Let’s Talk Black Sails Episode XXIX

This post ended up less a recap/dissection and more a reflection on an important death.

Avast! Spoilers ahead. Be warned.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ray Stevenson’s portrayal of Blackbeard. He didn’t take it over the top and grounded was has become a historical legend shrouded in mystery and conflated imagery. Blackbeard’s origins (his early life before becoming a pirate) is still unclear and some books refer to him as Thatch instead of Teach, but most have settled on Teach. Of all the pirates, he stands out as the most colorful and one of the most powerful. And he was. (Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts was another very formidable pirate. His story is very interesting.) Blackbeard commanded three vessels at one point, and his flagship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, was a true ship of force. As I’ve mentioned before, he blockaded Charles Town’s (Charleston) harbor for two weeks in demand of medication for syphilis (the treatment of which was a nasty affair that involved mercury injections in very painful places. Let’s take a moment to praise modern medicine.)

Overall I swallow the show’s take on Blackbeard’s death in this episode because it fit the story they were telling. I have taken issues with shows that change events or characters when it’s gratuitous and completely in service to the plot. They did commit the stupid plot sin somewhat  which I discuss below but I can take the bitter pill. But let’s discuss Blackbeard’s true death, which was a monumental takedown. Blackbeard was killed by Lt. Robert Maynard, which was orchestrated by Governor Spotswood of Virginia, who clearly had his own agendas and had his eyes set on enveloping North Carolina into his Virginia territory. Spotswood had some real beefs with Governor Eden of North Carolina, who may or may not have colluded with Blackbeard on illegally obtained goods. But once again, I digress. Blackbeard and his crew were anchored at Ocracoke Inlet, thirty miles south of Cape Hatteras. Maynard commanded two sloops with no cannon, but men prepared for battle while Blackbeard and his crew had spent the night drinking. I believe someone could make a good movie focusing on the battle and the lead up. Maynard and Blackbeard faced off and Maynard noted in his account of the battle, that Blackbeard fell with five shot in him and 20 dismal cuts in several parts of his body.

The man was truly awesome. Maynard then strung Blackbeard’s head on his bowsprit which he presented to Governor Spotswood.

So my major issue? I’ve read many a tome on pirates in researching my pirate historicals and in no book, even one focusing on pirate tactics, weapons, etc., does it mention any pirate rowing over to a vessel in order to board (on open seas) for the very reason shown on Black Sails. Not to mention you’d be exposing yourself to musket and cannon fire. In order to board safely and effectively and with your full contingent at your back, pirates would guide their vessels alongside, usually amidships position, and let fly the grappling hooks and then board. It just didn’t make sense that Blackbeard, a master tactician, would board Roger’s vessel by rowing over in jollys.

To illustrate, when Maynard came in range of Blackbeard’s vessel, Blackbeard and his crew tossed over grenades and let loose musket shot, and like in Black Sails, killed nearly everyone on deck. And note the following, taken from The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard, “When the smoke lifted, The Jane’s (one of Maynard’s sloops) deck was covered with bodies. In just a few seconds, twenty-one of Maynard’s crew had been killed or wounded. Only two men were still standing on the sloop’s deck. The battle, Blackbeard concluded, was won. He ordered the Adventure to come alongside the Jane and for his men to prepare to board.” Let’s emphasize, he ordered the Adventure to come alongside the Jane and for his men to prepare to board.

Maybe I missed some piece of dialog that sort of explained the fictional Blackbeard’s rationale while I was bitching to my husband but even so, no reason conjured by the show’s writers would justify an obviously idiotic move…that pirates understood to be idiotic. Now I’m going to have to refer back to my reference book on pirate tactics to see if boarding by jolly while on the open sea is even mentioned. While in port, pirates did conduct what they called surprizals. They would row up to a vessel in the cover of night and stealth board it. In fact, in season two of Black Sails, Charles Vane killed Ed Low and his crew via a surprizal. But a surprizal is conducted under a totally different scenario and makes sense when trying to take a vessel while at port.

Now to give the show some credit, Maynard did order some men to hide in the Jane’s hold and await his signal and when Blackbeard and his crew boarded, Maynard’s men rushed from their hiding positions to attack, much like they portrayed the scene in Black Sails but this time, under Woodes Rogers. But unlike the portrayal on Black Sails, Blackbeard and his crew were done in by Maynard because Maynard had ambushed them with more men, taking a hung over pirate crew completely by surprise. In the show, for Woodes Rogers to pull off what he did with a fully prepared, outfitted and competent Blackbeard, well, I guess their excuse was they left half their crew behind, because they rowed to Rogers’s vessel which, well, whatever.

The keel hauling was gruesome. I hate keel hauling and didn’t need to see that. Neither did Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny. (Thank god the show spared us seeing Jack get keel hauled. I would have lost it along with Anne.) It showed us however that Blackbeard is badass. Yet, I don’t think the real Blackbeard ever keel hauled anyone. I’ve mentioned this in posts before, but Blackbeard never killed a captive or no accounts exist of him killing a captive. And once released, pirate captives talked they did to claim their own fifteen minutes of fame.

So as to the other events, it was great to see Flint and Silver reunited and loved to see them take over Nassau. Ha. Max eat crow. You will once again depend on Silver for your life. Next episode should be exciting, what with Eleanor holed up in the fort. If the pirates are smart, they will keep the English flags flying when Rogers comes sailing back into port but who knows because you know, Blackbeard rowed.

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