Almost everything we know about the origins of the famous pirate Blackbeard comes from a seven-word phrase in an 18th-century book:
"Edward Teach was a Bristol man born."
Kevin Duffus, a North Carolina historian, writer and filmmaker, didn't think that made sense. Why, he wondered, would a man from Bristol name his ship -- the Queen Anne's Revenge -- for a Stuart monarch? Why was his crew largely from the colonies?
And why was he so solicitous of Stede Bonnet, a Barbadian pirate he allegedly had just met?
"For 280 years, people have adhered to that story. But there is no source listed for his information," Duffus said, talking about Capt. Charles Johnson's 1724 "General History of the Pyrates." "Historians don't even know who Charles Johnson is."
As Duffus researched his book, "The Last Days of Black Beard," he found a lot of historical inaccuracies that have been repeated over the centuries. And that led him to wonder if that most basic fact -- Blackbeard's English heritage -- could be wrong.
The investigation led him from North Carolina to London to the Caribbean and, finally, to the Lowcountry.
His theory, dismissed by other historians and admittedly based on circumstantial evidence, is nonetheless compelling: Blackbeard was from Goose Creek, just outside Charleston.
"It is my opinion that Edward 'Black' Beard, son of Captain James Beard, was likely born at Goose Creek sometime around 1690," Duffus said. "Traditional historical accounts have suggested that Black Beard was born in 1680, which would have made him 38 at the time of his death. That would have made him a rather old pirate."
The standard history of Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, is fairly simple: He is believed, based on Johnson's book, to be from Bristol, England. He was a sailor, perhaps during Queen Anne's War and in 1716 joined the crew of pirate Benjamin Hornigold.
A year later, Hornigold retired, and Teach was on his own.
He captured a French vessel, renamed it the Queen Anne's Revenge and returned to the east coast of North America. In May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded Charleston Harbor with Stede Bonnet. They plundered five merchant ships and took captive several prominent residents. In exchange for the prisoners, the pirate demanded the city give him medicine.
Months later, he lost the Queen Anne's Revenge off Beaufort, N.C. Finally, on Nov. 22, 1718, he was killed at Ocracoke Island by sailors of the British navy.
Duffus' theory centers on a man who lived in Bath Town, N.C., in 1706 named Capt. James Beard. A trio of genealogists followed the man's trail backward to Charleston and Barbados.
Beard lived on the Cooper River in what is now Goose Creek in the years before migrating to North Carolina. In his will, he left his property to an unnamed son -- who paid the taxes until 1718.
Which, of course, is the year Blackbeard was killed.
Michael Coker, assistant to the director at the Old Exchange Building, said he invited Duffus to speak after reading his book and being impressed with the level of scholarship he brought to an important figure with a cameo in Charleston history.
"He offered new insights into this near-mythical figure's murky history, adding a surprising South Carolina twist to his past," Coker said.
Duffus tells Blackbeard's entire story by focusing on the final six months of his life. A good part of that is separating the historical legend from fact -- he wasn't outfought at Ocracoke as much as he was just taken by surprise by naval officers in plain clothes and a merchant ship.
But much of Duffus' book focuses on the strands of evidence that suggest Blackbeard is not who Charles Johnson said he was: James Beard had a brother who worked for the Bonnet family in Barbados, leading Duffus to speculate that Blackbeard might have known Stede Bonnet for decades. And the pirate gravitated to that part of the North Carolina coast where James Beard had lived.
Goose Creek Mayor Michael Heitzler -- an authority on his town's history and author of a new book on legendary local George Chicken -- said he knows of no James Beard in the city's lore, although there were Beards there. But he knows of local pirate connections.
"I would love to read his book and talk to him," Heitzler said. "Everybody here dealt with pirates at one time or another."
Duffus -- who will detail his evidence in a talk at the Old Exchange Building on Dec. 8 -- still hopes for some evidence that proves his theory conclusively, but admits it's a longshot. Records that old are hard to come by, and history clings to its accepted stories fiercely.
"Black Beard's story is a vast puzzle," Duffus said.
If you go
What: Kevin Duffus talks about his book on the final days of BlackbeardWhen: 6 p.m. ThursdayWhere: Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon, 122 East Bay St.Cost: Free, but a $3 donation is requested
A new book claims Blackbeard, perhaps the most famous pirate in history, is originally from Goose Creek.×
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