Captain Charles Johnson’s description of the life and times of Captain Blackbeard in his book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pirates does much to both glorify and vilify the infamous pirate. And, at the heart of each condemnation and each slice of praise vivid imagery gives the reader a window into this fascinating pirate. Early in Johnson’s chronology of Blackbeard’s life, he writes “After cleaning on the coast of Virginia, they returned to the West Indies.
” And, it is phrases like this which are sprinkled all throughout this history which make Blackbeard a likeable rapscallion. When Johnson describes Blackbeard’s movements as “cleaning, we do not think of a bloodthirsty pirate, instead, we see a cavalier adventurer taking what he wishes, doing what he wants, but never actually hurting anyone. This is what makes this history come alive and these images simply float before our eyes. Johnson makes Blackbeard something out of a storybook, rather than a villainous historical figure.
But, the author does not always glamorize Blackbeard’s life and exploits. He tells of the capture of the Protestant Caesar and vividly portrays Blackbeard’s ruthless treatment of the cargo. The writer details Blackbeard’s revenge against Boston—which had hung sailors for piracy—and he plays out the events for the reader’s imagination, as we learn how Blackbeard burned this ship. Johnson does make sure to inform the reader that Blackbeard first “plundered” this ship prior to setting it on fire. And, he also gives a glimpse into how frightful a figure Blackbeard was.
Johnson tells how immediately after Blackbeard raised the black pirate flag, the Protestant Caesar’s crew abandoned their ship. As a reader, this perspective allows a clear view of this heinous villain, a man who burns a ship out of vindictive spite and a man so feared that sailors abandon their ship upon encountering his flag. These examples reinforce the villain which we know Blackbeard to be. Johnson, however, oscillates back to exciting stories of Blackbeard’s cunning victories which glorify this demon, through colorful examples of his intellect.
The author tells of how Blackbeard frightened the citizens and the government of Charles Town into giving him medical supplies while keeping the angry townspeople at bay. With brilliant prose, Johnson writes “the rest of the pirates walked the streets publicly in sight of all people, who were fired with the utmost indignation…but durst not so much as think of executing their revenge. ” This imagery build’s such a wonderful portrait of Blackbeard’s cunning. He literally made hostages of the entire town.
We see this brilliant villain and his men walking the streets of a town where the population abhors them, yet no will do a thing to them because they fear Blackbeard’s retribution. Building the pirate up in this manner glorifies him in ways few humans are ever praised. Blackbeard is man who is so feared that people willingly withstand hostile treatment that way ensuring they will not be harmed. Countless human being in every era have longed for this treatment. They wish to be feared that way they will not treated unkindly and inhumanely, but Blackbeard was a man who actually achieved this status.
Now, no sooner does the author make the reader long to be like the great Blackbeard than he shows us what a true devil Blackbeard was. Johnson does this by telling of Blackbeard’s marriage, specifically to a sixteen year old girl. This horrid fact is then compounded when we learn it is Blackbeard’s fourteenth marriage. Marrying a child and bigamy on top of that is more than a reader can handle. It is made only more disturbing when we learn that Blackbeard forces his new bride to copulate with his men, while he watches.
These details and the imagery which it conjures up stir up the reader’s outrage towards this villain, and it shows the reader the pirate’s true nature. No matter how much Blackbeard is glorified in the text, he cannot overcome this iniquitous perversion in the readers mind. Johnson’s incredibly effective description of these dastardly deeds eliminates any warm feelings which the reader ever possessed for Blackbeard. And, in doing so, Johnson properly informs the reader that Blackbeard was a truly despicable human being.