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Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts by  Frank R. Stockton


 

 

A TRUE-HEARTED SAILOR DRAWS HIS SWORD

[210] FEELING now quite sure that he could do what he pleased on shore as well as at sea, Blackbeard swore more, swaggered more, and whenever he felt like it, sailed up and down the coast and took a prize or two to keep the pot boiling for himself and his men.

On one of these expeditions he went to Philadelphia, and having landed, he walked about to see what sort of a place it was, but the Governor of the state, hearing of his arrival, quickly arranged to let him know that the Quaker city allowed no black-hearted pirate, with a ribbon-bedecked beard, to promenade on Chestnut and Market streets, and promptly issued a warrant for the sea-robber's arrest. But Blackbeard was too sharp and too old a criminal to be caught in that way, and he left the city with great despatch.

The people along the coast of North Carolina became very tired of Blackbeard and his men. All [211] sorts of depredations were committed on vessels, large and small, and whenever a ship was boarded and robbed or whenever a fishing-vessel was laid under contribution, Blackbeard was known to be at the bottom of the business, whether he personally appeared or not. To have this busy pirate for a neighbor was extremely unpleasant, and the North Carolina settlers greatly longed to get rid of him. It was of no use for them to ask their own State Government to suppress this outrageous scoundrel, and although their good neighbor, South Carolina, might have been willing to help them, she was too poor at that time and had enough to do to take care of herself.

Not knowing, or not caring for the strong feeling of the settlers against him, Blackbeard continued in his wicked ways, and among other crimes he captured a small vessel and treated the crew in such a cruel and atrocious manner that the better class of North Carolinians vowed they would stand him no longer, and they therefore applied to Governor Spotswood, of Virginia, and asked his aid in putting down the pirates. The Virginians were very willing to do what they could for their unfortunate neighbors. The legislature offered a reward for the capture of Blackbeard or any of his men; but the Governor, feeling that this was not enough, determined to do something on his own responsibility, [212] for he knew very well that the time might come when the pirate vessels would begin to haunt Virginia waters.

There happened to be at that time two small British men-of-war in Hampton Roads, and although the Governor had no authority to send these after the pirates, he fitted out two sloops at his own expense and manned them with the best fighting men from the war-vessels. One of the sloops he put under Captain Brand, and the other under Captain Maynard, both brave and experienced naval officers. All preparations were made with the greatest secrecy—for if Blackbeard had heard of what was going on, he would probably have decamped—and then the two sloops went out to sea with a commission from the Governor to capture Blackbeard, dead or alive. This was a pretty heavy contract, but Brand and Maynard were courageous men and did not hesitate to take it.

The Virginians had been informed that the pirate captain and his men were on a vessel in Ocracoke Inlet, and when they arrived they found, to their delight, that Blackbeard was there. When the pirates saw the two armed vessels sailing into the inlet, they knew very well that they were about to be attacked, and it did not take them long to get ready for a fight, nor did they wait to see what their enemy was about to do. As soon as the sloops were near [213] enough, Blackbeard, without waiting for any preliminary exercises, such as a demand for surrender or any nonsense of that sort, let drive at the intruders with eight heavily loaded cannon.

Now the curtain had been rung up, and the play began, and a very lively play it was. The guns of the Virginians blazed away at the pirate ship, and they would have sent out boats to board her had not Blackbeard forestalled them. Boarding was always a favorite method of fighting with the pirates. They did not often carry heavy cannon, and even when they did, they had but little fancy for battles at long distances. What they liked was to meet foes face to face and cut them down on their own decks. In such combats they felt at home, and were almost always successful, for there were few mariners or sailors, even in the British navy, who could stand against these brawny, glaring-eyed dare-devils, who sprang over the sides of a vessel like panthers, and fought like bulldogs. Blackbeard had had enough cannonading, and he did not wait to be boarded. Springing into a boat with about twenty of his men, he rowed to the vessel commanded by Maynard, and in a few minutes he and his pirates surged on board her.

Now there followed on the decks of that sloop one of the most fearful hand-to-hand combats [214] known to naval history. Pirates had often attacked vessels where they met with strong resistance, but never had a gang of sea-robbers fallen in with such bold and skilled antagonists as those who now confronted Blackbeard and his crew. At it they went,—cut, fire, slash, bang, howl, and shout. Steel clashed, pistols blazed, smoke went up, and blood ran down, and it was hard in the confusion for a man to tell friend from foe. Blackbeard was everywhere, bounding from side to side, as he swung his cutlass high and low, and though many a shot was fired at him, and many a rush made in his direction, every now and then a sailor went down beneath his whirling blade.

But the great pirate had not boarded that ship to fight with common men. He was looking for Maynard, the commander. Soon he met him, and for the first time in his life he found his match. Maynard was a practised swordsman, and no matter how hard and how swiftly came down the cutlass of the pirate, his strokes were always evaded, and the sword of the Virginian played more dangerously near him. At last Blackbeard, finding that he could not cut down his enemy, suddenly drew a pistol, and was about to empty its barrels into the very face of his opponent, when Maynard sent his sword-blade into the throat of the furious pirate; the great Blackbeard went down upon his back on the [215] deck, and in the next moment Maynard put an end to his nefarious career. Their leader dead, the few pirates who were left alive gave up the fight, and sprang overboard, hoping to be able to swim ashore, and the victory of the Virginians was complete.

The strength, toughness, and extraordinary vitality of these feline human beings, who were known as pirates, has often occasioned astonishment in ordinary people. Their sun-tanned and hairy bodies seemed to be made of something like wire, leather, and India rubber, upon which the most tremendous exertions, and even the infliction of severe wounds, made but little impression. Before Blackbeard fell, he received from Maynard and others no less than twenty-five wounds, and yet he fought fearlessly to the last, and when the panting officer sheathed his sword, he felt that he had performed a most signal deed of valor.

When they had broken up the pirate nest in Ocracoke Inlet, the two sloops sailed to Bath, where they compelled some of the unscrupulous town officials to surrender the cargo which had been stolen from the French vessel and stored in the town by Blackbeard; then they sailed proudly back to Hampton Roads, with the head of the dreaded Blackbeard dangling from the end of the bowsprit of the vessel he had boarded, and [216] on whose deck he had discovered the fact, before unknown to him, that a well-trained, honest man can fight as well as the most reckless cutthroat who ever decked his beard with ribbons, and swore enmity to all things good.


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