continued. “That chest that Macbright wanted to hide from Teach is sitting right over there, and it’s likely filled with gold. I say we take it out of that crate and put it in the supply crate Teach intended to drop with us wherever he planned to unload us. If he does maroon us, then we’ve got a small fortune to split up and live on. If he plans to jail us, then whatever we can stuff in our pockets will be enough to bribe us out of jail. Either way, we’ve got an insurance policy.”
Mareth smiled again and started pushing crates aside to get at the hidden prize.
Several men joined in the search, and they soon found the box that bore
Inside the crate they found a smaller, padlocked chest with a parchment scroll tied to the lock.
Footsteps above told them they didn’t have time to open the chest, so they heaved the whole thing out of the crate and shoved it into one containing small sacks of flour and wineskins.
Sunlight poured into the hold.
“Come on out,” First Mate Hand called down. “We’ve reached your new home. We’ve got swords and guns, so don’t try anything.”
“Um … Sir,” Smoot called, “what about supplies? Mightn’t we grab some food or something?”
Teach’s bearded head appeared at the opening.
“Grab that crate with the bloody flour and wine in it and get your arses out of that hold!” He bellowed.
Smoot, Mareth and company dutifully marched up the ladder and out onto the deck. A boat was already in the water waiting for them. They stared out at a heavily wooded coast.
“Nothing personal, men,” Teach said. “It’s time for me to get out, and I’m making a clean break of it. This island lies off the coast of the
If I guess correctly, Bonnet’ll be making his way in this direction in a few
day’s time. If you keep a signal fire burning, you’ll get picked up and be
safely aboard the Revenge soon.
“In the meantime, I bid you adieu and good luck.”
The men climbed into the waiting boat, secured their precious cargo and began rowing for shore.
Teach signaled for his crew to weigh anchor.
* * * * *
“You see, boys,” Smoot said. “Now we can live like kings.”
After pulling the boat out of the tide’s reach, the stranded men hauled their booty into the trees.
Mareth pulled the scroll from the padlock.
“Can anyone here read?” He asked.
All but Smoot shook their heads.
Mareth shrugged and began to bang on the padlock with a rock.
Smoot, meanwhile, unrolled the parchment and began to read it.
Mareth cursed angrily at the stubborn lock and began pounding on it furiously. Finally, the metal gave way and the lock broke open.
“Don’t!” Smoot shouted just as Mareth threw open the chest with a greedy grin.
The smile fell away from Mareth’s face.
Smoot backed slowly away as the rest of the marooned crew pushed forward to view the riches that lay inside.
A shapeless thing flew from the chest, engulfing Mareth’s face like a black cloth. The men pushed and shoved at one another in an effort to flee into the woods.
Smoot turned and ran for the boat waiting on the beach, clenching the parchment in one hand.
He could still hear Mareth’s screams as he began to row out to sea.