I. Barnacles vs Spanish Coins
The barnacle is a genus of invertebrate that tends to dwell in shallow bodies of salt water. They thrive, attached to a submerged surface, via stalk like appendages. These crustaceans (not mollusks) are born as free floating larvae before permanently attaching themselves to whatever substrate they happen to arrive at. Though they are seemingly dormant, a layered, outer plate draws in and filters water, for sustenance. For hundreds of years, barnacles have devoured the bones of maritime industry. They are living decay of the vast Atlantic, as well as the sea’s that she bleeds in to.
The events and circumstances described in the following account are all accurate and completely un-fabricated. Yet the drifting ships, blood stained Spanish coins, and sword metals are all partially, if not completely buried in barnacle. Society relies on written word to keep the stories behind these artifacts free of crustaceans. That is for the exception of one artifact – one souvenir from this bygone era. An era, though deemed as civilized, was a day where men were driven by the simplest of urgency’s. The skull of one of these men remains untouched by shallow dwelling arthropods. This is the skull of a man named Edward Teach, from whose face hung a beard as thick and as hopeless as midnight.
A former judge from the Southern United States is reported to possess it. It is also reported that he uses this skull as a drinking chalice, while entertaining inebriated company with exotic tastes. The bone marrow is forever soaked with rum and still retains a taste of cannon smoke, the salty lips of mermaids and opium in its purest form. This is the authorized, true, biography of a pirate named Ed Teach. Though his enemies called him Blackbeard.
He was born Edward Aguilera Drummond IV, to a humid morning on October 2nd, 1680, in South Bristol, England. He was the first and only son of an undertaker, with whom he shared the same name. Leading historians concur that from the age of zero to fifteen, Edward simply did not wear a beard upon his face. Instead, he would smear his skin with a palette of pearl colored oil paint and moist charcoal. He roamed the avenues of 16th century London with this mask that he reportedly modeled after the skull of a silver-back gorilla, which he had seen in one of his father’s textbooks.
Bristol proved to be a treacherous habitat, especially for a boy as young as Edward. He learned quickly that the illusion of fear was integral if he wished to avoid any sour altercations with the city’s ne’er-do-wellers. It was not just the painted face of this odd child that kept predators away, but his behavior, as well. He displayed no fear of death or disease, often venturing without hesitation into the cities catacombs, where the dead were buried. Here, with the rats and air heavy with plague, was where Edward sought his first stolen treasure – two femur bones. Edward wielded them like wooden clubs. Beating on hollow surfaces and raising a thunderous racket with his skeletal drum sticks. Crossing them under his chin like some slight, paranormal entity, shepherding souls to the afterlife.
At this very point in time, it is believed that High on Fire’s ‘The Face of Oblivion’, somehow juxtaposed itself into the background murmur of Bristol. Resounding from the mouth’s of statues and out of stray oxen. It came from the torn pockets of thieves, and poured down from fat, onyx clouds. It emanated in the sound of bone beating against oak and wailed from cathedral bells. All of the gangs and British infantry men knew not to toil with a child who wielded human bones and painted his face like the skull of a gorilla. They knew not to challenge someone who could summon the sounds of doom metal with his mere presence. This fear kept young Edward safe, a skill he would use later on in life. For the undertaker’s boy was destined for remarkable things.
III. Sea Calf
Edward Drummond was not a transient man in his early days. He did not toil in the arts or seek fortune as a spice merchant. Though educated and well spoken, scholarly pursuits were not revealed in any faced tarot cards. Succeeding his father as an undertaker, or pursuing the career of a whaler did not lure him with the promise of a practical lifestyle. It was Queen Anne’s War that finally drew Edward out of England – Encroaching on Caribbean lands, in an eleven year battle that brought colonial empires against each other, and scattered ships across maps in naval warfare.
He was assimilated into the Royal Navy as a privateer in early 1715, as conflict was beginning to dwindle. The Treaty of Utrecht was on the brink of instilling peace between Great Britain and France, though privateers still lingered as dust does on the leather of shelved biblical texts. Privateering was essentially a term for legalized piracy, where the British government sanctioned their troops to board ships and steal from them. They were known to take from the rich, and give to the rich. Though it was devious work, Edward’s legs felt more solid on board a ship, than they ever had on land – Even the tropical, palm tree polluted shores of Jamaica, from which he sailed out of.
During 1715, Edward served on the Leviathan, with the likes of Ned Low and James Maynard, two figures that would plague his later years. Their attacks on other sea vessels were often savage in nature, and they soon wore on Edward’s conscious. One morning, after months of serving his country, Edward reached a moral dam. While drifting off the port of St. Vitus, the Privateers spotted a docked fruiting vessel. The Leviathan breached the modest banana boat, where they greeted a flummoxed crew of lowly Montego farmers. The bewilderment on their faces turned to terror, as Maynard and Low began driving their cutlasses into them.
PILLAGE: The farmers put up minimal resistance. Robert Maynard had a knack for ‘having his way’ with female passengers, and this excursion was no exception. Meanwhile, Edward watched as Ned Low sliced off the ear of the captain with a small dagger. He then forced him to consume the severed cartilage as Edward reluctantly held him at gun point. The crew pleaded in their native tongue, but the Royal Privateers did not heed their cry. It was clear at this juncture, that they would not be parting with any loot. Their intentions were only to kill and maim. When Maynard returned from his business, he ordered Edward to execute the ear-less captain. Ed followed orders and raised his pistol to put the hapless man out of his misery. Maynard blocked his aim and handed Edward a metal hatchet, as if he were simply bearing a token to flip.
“It is slower and much sharper than flint,” he told Edward. The strange boy from Bristol weighed the hatchet in his fist, while his comrades looked on eagerly in anticipation. After short deliberation, he dropped it to the deck and turned his back on Ned and Robert. They warned Edward that he would not walk unscathed for his treason.
As he retreated away onto the beach, Edward heard a final prayer being wailed by the poor captain. An old Creole Spanish address he would recall for the rest of his days. The words rang in his ear drums, even as the verses of the violent interaction faded.
He comes from cities of darkness
To supper harlots and fools
Loneliness is his raiment
Solitude is his jewel
He’s seen the valleys of solace
Beheld the spires of sleep
He’s fed the fires of the fallen
And heard their widows weep
IV. So Warm a Solitude
Jamaican land suited Edward quite well. There the country breath was sweet with the aroma of untapped coffee and sugar cane crops, which grew upon the landscape like wildfire. Buccaneers and drifters, alike, prospered in the burgeoning coastal settlements, while Ed stayed in near solitude at the mouth of Kingston Harbour. For he had caught wind that Naval officers were scouring the streets and taverns of neighboring city, Port Royal. Walking with ropes at their sides, with aspirations of obtaining a war prisoner. Edward lived as if he were marooned on the island, sustaining himself off only what the terrain could bestow. He swam beneath the waves, strengthening his lungs, and had lengthy conversations with leatherback turtles. They taught him about the history of the sea and the sky. Of the logistics behind stars. Ed did not believe that they were not fireflies, despite the turtles best efforts, which lead to an unhealthy mistrust of turtles for the rest of his life.
Months swam by and his jaws darkened with black spores. His muscles refined into sharper tendons, without the confinement of English cotton. Edward hunted fish and anemones, which he roasted for his dinners. Sheltered himself with huts that were built with raw palm timber. In these huts he would burn opium and keep company with the daughters of plantation owners. These shelters kept them safe from the ruthless hurricanes that devoured the coast and upset the water table. The daughters serenaded him w/ heavy, crunching sonnets about lichen and mollusks.
Edward Aguilera Drummond spent many an hour allowing his eyesight to rest on open flame as well as the distant pyre of sunsets. Staring blankly into them until his retinas turned to wax. Within these post-hurricane suns, he would see out in to the new glow of the sky and he would lose himself. Visualizing a man roaming the Atlantic’s glass surface. Eyeless figureheads aimed towards precipice and uncertainty.
Living as a beach hermit was a lonely period for Edward Drummond. Especially in absence from the far glow of revelry in Port Royal. A place of taverns and gluttony. He rarely encountered others and those he crossed paths with did not match wits or provide intelligent conversation. He found minimal companionship in other living things – The ferns he attempted communication with only whispered seductively and swayed on occasion. The jungle pelicans (toucans) were colorful and patient but squawked liked angry wives when the mango vines were bare. Any others he confided with either spoke in different languages or were overly concerned with weather and the affairs of Imperial families.
Desolation was truly his place in that time/space/volume. Until one morning when he noticed another densely mustachioed face watching him from the edge of the jungle. Edward drew a conch shell knife and wielded it at the visitor. Demanding they come forth and cease observing him strangely from the woods.The yellow eyes did not blink, nor did the figure stir. Surely a ghost had come to pursue him. But the eyes vanished, and he entered the clearing before Edward. It walked on all fours, and moved without cracking twigs under its paws. Reluctantly pacing about with a thick tail that chased him.
Edward threw a small rock at the stranger, cursing at the ghost to return to its shack. But the thing sat calmly, as his rocks missed their mark. The yellow eyes still glaring up at him in curiosity. An impasse between the two.
“You are a bearded man of the wood as I am,” Edward whispered, kneeling to the creature. It blinked at long last, before sniffing Ed’s outstretched palm. A large purple tongue studied the salty tastes of his hand, and Edward chuckled, baring yellow incisors. The animal was fond of him, and when Edward returned to the sands, he was alone.
It is believed by leading historians that Edward Drummond did indeed befriend a howler monkey named Jefferson, but it is not certain whether he named the animal or if that was already its name. Some argue that ‘Jefferson’ was a figment of his imagination, or a product of Drummond’s then excessive drug use. A habit that would eventually lead him to the shanty town of Port Royal, where his career as a maritime desperado would take root.
During the mid to late 16th century, the Jamaican city of Port Royal was regarded as an utter sanctuary for criminals. A self-governed setting that allotted ultimate freedom for hedonistic pursuits. The few historical accounts of Port Royal are unreliable, as any who spent time there were usually observing their surroundings with liquor soaked eyelids or buried in the velvet of unwashed corsets. It was akin to a prison with no cells or guards, where an otherwise genteel society deposited all of its unwanted sediment and rubble. But the glow of lanterns and the eyes of brothel ladies beheld a certain light. A light that danced with the clack of coin in something reminiscent of a latter day Las Vegas. Nestled on a desert of translucently green tinged ocean water and coral.
Opulence was flaunted by the fortunate, as it was a perfect place for privateers at rest to spend their treasure. The makeshift banks and gold that was filtered in, brought great affluence to the city. Merchants reaped the benefits of Port Royal’s location on shipping routes. Becoming quite wealthy off the exportation of spices and raw woods. Artisans and metal smiths migrated there and thickened the population. Further strengthening the already present open minded ethos of Port Royal. It rapidly became a bustling jewel (if minerals could indeed bustle) of the southern Pacific, rather than just a coastal ghetto. Buildings rose higher into the sky, and the seeds of a functioning community were beginning to split and expose the vine within.
Near the conclusion of the 16th century, the Jamaican government took notice of its newly burgeoning harbor. Elected officials sought to gentrify the buccaneer ruled paradise. After passing several anti-piracy laws, they began to take control of what crime had built. Redistributing the ample wealth, and enforcing new rule. Port Royal soon became the capital of capital punishment. Where more criminals were executed than anywhere else in the world. The source of these executions even garnered a nickname, ‘Gallows Point.’ Where men once freely exchanged yarns of their travels to unclaimed worlds, had become a place for their vertebrates to be snapped before crowds of young British professionals.
The myriad of hangings came to an abrupt halt in early June of 1692, when a 7.5 magnitude earth quake struck the harbor. The sands liquified in the surge, forming waves of moving glass that devoured buildings, razed docks, and sent capsized ships over the roofs of buildings. The densely populated city sunk below sea level, and the ample architecture which had been hastily built vertically atop flimsy foundations, crumbled. It is postulated that two thousand souls perished from the initial quake and subsequent tsunami, with another 3,000 succumbing from injury and illness.
But like all corners of history, Port Royal was once alive. It had blood rolling through its arteries. Artists and writers sober enough to recall it, have penned sayings based on the infamous city. These brief poems and illustrations carved into bar-top woods are the only documentation of this fleeting place in time. A Dutch explorer noted in an observation that ‘the parrots of Port Royal gather to drink from the large stocks of ale with just as much alacrity as the drunks that frequent the taverns that serve it.’
Though Edward did not witness any drunk birds, firsthand, he could easily visualize what one may look or act like. And he certainly was not oblivious to the debauchery of the place. He even grew to be fond of it all. The foolhardy abandon and the carefree laughter of devils unattached to materialistic pursuits charmed him. It was most certainly a change in tapestry from the placid serenity of his beach.
Edward’s simple life on the bay had consisted mainly of stirring his conscious with inhalants and getting lost down the trails of his own cerebral forest. But a man’s head is a vast wilderness of gnarled trees and mosses. Trunks bowed from relentless storms and strange creatures that observe from the shadows. His attempts at ulterior horticulture were not as successful. The cannabis plants and poppy seed flowers he tried to cultivate did not prosper, as they were eaten by sand antelopes before they could ever bloom. He had no choice but to make pilgrimages to Port Royal to restock his medicine cabinet of uncontrolled substance. Edward wandered the dirt avenues with Jefferson at his side (visible only to him), in perpetual search of pressed hashish and sugar brewed alcohols. This was where and how he crossed paths with noted buccaneer, Captain Benjamin Hornigold.
DEAL: Hornigold was among the few people Edward exchanged words, both dignified and philosophical with. For these men were educated, and Hornigold also dealt the finest opiates in all chartered areas of the Caribbean. Both were disgusted with the direction that once free Jamaica was heading in. Slavers and politicians were acting quickly to claim the paradise, while both retired and aspiring career criminals rotted away in the fringes of slum boroughs. They discussed their ideologies late into the night, at saloons where one could hear the tide go out with one’s liver. The alliance of Hornigold and Drummond was complicated, however, by financial debt. For Edward was known to inhale his vices faster than he could pay for them. Any of the dwindling bartering assets he did have were acquired under strange circumstances that can only be speculated upon. It was an ugly dealing between friends, until it was finally settled with a proposition struck up by Captain Hornigold, one drunken evening.
Hornigold was to set sail for New Providence to transport a large shipment of poppy seeds, as well as marijuana, ammunition and coffee. There, they would distribute the goods down the coast. A great lot of Hornigold’s crew had succumbed to the temptations of Port Royal, and he in turn, needed extra hands on deck. It was to be a dangerous trek through the straight of El Equis, heavily patrolled by Navy cannons and ancient viking curses.
Edward toiled with the thought of accompanying Hornigold and returning to sailor life. As he pondered, another lost Port Royal derelict sang a mournful shanty from a nearby stage. She sang of red seas and daggers. Of heat and souls. Gently plucking at the strings of a harp. Her audience, (as well as an accompanying fiddler player) slept soundly before half empty rum jugs. Upon mulling over Hornigold’s proposition, Edward looked at his palms. Soiled and splintered by the island.
The ocean spreads beneath the skin
Fluid fills blackened lungs
Tar seeps across the eyes
Away in the sea of red …
They were the hands of a seafarer.
His fists were not slippery. Or his palms at least. Nothing from the varnish of the trident handle. Edward stood with the sun warming his back, at the brim of a ship called Ranger, on a day in 1716. Marlin blood trickling out like rivers on an atlas page. Raining down in beads from the trident barbs. A slap on the shoulder from the Captain, Benjamin Hornigold to commemorate his accurate hunting. Just an old boat of smugglers, sitting north west of the copper equator. The feeling of earth under boot now just a dream in all of their heads.
“I was vastly unaware they I had taken in Neptune on my ship!” Hornigold growled while unsheathing a long nose flint pistol and shooting the marlin in its head. Tattoo of something resembling a bear wrestling a Pelican on his lower arm, with the pelican apparently gaining the upper hand on her opponent. Both men squint in the daylight and toil in celebration. Three months came and went since they set sail from Kingston Harbor, New Providence. Carrying the ambition of moving a massive score of goods, to be smuggled up the Florida straight and filtered into the Southern colonies.
“We are carrying the vices that will build that country.”
They loosen the slack on their makeshift fishing crane. Scouring their hands with hemp rope. Pull the anchor from the lapping waves and the thirty-gun strong ship feels infinitely lighter. It bursts forward like a pack of hounds unleashed by their weary handler. Carried over the dunes of water, sails growing fat with wind.
The Ranger was a modest freight ship constructed with the purpose of carrying overtly generous amounts of cargo. Built by the hands of Spanish shipwrights, during the war, via snarled wild oak bound with iron beams. Ore mined from caves haunted by the spirits of native settlers. It was a sluggish vessel, but sturdy and brutish. The crew called her ‘Dopethrone.’An emerald throne of dope, for how it was tinted green from the oaks reaction to rhodophyta algae. A form of seaweed that commonly colonized Caribbean marinas.
Edward Drummond does not speak. He eats his trophy fish in silence, listening to his mates trade stories of their lives back home. Mostly Jamaican fishermen, they are. Some farmers. Making extra income for their families. Unarmed and smiling. Not all are versed in how to steer a freight ship so colossal in girth, but the ones who lack experience make up for it in some form of callousness. In disregard to treading lightly. They laugh and pry white fish from slivers of bones. All of their teeth glow in the lantern light, as if they were in the fog of laser-tag warfare.
These men regain their energy with marlin meat and pear wine (or what was some form of raw alcohol used to preserve pears in a hefty glass jug). They pick shards of musket pellet from their teeth as their feast winds down. A welcome change from the salted seal fat they had been living on. Each wave shifts the surface of Edward Drummond’s drink, until his cup is empty. The hold of the ship is a still, muggy place. Akin to melting cheddar between two flour tortillas. Evenings such as the aforementioned were not uncommon aboard The Ranger. Days consisted of careful plodding through dangerous territories. Nights of dinner between professionals. Though Hornigold tried to keep his ship under detection, they had passed by others through the narrow Straight of El Equis.
– A shortcut of sorts. Some of them flew Navy flags, but most did not bother with The Ranger, as freight ships were of little concern to the British empire. Even in the case that someone suspected smugglers, their intentions were not comparable to the violent pirate attacks and mutilations that had been occurring with more frequency along El Equis.
After approximately five months at sea, the breezes turned to feel unwelcome. Sea gulls rode upon these breezes, indicating that they were finally nearing the crust of land. Captain Hornigold could smell the salinity of the air begin to diminish. His ship had made it. But something else was approaching them, rapidly to their broad side.
Ned Low. A blockage of three sloops stalking the coast. Approaching any lone voyagers that attempted to sail through the shortcut. His shortcut. They descended on them quietly, like phantom caimans. Odors both ungodly and baleful drifted from the blockade and hung over The Ranger in a fog. Low observed them from what appeared to be a former Navy ship. Its gold adornments were dulled by filth, with ‘HMS Scarborough‘ fading at the helm.
His crew stood mute at the sides and studied The Ranger with venomous stares. All were either old men with strings of ashen hair dangling from their skulls, or rabid young boys. No one on Lowe’s crew fell in between elder-age and boyhood. The reasoning behind his has been better left unsolved by historians.
Deprived of basic human good, they did seem. Hornigold took them in with an expression of doubt. A terrifying lot they were. Feral gluttony settled in stoney eyes. Reeking of a lizard’s cage. A terrarium unsealed after decades. Especially Lowe, who exuded a specific mossy flavor. Edward recognized his former comrade, at once. Even without a Navy uniform, Ned Low was still unmistakable with his fanged smile. His yellow pupils.
Edward needed to hastily disguise himself, so as not to be recognized. He pulled a cloth over his face as a long plank fell over The Ranger’s rails, allowing Ned to board surrounded by a tight assembly of guards. They brandished short swords, in early stages of rust. None with firearm. Ned paced past the tense crew. A limp feather in his hat from a woodland bird that appeared to have lived a sad, lonely life with few close friends. He inquired about their cargo, and his eyes glowed with the fever of hatching canary’s, upon the mention of poppy seed heroin.
“Captain Hornigold. Rumors of your arrival here were well speculated. As this land is developing quite the appetite for narcotics.”
“What do you want?” the Captain retorted, evenly. Fists stuffed under his sycamore trunk like arms.
“The Straight of El Equis is a territory that I govern,” Ned continued. “Do your dogs bite?” He asked Hornigold, grazing a long, wiry finger over the face of one crewman. “These coal skins are lucky they aren’t cargo, themselves.”
“We will pay a toll, if a toll is what you are after.”
“Yes you will. I will be procuring a third of your cargo,” he decreed to Hornigold without pause and while shifting his privates. “The heroin. You can keep the rest.”
Benjamin Hornigold seemed to weigh Low’s proposal in his mind. As the rabid men reviewed Edward, he tested his grip on the hunting trident. At the ready to drive it through any of their ribs. They glared as if they were some interbred species of flesh eating crow-dog. Digging long, powdery fingernails into their necks. Satiating themselves of some strange hunger.
Hornigold agreed finally to the terms. Even weakly shaking the hand of the ghastly man. Ned left The Ranger, with seven crates. But as he walked by Edward, he paused. Snorted the air. Edward clenched the trident tighter, knuckles cracking.
“Off with you,” Hornigold ordered. Never the less a captain of his own vessel. Ned obliged, chuckling under his breath.
Low’s blockade of ships parted, and The Ranger cut through, albeit somewhat lighter.
“He is mad,” Hornigold said in a rare moment of candidness with his crew. “Man has a reputation for cannibalism. Like some savage headhunter or something to ill regard.”
Edward did not divulge his history as an ally of Lowe. He preferred people knowing little of his past. A presence only of that moment with his former days as good as his ghost. They rounded American land right below the border line of the Carolinas. Their Dopethrone dragged the rust of the sea behind her, while guitar feedback rose from somewhere far away. A place where black amps threaten to tear apart the sky. A vision of frontiers and unclaimed land formed in Edward’s tired mind. The bandana now rested around his neck, below a bustling shrub of facial hair. His eyes closed and sleep found him, there at the brink of an entire unborn country.
VII. How the West was Lost
Merchant ships did not ordinarily enter the shallow juncture where the Wilmington River empties into the Ocracoke. An already sea mauled and sluggish Dopethrone nearly destroyed itself in doing so. As the smugglers docked at the Port of South Carolina’s Bath Town, the Ranger’s timber heaved. She was storm battered. Floorboards uneven from being manhandled by three different tropical depressions. Unfastened bottles and cannon shrapnel would roll across deck, allotting the ship a discontented voice that bellowed like a widow in grieving. Within Edward’s preconceived knowledge, he anticipated the New World to be much like his home of Old England – or at least a sketch resembling its infancy. A place painted in gray with the ardor of constant steam and red haired women. Familiar dialects and fish meat that made one’s stomach churn.
But England it was not. The colonies seemed to have their own place in the world, a world that had otherwise begun to feel aged. Being in the midst of unclaimed land left Edward in a strange state. Made more palpable by bustling cities of conifers and glacial rock outcroppings that extended from the coast as far as inland seemed to go – which was all together unknowable and dizzying to the strangers. No native tongue prevailed there, as it seemed almost every language was spoken. And fish did not sicken Edward. It could be eaten right from the source. Except the salt water turned fresh, in vast rivers that hurried back towards the Atlantic. Edward was not accustomed to these ‘rivers’, and they delighted him and enlivened his spirits.
A presence of danger, however, did not excuse itself. It was during a three month voyage, that the technology of firearms had evolved seemingly behind their backs. Settlers armed themselves with long musket like cannons which they brandished in all conversation. But it was only the Spanish cattlemen who carried both flint and sword. Outlaws. Rancheros from Mexico.
Careful planning went into Hornigold’s drug operation. There was more financial gain in drugs than any other goods, and therefore more risk. The Captain drew a map and applied it to to their galley wall via nail. A path in black berry ink (or possibly a pokeweed) stretching out for miles down the shore, all the way from South Carolina to Florida. Though their heroin and presumably much of their gunpowder and ammunition had been stolen by Ned Lowe prior, they still possessed an estimated ninety pounds of cannabis to flood the colonies with. The profits divided amongst them would equate to three months wages of an average English tailor. Except the smugglers did not have to contend with shopfronts or wide hatted debutantes. No pants to measure.
According to the Ranger’s recorded log, Hornigold had aspirations of filtering the goods to the Chickasaw tribe, but tensions during the Yamasee War made that a trying endeavor. Conflict riddled the territories with toothed spirits and the splash of wet blood. They could not draw even the faintest allegiance to any one side, at risk of becoming embroiled with some political battle. The Spanish cattlemen were also supplying much of America’s marijuana from the south, and to the natives, who they had alliances with. Imported Mexican ‘zacate’ was heavily favored by the colonists due to its potency, in how it was brought only over land and never by sea. Their plant was a damp bud that stuck to ones fingertips, leaving a residue that lingered also on the lips and throat. But Hornigold had no desire to steer the pioneers away from dealing with the Rancheros. He attempted to operate in conjunction with them to forgo the insisted violence that usually pre-cursed that sort of business, in favor of a synergistic operation with leg room for future transactions.
Captain Hornigold and his crew quickly garnered an upstanding reputation in the New World. This was beneficial to them, in a place of constantly shifting borders, between the British and the French. Between the Spanish and natives. Independent governments driving stakes in the ground and claiming mountains, plain and lake terrain as their own. Only for it to be stolen over gore and gun smoke the proceeding week. Disparate faiths in God competed for the forefront. The smugglers kept their heads down when it came to such matters, and took shifts guarding their cargo at night. For some mud sharks (or land dwelling pirates) had started to gather bravery. A small portion of the Dopethrone’s crew was lost to America, as some had planned to settle there prior, though there were no hard feelings among them. They also garnered some extra mates. They included a seven toothed blacksmith from Roanoke, an English speaking Iroquois who had a lucid understanding of celestial navigation, and even a priest from Savannah, Georgia.
Though what they sold was far from being government regulated, one interaction reflected the cadence of modern crime fiction, as denoted by a journal entry penned by Lee Q. Harvard, a prominent diplomat from the north.
Myself and my associates had recently come into the good fortune of acquiring a handsome trust from trading bonds in the city of Boston. A dull glow of unpleasantly aromatic, low burning whale blubber candles masked our concealed gunpowder. There was something about the selling of foreign narcotics that brought a great unhinged sort of desperate behavior out of men, and it was necessary to be armed. I was preemptively wary about conducting business with pirates, as I had heard tales of betrayal and ritualistic stabbings from my father. One with incredibly white eyes and a brief but close beard eyed us all the while. A quiet devil in wait. He could see right through me, but he spoke nary a word, leaving a trail of reverb drenched feedback in his path. Only the Captain produced dialogue.
A majority of their cargo was sloughed over the course of five weeks, but they had saved the last for a wealthy ranchero named Junipero Serra. They headed further down the coast to Florida for their final enterprise, where they anchored the Ranger in St. Augustine. There, rancheros took Hornigold and Drummond by horseback through a vast swamp country, while the rest of the crew stayed behind as guards.
The seafarers traversed over seven miles of marsh. Sinking and rising as they went. Their boots getting sucked downwards into the scum by some deeply dwelling, amphibious mud monster. Air hanging heavy with molten heat, clinging to their skin like wet cobwebs as they passed through. The cowboy escorts warned the pirates about Seminole Indians and alligators lurking in the palms. Yet Edward could not see anything past the haze of humidity that seemed to cloak all that was about, rendering their habitat a roar of green.
One Spanish cowboy wore the pelt of a panther on his back, and adorned a mustache that curled to the sides. “Would be strange to see pirates fighting Indians,” one said in pursuit of affable humor. It was a nightmare of undergrowth. Foliage shifting so dramatically with chartreuse blades that appeared to be frozen mid-explosion. Hair-like Moss draped from the limbs of any trees resilient enough to grow in the acidic dirge of soil.
Serra’s plantation was built on an island on a marsh that was slowly becoming a marsh again. The land was like that. Always inhaling back any structure man attempted to erect. There was a sound of hissing chased by constant buzzing. Some ashy white pollen fell like snow, which reminded Edward at long last of his childhood home. A small militia patrolled the grounds. It was easy to tell which men were more recent recruits, as they were visibly perturbed by the heat and wore heavy cotton with inflamed masks of mosquito bites.
“The smart ones have grown beards,” the Panther rider told Edward, to which he did not reply.
Junipero was a Spanish man in his late thirty’s, who spoke with a well worn French dialect. It made him seem wealthier than he actually was, but that was already apparent by the velvet upholstery lining all of his seating options. The three of them sat at a distance in a parlor before tall windows that seemed to grow up the sides of the walls, overlooking acres of glade. Letting the swamp inside little by little. He applied their cannabis to the reverse dome of a middle eastern smoking instrument and exhaled the torched bloom into what seemed like a preexisting fog that smelt of salt and burnt vanilla. He did not speak for minutes, while Edward and Captain Hornigold exchanged glances.
“I have not tasted Jamaica in years. There are no native flowers in Flaurida. But I can taste the sweet ‘Maican hydrangeas.”
Any further marketing points were unnecessary prior to his commentary on flora. Junipero paid in galleons, collected in a bag of purple velvet. The Captain weighed this in his palm before pocketing it. But there was a second velvet bag. A seemingly infinite parade of velvet bags.
The professionalism of Drummond and his Captain did not go unnoticed by Serra. This was especially prudent, as their disheveled appearances inferred a much different message. While a passing thunderstorm yielded to the resigned glow of dawn, they carried on a number of dignified conversations that touched on a wide variety of current topics.
“Someday, artificial light will reign here. This stagnant bath will be drained and buildings, taller than you’ve imagined will grow. Nurtured by the dust of the jungle,” Junipero sketched skylines in the air with long talon-like fingernails, though neither Drummond or Hornigold had any comprehension towards what he was talking about.
There was a great fortune to be made in the slave trade, but Junipero claimed drug importing and distribution would dictate the future generations as cultivation tamed the landscape. Told them that addicting people to something was more profitable than owning them. He claimed consumers must have that thing which supersedes desire. A hunger. Need.
“Or is the drug trade no different?” This was Edward Drummond’s first contribution to the conversation.
It is believed at that point, the three men struck up further business. Junipero removed a glass jug from a (third?) velvet bag and spilled a small amount of its contents on the surface before them. He was careful not to breath any of it away, treating the foreign powder like ground down gold. “Black jungle dust. Derived from the cocoa plant of Brasil.”
“What is it? Gunpowder?” Hornigold swirled it in his fingertips. “What does it do?”
“No different than any other narcotic. Dried and crushed. You blow it up your knose.”
“Knose?” Drummond’s second contribution.
“It is the past time of royals.”
The Chilean cowboy then proposed his second order of business. He needed 300 pounds of the black (though it was more grey) jungle dust shipped to England, by way of a series of middle men. Them being the crew of the Ranger. First Junipero would give them a 300 pound bulk of uncut bricks and a sum of gold, with which they would sail to an island off the coast of Cuba, where a second ship would be waiting. The cocaine would then be transferred to the second ship in exchange for the rest of their payment.
“Two hundred galleons now. Two later. For something that may well go up the Queen’s nose. Who is it now, Mary? Emily?” Junipero reclined, confident in the compliance of the smugglers.
No one answered. The agreement was settled not by handshakes, or short glasses of agave liquor, but by another offering from the Ranchero. He brought them outside, to observe the swampy holm of river. His plantation was nestled on a broad tributary, off a bustling shipping route. It is believed Junipero Serra had within his possession of exotic drugs, a patch of cactus grown in limestone. Or swamp peyote. Redneck Mescaline. Even more potent than that of desert land variety.
‘Seminoles use this for their spirit journeys and space travels and what not,” Junipero said in a display of yellowing incisors.
The ranchero, Edward, and Captain Hornigold sat at the edge of an empty stone lagoon, that Serra claimed he would fill with rain water and nude women. All of them devoured the cactus hungrily. Edward took eight pieces and half of a ninth. They tasted of earth and yielded little moisture under his molar. Within the shorter half of an hour, the three men slowly descended into silence. Examining their hands. Watching the rivers of violet blood. The Ranchero cackled, while Hornigold seemed to retract inside himself.
It was at this point, that Edward embarked on a short, but vital spiritual journey. It was at this point that the sun drooled down to the earth in streams of glistening nacho cheese. First, he removed his clothing which had begun to decompose into an acrid rot of perspiration impregnated fabric. He stomped half naked through the marsh, until he was almost completely veiled in rich peat mud. This acted to cool him off but he felt an odd urgency to be utterly submerged. Edward proceeded to lower himself slowly into the Everglades. Letting languishing murk caress his bare eyeballs, where there was a verse of electric strings that beckoned him towards the deep of the marsh.
Under the surface, there were shapes that when closer, appeared to be women with the tails of large fish. Amphibian like skin and eyes that reflected ones own fearful expression back at them. They glided through the murk, pulling him deeper until he could feel reeds at his bare feet. Moving in some alternative path of slow motion. Black bubbles birthing from their gills. The maids darted about, as he was brought to face a creature seated on a throne of coral and other marine life bones. When he spoke, his voice was unbridled fuzz and squealing harmonics. Made even muddier by the fact that his court was underwater. But in all strangeness, Edward understood every word the king said.
He told him of a treasure, more valuable than any rubies or doubloons or pearls. Decayed chords popping from his throat. A crown with the perfect weight.
“The heaviest crown,” It chortled, hard fuzzed out mids.”You will ride upon doom, itself. You will ride until you have found it.” The semi-transparent ghosts of iron motorcycles swam from the great emperor’s mouth, but Edward did not know what they were or what to make of them.
Mermaid creatures swirled around them with long fangs protruding from their jaws. Clawing at Edward, and curiously tearing at his mortality. The swamp emperor dismissed him with the bellow of a ship cast in sonic dirt. Choked out pick slides chasing him and shrinking a pressure in his temples. Unsure if those sounds were coming from the emperor, the maids or some as of yet unseen beast. He saw the swamp as a beast in itself. A giant, living-
Edward awoke on a riverbank. Wrapped in leaches. Mouth dry. His mind wide open and vast like a prairie. America kissing his flesh with reeds that bowed under the wind, but he stood outside of it all. His breath was filled with it. Stars stuck to his muscles like parasites. Sun-baked mud to clean flesh. Edward Drummond, with all of his good and evil, disappeared. Drowned somewhere in that swamp. He was Edward Leach. He was The Blackbeard.
VIII. Turn Off Your Mind
“Hoi toid is comin,” another old toothless man says into the night. Squinting to near blindness and badly jake legged with webbed fingers and an intentionally violent limp.
High tide lurches up inside Edward Teach, as well. Covering chopped up glass with fine, glass blankets that froth at the mouth before reversing. Riffs so so sloth-like they seem almost the same, even when resounding backwards.
Blackbeard hurls a bottle straight into the flame, and its splatter is met by chortling, though drunken, is the unmistakable sound of fear. He swallows another bout of vomit and fills his head with a goblet of coffee rum. The night sucks smoke up into a fine funnel like a gargantuan, invisible bong. With God’s mouth at the receiving helm.
“You’re embarking on what is called a campaign of fear.” The former Captain Benjamin Hornigold had told him years ago, before being pardoned and retiring as a pirate hunter. His accent beginning to veer towards the delivery of a leading actor in a Comache Western film. You instill terror in everything’s gut, single-handedly without using your actual hands to kill or chopping through literal wrists.
Even under the scrutiny of modern desk lamps, Edward Teach is regarded as a public relations genius. He implored imagery and tact to intimidate his opponents without directly murdering anybody. This is not counting those killed by cannon ball fire, which is a numeral estimated to sit around 60 or 85.
Salty wind grazes across the marsh, riling the fire and melting a nearby sleeping sailors boots. Mary Ormond (Edward’s wife) is away in a fathomless sleep, 22 miles from Blackbeard’s hideout, in a fieldstone cottage the two shared. The ten chimney structure was built by masons with shaking hands, using rocks carried from the beach, as Edward had insisted. Her quilt is heavy. Mary is safe there and though she dreams, she smiles. Edward’s spare boots lay in the hall, reeking of sulfurous estuary mud.
One hundred and sixty-sixty miles away, Captain James Maynard’s ship bares down on the inlet. His boner disappearing and engorging in the mouth of an old wench, while dreams of Blackbeard’s death at his own hand, dance across his mind. His cutlass handle digs into his thigh, and he smiles. Fuzz grows on Arabic stringed instruments while loose headed floor toms bang lazily underneath. Growling louder the closer he sails.
It was the last night Blackbeard was alive. His hair is permanently drenched by gunpowder with a face pulled gaunt by the great beard – Dreadlocked with white hairs tangled in like the strands of a chromosome. His vision burns from the constant application of charcoal underneath sagging eyelids and in the creases in between his eyes, to appear in a state of constant aggression. Once broad shoulders begin to shrink underneath a massive coat. For a minute he dreams. A life passes before him instead of the flame, as flames often do. Rousing a boiled sunburn in the few places where skin is uncovered.
LEGACY: Edward Teach begins to remember where he has been. Recalling a life of adventure with wizards and high priests on the desert ocean. Dying it red with Madeira wine that he threw over the sides of his first stolen ship – The Queen Anne’s Revenge. A flotilla of three boats was assembled, outfitting the stolen vessels with cannons and light cedar rudders. Maple necked timbers and noise reducing sails. Their crew swelled with recruits, including Stede Bonnett, an eccentric merchant from Barbados who, according to shipmates, was in constant search of ‘his marbles.’
It was unusual for such a young pirate to carry such a plague like reputation. The word ‘Teach’ spread down shipping routes, up canals and across whole continents. The fire of his person could be seen for great distances, as he often burned down ships after sparing or marooning the passengers. Registered voters of the Caribbean saw the plumes of black cotton rise up to blacken heaven. An upside down volcano spilling its smokey roots.
The Blackbeard feels his heart valves tighten and be stabbed by a then undiagnosed ailment. This was not unexpected, with his nightly indulgence of chopped cocaine crystals and downers. In late 1717, after years of raiding ships on the open sea, Blackbeard began operating closer to land. Among his first conquests was blockading the Port of Charleston. Several ships carrying wealthy Charleston citizens and councilmen were on their way back to port, where they were halted and taken as hostages. Their ransom was primarily medical supplies. Teach lied, inferring he and his crew sought the drugs to abuse. In reality, they were for his heart condition. After six afternoons of negotiation, his demands were met. One hostage reported Edward to be a man who isolated himself in his quarters. Keeping a still head but shifting his eyes with a deliberate gradualness as if if the balls of his eyes rested in a thick slime.
IX. Hot Salvation
In 1718 he intentionally ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge on a sandbar. This was coordinately when Charles Eden, governor of the Colony of North Carolina, began offering pardons to pirates in reward for impunity. Stede Bonnett, among several others took the deal. Eccentric as usual, Bonnett used the money to craft small glass spheres, and then, to fund his return to piracy. This was until he was captured and hanged within a span of two months. Leaving hundreds of marbles in his wake.
New Low, however, continued to terrorize the ocean with riddles of torture. The man sailed until his ship became a ghost-boat and the crew mysteriously dwindled to nothing. Low reportedly lived the rest of his days out somewhere in Western Brazil, as a mute medicine man or what some historians believe to be a shaman of sorts. There have been oil paintings portraying a figure with Low’s likeness. His face is smeared with chalk and bones dangle from piercings.
Teach spent some time in Nassau, a chunk of island in the Bahamas where political turmoil left it governed by pirates. Much like New Providence, the pirate rule brought in lots of money, which was filtered into building better roads, and cultivating artist colonies and new businesses. The economy flourished – The same pattern was repeated in the 1980s with Kowloon Walled City, a lawless city off Japan governed by Yakuza.
One by one, Teach’s friends and enemies either retired or were executed. The oceans got smaller. Blackbeard set up a small crime syndicate on Orakoke Inlet, a place he fancied as his second home, with orchards of clawed cedars replacing the kelp forests his rudders once cut through. The time to finally settle on land had come, at last. He began to grow a large gut, and fell in love with the daughter of a plantation owner named Mary. The two were wed in a ceremony, where Benjamin Hornigold was rumored to attend, leaning on a cane and apt to reminisce on their former days of sailing.
Yet Blackbeard was still driven by greed. Teach, along with other noted celebrity pirates such as Calico Jack and Mary Read, orchestrated a myriad of heists. Manly only remained as sketches and plans. One, however, definitively impacted American history. The heist (dubbed the Mohegan Gun caper) involved robbing a freight fleet carrying modern weaponry for colonial soldiers, that was scheduled to drift off the outer banks in the early morning hours. In the dim light of nautical dawn, Mary Reed and Blackbeard boarded the ships and took the cargo of guns, which they sold to a Mohegan tribe at well below retail, during the War of 1718.
It has been deduced that Edward Teach did not amass a great deal of treasure. Most of what he stole was textiles and food, which were resold for a profit. The coin and treasure he did possess, however, was not buried in sand, as some historians have been lead to believe. Blackbeard’s loot was buried in mineral rich soil. Over the freshly minted goblets, pearl anklets and diamond rings, he transposed young oak tree’s, that he watered and nurtured all throughout his life. By the time of his death, the saplings were seven feet tall. Today, they are believed to have become a fully grown forest of Chimney Rock oaks, with locked chests tangled in their roots.
The descent into retirement was gradual. His health was rapidly diminishing, with blackened gums and shrinking, spaced apart teeth. Teach spoke less and less, and mumbled the few words he uttered. His voice was gravelly and torn, from vocal chords shredded by years of inhaling tar and the guttural battle cry that often came from him during battle. The nature of his crimes soon took on a more white collar breed. Politicians prayed on his fortune, and they were bribed handsomely in exchange for Teach’s immunity. He still, however, ordered out acts of piracy, to keep up appearances, however. However.
Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia, would not be swayed by Teach. Spotswood was a former Lieutenant in the Royal British Navy, as well as the founder of one of America’s first iron foundry. He knew it was more lucrative to go after Blackbeard’s whole treasure, and not petty bribes. The Governor hired another former British naval officer to hunt for Teach. This was none other than Edward’s Leviathan comrade, James Maynard.
Tourists would often accompany Maynard on these hunts, in hopes of spotting the elusive pirate and perhaps gaining treasure. These expeditions were mostly done for exhibition in order to gain a higher approval rating from the public, and were reserved for a ship called the Jane. The real missions embarked on a ship they called the Ranger. No veil existed over Teach’s vision. He knew men were coming for him. Modern times would not let a soul such as his exist in the new country. Greed needed to be presided over. Capitalism could not be in the hands of some tropical blooded thief.
His eye’s refocus in the present. A body that can feel itself turn into sponge like estuary. Edward’s left arm hangs listlessly. Numbing. An indicator of a minor heart tremor.
Contrary to popular theory, Teach was directly responsible for the death of one individual. This occurred when he and Benjamin Hornigold were vending contraband down the Eastern seaboard. They had embarked from Florida swamp country on the Dopethrone, with their hold full of profits and jungle cocaine – The middlemen in a transaction orchestrated by Junipero Serra. Red orchid blooms bloomed from their hair with an orange confidence that they were finally entering the big leagues of drug trafficking. They celebrated day and night. They drank with the dolphins that dipped in and out of swathes of flaking rusty sunsets. Shimmering like holographic trapper-keeper covers, as their rubber bodies fused with the giant reflective pools.
The drop-off was mapped to an island called Valhalla, where they would exchange the black dust-cocainium for the rest of their payment. En route they passed an impressive slaving ship called La Concorde. The human traders greeted them friendly, gleefully offering them bourbon while the two ships passed, wishing them ‘god luck and good speed.’ Hornigold and Teach, together watched the still faces of people doomed by brackets and chain links. As it became small on the horizon, a glance of acknowledgement was shared. This glance would change the course of pirate lore.
They spun the wheel starboard and headed back towards the slave ship. Through a spy glass the slavers could only watch in puzzlement as the Dopethrone gained on them. They rammed them with the audacity of a mother sperm whale, before hurling over-sized hooks around La Concorde’s rails. Team Hornigold-Blackbeard swiped at their powdered grey rimmed noses and invited themselves on board. After a lengthy scuffle, La Concorde was renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, with many of the slaves remaining on board as free men. They shared the bourbon with one another, pouring the last swigs in to the chop for the ejected crew.
The now doubled fleet arrived at Valhalla at the ready to conduct business. However, Junipero had a secret motive from the beginning – Serra’s intentions were to utilize Hornigold’s ship as a mule for both the drugs and the money, under the vise of a payment installment. His waiting gang would take both cargo’s at Valhalla and destroy all of Hornigold’s crew and assets. But Junipero’s men were quite taken aback when two ships came to meet them. They hastily attacked anyway, much to the surprise of Hornigold, Teach, and their crew, including the newly freed slaves.
Some documents relay that Hornigold & Teach returned to Florida where they had a severe conversation with a very apologetic and regretful Junipero, before setting fire to his plantation. Flooding the swamp with sperm whale oil, and igniting it in an aquatic wildfire that sent flamingos into their sky. Painting the orange swamp clouds with glorious pink.
We have smothered out your gang in Valhalla, Hornigold informed Junipero Serra, as Teach held a cutlass to the traitor’s sweating larynx bulge.
Blackbeard, himself, reportedly slit Junipero’s throat and pulled his tongue through the open wound. It was a clear message to his crew that he did not take betrayal lightly.
ASSASSINATION: Guilt gnaws away at the bones of Edward Teach before subsiding at long last like a dying hound in his old Winter hunting fields. The fight that ended his life was one rife with commotion and swordplay. Blackbeard’s sandpaper like flesh took in several wounds, including over a dozen musket balls. Blood poured from his mouth, painting his beard a brackish crimson. His knuckles were broken from hurling his fist into the faces of Maynard’s men. But he could not fight forever. Teach’s only intentions were to go out violently, as if it were on a stage, before the audience of the world.
He and James Maynard fought face to face, after much leveling of one another’s men. Teach swung his sword so hard against Maynard’s that he broke the blade at the handle. The Captain withdrew a sidearm, as Edward pummeled his ribs. One of Maynard’s men approached Blackbeard from behind and cut hard into the shark-skinned pirate’s neck, delivering a fatal blow.
Oak embers smolder against the cold. A fire that had burned for days finally goes out. Five pistols hang from his bosom. Edward Teach feels their weight and he realizes finally how heavy they are.
“It wasn’t a crown at all,” he says. To kelp draped ghosts from his past, all waiting around the fire, transparent. Some of them fish tailed women or sorrowful wizard priests who lost their rifle-wands.
A seventh or 15th mate sets fire to a pipe of rare Aboriginal sourced hashish. Dispelling the spirits, or inhaling them. Edward turns his head at him and says with breath so heavy with coffee and rum sugar:
“Easy, easy my friend. When I die tomorrow I want to be stoned as a silverback howler monkey.”
The man casts a toothless scowl to his Captain. “Do silverback howler monkey’s find themselves stoned?”
The Captain weighs this in his mind. Thinks of the Mrs. and her shelter. When he grins, sharper teeth are revealed. Like tiny kernels rubbed with coal.
Sometimes they do, mate.
Sometimes they do.
And like a riff that started turning when he was a boy, it revolves into decay. De-tuning until this becomes a dark, bottomless dirge. The sustain lasts for miles. Low, plodding fuzzed out bass is all that remains. Pitched in open H-flat. He turns to disappear into the black halo around the fire pit.
About the Author:
Patrick Cote is an aspiring young writer from PA. He enjoys scooting around on his Razor in the garage, watching basketball games and just hanging out with friends. This is his third book report on pirate culture. Patrick is currently working on a fourth.