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Did the Pirate Captain Blackbeard really have a Black Beard?

An engraving of Blackbeard by Benjamin Cole (1724) as featured in 'A General History of the Pyrates'

When the infamous pirate Blackbeard was born, his parents – unsurprisingly - did not name him ‘Blackbeard’. I mean, that would be weird, right? New-born babies are not exactly known for having large black bushy beards - they are usually named after social media influencers instead. But when Edward Teach, AKA Blackbeard, grew up to be a big boy pirate, did he actually have a black beard to go with his big boy pirate pants?

Or was Blackbeard just one of those silly ironic nicknames, like the Merryman Little John (who was actually really tall) or the fearsome Viking leader Ivar the Boneless (who actually had bones)?

The answer is, happily, that Blackbeard did indeed have a black beard! Hooray!

How do historians know this though? Well, there is actually a surprising amount of historical sources to back it up.

Blackbeard. This picture was from 1725.

First, Merchant Captain Henry Bostock – who was briefly kidnapped by Blackbeard

before being safely returned to his vessel – describes the legendary pirate as being a “tall spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long". Then there’s Captain Charles Johnson, author of the 1724 best-seller, ‘A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates’, who had lovely illustrations of Blackbeard proudly showing off his voluminous bushy snot catcher.

Johnson also described Blackbeard as being “such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury from hell to look more frightful.” So, something like a Dinner lady on a Wednesday lunchtime maybe? Whilst in battle, Blackbeard supposedly wore, “a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoliers; and

stuck lighted slow matches under his hat"

Finally, this engraving of Blackbeard is from 1736. Notice how the Beard is getting longer, bushier, and more spectacular over the years?

As the slow matches burnt down, they were meant to release a dark greasy smoke, so as to make Blackbeard look like a devil emerging from the smoky fires of hell itself. Whether or not Blackbeard really did this, or Johnson just wanted to spice up his book, we don’t know. The whole slow matches thing is probably a bit far-fetched, could you imagine yourself going into battle, unable to see, thanks to your own personal smoke cloud?

Plus, all that smoke would surely sting the eyes worse than spending ten minutes in a locker room with a Lynx antiperspirant (other deodorant brands are available) obsessed football team. Also, I can't help but feel that Henry Bostock, a dude who spent eight kidnapped hours with Blackbeard, might have remarked on the fact that the pirate captain spent most of the afternoon on fire.

What we can confirm though, is that the Pirate Captain Blackbeard had a black beard!

Huzzah for history!


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