Black Sails History: The Legend of Blackbeard’s Wives

Even infamous pirates have their lady problems, and Blackbeard the pirate was no exception.

Black Sails is a unique pirate adventure. Half fact (Hornigold, Vane and the pirate island of Nassau) and half fiction (Flint, Silver, and the pirates of Treasure Island) the series covers a lot of ground, and sea. We’re educated about historic pirates at the same time we’re entertained by might-have-been.

But what about legend?

Black Sails does touch on legend now and again. One of these is the persistent legend of Blackbeard’s wives.

This is how the story goes: In addition to being large, powerful, and loaded with weapons, Blackbeard also cultivated an aura of barbarity by never washing himself or combing his hair. Braids kept his greasy locks from getting in his way, and the occasional change of clothing kept his crews from turning to mutiny due to the smell.

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Blackbeard also continued to build his reputation while he was carousing in Nassau. Drunk, he would often turn violent. One way to tell if the famous captain had just entered a tavern was to watch the other pirates hastily leaving.

But another way was to watch the women flocking to join Blackbeard in his revels. Yes, the pirate lord was disgusting. True, he might not have bathed for years. But the hardened, clever prostitutes of New Providence town weren’t looking for love. They were looking for cold, hard cash, and Blackbeard was known to bestow that in plenty on the woman who caught his eye.

For, despite his fearsome reputation and rough exterior, Blackbeard’s secret was that he was, in fact, a lovelorn romantic. And when he was deep in his cups, that romantic would sometime surface, and he would propose marriage to the lady of the night.

Arm in arm they would return to the blood-tarnished deck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Blackbeard’s rough voice would call out his second in command. And Israel Hands, his faithful lieutenant, would arise from his bunk, yawning, scratching himself, and clutching a copy of the marriage ceremony.

Hands would read the ceremony over Blackbeard and his lady, and the two would retire to the great captain’s cabin, not to emerge until very late the next day. The lady would be very tired, very satisfied, and considerably richer. The liaison might have lasted only a single night, but Blackbeard was generous with his “wives.”

Behind their hands, the crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge laughed at their captain’s foibles. But never a smile was shown to the captain’s face.

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Sometimes, alone at sea, the famous captain would again drink himself into a stupor. Then he would weep, often onto the shoulder of the bored Israel Hands, and complain that all his wives had been untrue. Then he would vow never to “marry” again.

Until the next time.

Legend has it that Blackbeard racked up 14 wives in this way. Is any of it true? No proof has even been offered. But if you had proof that Blackbeard was crying into his rum over the “love” of a hardened prostitute, would you even dare record the fact?

TS Rhodes is the author of The Pirate Empire series. She blogs about pirates at