Weren’t pirates criminals? Why are we celebrating the lives of Blackbeard and his pirates at Bath, North Carolina, on October 19th & 20th, 2018?
Desperate times called for desperate measures
Thousands of colonial American men in the early 18th century were at various times privateers (sanctioned piracy during wartime), wreckers, smugglers, and pirates. For many men and their families living on the dangerous and often deadly frontier of coastal Carolina, the illegal practices of wrecking, smuggling, and pirating were often necessary for basic survival.
Blackbeard and the sons of Bath’s plantation owners began their brief piratical activities just five years after brutal attacks by Tuscarora Indians and the resulting economic devastation caused by war, crop loss due to severe drought, and the deadly ravages of yellow fever.
The pardons that could have been
The British government twice offered clemency to pirates in 1717-1718. Had Blackbeard and his men had avoided the military force privately supported by Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood — one that entered North Carolina uninvited by its government, no less — and if the pirates had not fired their guns first upon the encroachment and verbal threats of the Royal Navy at Ocracoke on Nov. 22, 1718, all of the pirates, including Blackbeard, would have been eligible for His Majesty’s Royal Pardon that arrived in the colonies three weeks later in mid-December 1718.
Had Blackbeard and his men been pardoned, in the eyes of 18th century colonial law, they would not have been considered to be criminals, but neither would Blackbeard have become infamous.