02/24/09 — County reading program introduces Blackbeard

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County reading program introduces Blackbeard

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on February 24, 2009 1:46 PM

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Angie Best and her daughters Hannah, left, and Mary Scott watch as Blackbeard tells the tale of his life as a pirate.

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Capt. William Teach, also known as Blackbeard, portrayed by Ben Cherry, tells the tale of his life as a pirate during the golden age of piracy at the Arts Council of Wayne County Monday.

Blackbeard the pirate made an appearance Monday night at the Arts Council of Wayne County, as part of the 2009 Wayne County Reads project.

This year's book is "Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate," by Angus Konstam.

On Monday, actor Ben Cherry of Plymouth, who portrays the infamous seafarer, captivated an overflow crowd, including many little pirates. Along with his was first mate, a female pirate named Beegee, who answered questions about women who turned to pirating for a living.

The roguish character described to the audience how he became a brigand, from his days as a boy in England to his running away to sea, to his first visit to the Caribbean that would eventually become his private stomping grounds.

The privateers he first joined were bound together by a love of gold and a hatred for Spain and France. But when the wars with those countries were over, the privateers turned to robbing any ship, friend or foe.

Blackbeard described his advance from first mate to captain after he helped capture a French-owned ship off the coast of Venezuela. She was fast and sturdy, just what the pirate was looking for. She was named the La Concorde.

"The Concorde was not much of a name for a pirate ship, so I named her Queen Anne's Revenge and sailed her away," the pirate told the gathering. "We spotted a merchant ship and hoisted my new designed flag. We captured her without having to fire a single weapon. My reputation had preceded me."

Blackbeard, like his 21st century impersonator, had a flare for the dramatic. Beards were not stylish in the 1700s. So the pirate grew a beard and tied red ribbons in it to further draw attention to himself. He fashioned fuses called "slow matches" and tied them into his beard and lit them to intimidate the enemy at sea.

As time passed, Blackbeard saw the political landscape change. Pirates, once considered helpful to the queen, became distrusted under George I. But the king offered to let the pirates live if they surrendered to a government official. For Blackbeard, the friendliest was North Carolina's governor at Bath, who was known to accept a bribe in return for looking the other way when pirates took a prize.

In the spring of 1718, after scuttling the Queen Anne's Revenge and getting rid of most of his crew, the pirate married a girl named Mary Ormond and settled down. But it wasn't long before his remaining men began to get out of hand.

"I knew I had to get them away from Bath Town," he said.

So he took the crew out to sea again, this time on a ship small enough to navigate the sounds and river inlets along the coast.

But authorities in other colonies were not as friendly as those in North Carolina and a squad of British sailors and marines were sent from Virginia to put him out of business for good.

The two ships met on Nov. 22, 1718, and after a long, bloody fight, the pirates were defeated. Blackbeard, who suffered dozens of wounds, was finally killed and then beheaded. That didn't end the stories. In fact, it started new ones. The first was that his headless body swam around the ship three times before sinking. Others involved his head.

"There are a lot of interesting stories about Blackbeard's head," Cherry said. "One legend is that Blackbeard's head was plated with silver and used to drink rum. Many believe the head belongs to a secret society called the Skull and Bones at Yale University."

The audience was lively and asked many questions of Cherry and Beegee, who ending up in a sword fight, much to the delight of the children in the audience.

Cherry said he has been portraying Blackbeard for 23 years, ever since he first performed the part in an outdoor drama at Bath. From there, he began portraying the pirate for school children. Word spread, and now in addition to the schools, he plays Blackbeard at festivals and other special events.

Monday night's portrayal was just one of a number of events planned to celebrate the Wayne Reads Initiative.

Other events planned include a presentation by Maritime Heritage tourism officer Connie Mason on March 2 at Wayne Commun-ity College. Her presentation will be "Bad to the Hair Bun: An Overview of Women Pirates through History."

On March 5 in Room 102 of the Walnut Building at Wayne Community College, University of North Carolina professor Julius Nyang'oro will talk about "Modern Day Piracy."

March 7 will be a day of treasure hunting for children in the morning and the adults later in the day. In the morning, the children will head to Herman Park to search for treasures marked on a map. And in the afternoon, the adults will grab hand-held Global Positioning System devices and follow clues to find their treasures.

At the Wayne County Museum on March 9, UNC professor Bland Simpson will discuss the creative process in his writing of the play, "Hot Grog," which will be performed in a dinner theater at the Goldsboro Country Club on March 19, followed by evening performances on March 20 and 21 in the auditorium at the Wayne Community College and a matinee performance at the college on March 22.

On March 12, in the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Library, there will be a children's event featuring Becky Denison as pirate "Nana Belle."

On March 16, in the Hennessee Room of Mount Olive College's Murphy Center, Margaret Hoffman will present "Blackbeard! The Man Behind the Legend" and discuss her book, "Blackbeard: A Tale of Villainy and Murder in Colonial America." Her topic will be the politics that set the stage for Blackbeard's exploits.