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Mary Ellen Riddle

The Virginian-Pilot

Have you heard? Blackbeard might have had a sister. He also may have been Scottish, raised in coastal North Carolina and prone to anger bouts due to syphilis. 

    In his latest book, "The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate," author Kevin P. Duffus scrutinizes the infamous figure in search of the truth.

Seeing a Disney film on Blackbeard, followed by a boyhood trip to Ocracoke, Duffus has been spellbound by the pirate who lost his life off Ocracoke in 1718.

    Duffus spent a lifetime wondering about the 18th-century sailor (a.k.a. Edward Teach) who has gone down in history as one of the most colorful figures of the Golden Age of Piracy. Strangely enough, writes Duffus, Blackbeard has done so despite there being few known facts about his life.

    Sparse information didn't stop Duffus from his quest to learn more. He poured over the work of pirate scholars; traveled to Blackbeard's alleged home town in Bristol, England; read old and new histories and examined records hoping to shed light on a dark figure in history.

    Duffus has a bit of Disney in him. He already has experience in bringing dusty history to life as the author of "The Lost Light: The Mystery of the Missing Cape Hatteras Fresnel Lens." He is a wonderful storyteller who has artfully juxtaposed known history and dogged research with fictional supposition based on his interpretations and discoveries. Like a pirate raising a cutlass, Duffus revels in dispelling myth, revealing improbability and imparting new meaning to old translations.

    From Blackbeard's name, beard and temperament, to his education, parentage and childhood pals, the author examines, theorizes, and discovers enough to fill a fat, exciting new book on a figure that today is an insignificant miscreant to some Ocracokers and a moneymaking commodity to others. But to the kid in all of us, Blackbeard continues to be a fascinating character in history that — despite his worldwide popularity for centuries — Duffus has made even more interesting.

Reviews for The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate

Christine Lampe

No Quarter Given Magazine

Many historians have tried to solve the puzzle of Blackbeard. What was his true name? Where did he come from? Could he have come from Bristol England as the legends claim? Who were his crew members? Where did they come from? Why did Blackbeard go to Bath, NC, to accept the King's pardon? Why did Gov. Eden and Tobias Knight accept him so readily? What should be made of a mysterious letter found in Blackbeard's cabin?

    Focusing mostly on the time after Blackbeard arrived in Bath, Duffus analyzes previous stories, legends and other stories about the man known as Blackbeard. Did he have 14 wives? Did he build a house on Plum Point in Bath, NC? Did his skull become a silver-plated drinking cup? Were there really secret tunnels from the docks to Gov. Eden's mansion? Duffus disproves many of the previously believed "facts" by inspecting primary documentation such as trial depositions, property records, minutes of various governing bodies, wills, estate inventories, log books, letters, genealogical records, and more. With the sharp eye of a detective and analytical mind of a scientist, he uncovers many long forgotten details, and comes to some very interesting conclusions. He manages to take the puzzle pieces that legends and previous historians have placed into ill-fitting spots, and move them to new positions that seem to fit much better. Not only does he disprove many of the legends & stories, but he brings a lot of new information to light. Learn of the true fate of Blackbeard’s crew as revealed in the logbooks of the Lyme and the Pearl (they weren’t all hanged as previously thought). Find out where one of the crew members was buried. Learn why three more weeks would have made a huge difference in Blackbeard’s life. Did he have a sister named Susannah? What was his purpose in going on a secret trip to Philadelphia? Why should the archpyrate’s name be written as "Black Beard?"

    Sometimes, after methodically disproving old conclusions, Duffus goes a little over the top with hyperbole, and jumps to new conclusions too quickly. Nevertheless, this book brings Blackbeard to life, answers a lot of age-old questions, and poses a lot more new questions in their stead.

    The book is beautifully laid out, and is lavishly illustrated with full-color photographs, maps, and illustrations. Many show places mentioned, often as aerial photographs (taken by Duffus himself), giving the reader a good sense of the places involved. Detailed step-by-step maps bring the Battle of Ocracoke (Blackbeard's final struggle) to life.

    The narrative itself is easy and compelling, drawing the reader into the early 18th-century, and following the steps of Blackbeard and his crew into the mists, fogs, and forests of Pamlico Sound and Ocracoke Island.

    In his new book, Kevin Duffus has managed to take a lot of old puzzle pieces and put them in their correct spots. He has also uncovered many new jigsaw pieces. Looking at the partially solved puzzle, it is a lot easier now to make out the image of Blackbeard. While I am not convinced about all of Kevin Duffus' conclusions, I do highly recommend this book to everyone interested in the "Devil of the Sea."

Janet Pittard

Our State Magazine

Separating  fact from fiction is the domain of history detective Kevin Duffus. His last big case was solving the 140-year-old mystery of what happened to the missing Cape Hatteras Fresnel lens, recounted in his book "The Lost Light." His latest book, "The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate," is turning North Carolina's maritime history on its ear.

    It all started with a quest to find the gravesite of Susie White, the legendary sister of Black Beard. Along the way, he traipsed through swamps, stepped in a grave, and came face-to-face with a human skull. At the end of his adventure, 35 years later, he found the biggest treasure of all — a glimpse of the man behind the legend.

    Throw out everything you thought you knew about the notorious pirate Black Beard, including his name and its spelling. This is a whole new story.

    Searching out the facts in libraries and archives here and abroad, Kevin Duffus pieces together a page-turning story of North Carolina's most famous pirate, methodically sorting myth and fact and discarding many long-held assumptions as blatant inaccuracies. This book is extremely readable, and is full of maps and beautiful photographs. Almost every other page contains new information on Black Beard. Duffus unravels one mystery after another to find the "grain of truth" behind the legend!

Cindy Vallar

Pirates and Privateers

What if we got it wrong? What if the accepted version of Edward Teach’s life contains elements of the truth, but also incorporates inaccuracies? This is the premise of Kevin Duffus’ book, and he lays out his hypothesis in careful detail. Lest the reader think this is entirely supposition, the author backs up his claims, when possible, with primary evidence and readily admits he hasn’t connected all the dots yet. In places where this occurs, the text appears in italics.

    Duffus’ quest begins with Sister Susie, a tale oft told in eastern North Carolina. As the chapters unfold, he presents evidence that illuminates his hypothesis, and at times he’s most convincing. He believes that contrary to what history has led us to believe, Blackbeard was not from Bristol, England, but from North Carolina. Nor was his last name Teach or Thatch, which is why the author spells Blackbeard as two words rather than one.

    The story is as fascinating to read as Duffus’ vigilant attention to its presentation. In the publishing industry, this book is what used to be called a coffee table book. Beautiful color photographs abound. Maps assist the reader in following the trails of various pirates and events.

    As a writer of historical fiction, I particularly enjoyed reading Chapter Two, which is an intriguing look at how we’ve come to know what we know, or think we know, about Blackbeard. It was also refreshing to find an author who plainly explains why Blackbeard named his flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge. Duffus’ research involved tracking down little-known historical documents in archives as far away as England, a journey that makes for compelling reading.

Michael E. C. Gery

Carolina Country Magazine

We have a pretty good idea what the famous pirate Black Beard was doing this month of August 290 years ago. He was in the busy port of Philadelphia planning to give up piracy on the high seas and return to the life of a respectable colonial American citizen. Most likely, he also drank a few ales at the Blue anchor tavern and visited a blonde Swedish lady friend he knew named Margaret. And he probably sought medical attention for the syphilis that lately had contributed to his rages and overall confusion.

    Anchored out on the Delaware River in August 1718, his sloop "Adventure" held about 25 of Black Beard's crew. Even though all of them had recently been granted a pardon forgiving them of their piratical crimes during the previous two years, their captain forbade them to disembark and attract attention to themselves in the city. Philadelphians knew that only two months earlier, these men were among about 300 in four armed ships under Black Beard's command who for four days had blockaded the port of Charleston, S.C., raiding nine vessels and holding prominent citizens hostage, while demanding nothing more than a chest of medicines that their captain insisted on having. And two days later, the pirate captain chose this crew to help deliberately run aground and sink two of their own sailing fleet, including their 40-gun flagship "Queen Anne's Revenge," at Old Topsail Inlet near Cape Lookout, leaving hundreds of their fellow pirates high and dry.

    We know all this—and much more about Black Beard that has never before been told—thanks to a new book about the pirate who most of us know was beheaded while holing up at Ocracoke Island. Author Kevin Duffus took years researching and writing "The Last Days of Black Beard the Pirate" and has published a work that examines and sets straight virtually all the legends associated with the man called "the boldest and most ruthless corsair of them all." The inaccurate, mythical stories of the pirate, Duffus says, are "not nearly as interesting as the truth."

    Widely considered the most feared of pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy, Black Beard's supposed adventures, behavior and appearance have thrilled people of all ages and enhanced lots of marketing schemes since they first were told in the 1800s. Beginning then and growing wildly for nearly 200 years, many of the stories are exaggerated or wrong. Did he have 13 or 14 wives? Did he board ships brandishing a cutlass and pistol while sticks in his beard flamed and smoked? Did he shoot crew members occasionally just to remind his men who's boss?

    Duffus addresses all this and more. We come to understand, for example, why he was known as Edward Teach and Edward Thatch. We learn exactly why he was so familiar with the sloughs, channels and shoals of Pamlico Sound. We get to know his closest allies, all respectable eastern North Carolina men, many of whom remained so even after their pirate days had ended. We find out that he was not some poor, uneducated chap who went to sea as a common sailor, and that he had a sister Susie.

    Most of all we can read what actually happened during the final six months of Black Beard's two-year career as a pirate, what he and his cohorts did in and around Beaufort, Bath and Ocracoke before the bloody battle of Nov. 22, 1718, at what is known as Teach's Hole.

Captain Rob Temple

The Mullet Wrapper, Ocracoke Preservation Society

For generations, Ocracoke Island has been virtually awash with stories and legends concerning its most famous inhabitant, the notorious Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard the pirate. At least half of these stories, while enticingly entertaining, are known to be fictional. For those who sought the truth about this remarkable character the principal source has always been A General History of the Pyrates written by Captain Charles Johnson in 1724.

    The problem with Johnson  is that he has long been known to have embellished his historical accounts with tales made up of whole cloth. At least one of his chapters was written about a pirate who never actually existed but whose story Johnson believed would sell more books!

    Surprisingly, it was not until this very year that anyone has seriously questioned Johnson's account of Edward Teach. Kevin Duffus has finally done that. From East Carolina court records to the British National Archives, Duffus followed the elusive trail of the fable Blackbeard. His search led him to a conclusion, which, although perhaps impossible to prove beyond doubt, makes a great deal of sense.

    Duffus suspects that Blackbeard was not, as has always been assumed, a native of Bristol, England, but in fact a homeboy (whose last name was Beard, not Teach) from Bath, N.C., as were many of the men in his crew. He makes a strong case that Blackbeard's killer, Lt. Robert Maynard, approached Teach's Hole by sailing down Pamlico Sound rather than through Ocracoke Inlet.

    I must own up to a little sadness at having to give up as "unlikely" some of my favorite legends of Blackbeard. Although I never really believed for a minute that Blackbeard's headless body swam thrice around the ship before sinking out of sight, I have always enjoyed the image of the tall fierce pirate tucking cannon fuses under his hat to light up his beard in the heat of battle. Duffus suspects that, if he ever did this at all, it was probably only a single occasion to repel mosquitoes!

    Packed with colorful photographs, Duffus' book is not only an interesting read but also a necessary addition to Ocracoke bookshelves, and it's available at the Museum gift shop!