When Lt. Robert Maynard sailed back into
But for nine of the crewmen who fought alongside him — and six other accomplices seized with his loot in Bath, N.C. — the landing at the King Street docks was merely the opening of a new and — for some, at least — ultimately fatal chapter.
Taken to Williamsburg to stand trial, they were held in the 1704 public "gaol" on Nicholson Street just north of the Capitol. At least some faced an admiralty court on March 12, when — according to the most cited source — one was acquitted, one pardoned and the rest sentenced to hang.
No direct records of that trial or the execution survive. But in 1992 archaeologists from the
With its distinctive shape, the early 1700s scaffold was clearly modeled after the infamous "Triple Tree" gallows at Tyburn, London, archaeologist Joe B. Jones says. And with each leg measuring 11 feet long, it also boasted the size needed to carry out a mass hanging.
"This was designed to handle more than one person at a time," Jones says.
"And it was big enough to allow the simultaneous execution of the 13 members of Blackbeard's crew."
If the sentence was carried out as many historians believe, the site on what was then called Gallows Road was an easily accessible and highly visible location.
Dense scatters of early 1700s artifacts have been found around the postholes from which the gallows rose, including coins suggesting that some onlookers placed bets on the death throes of the condemned.
"In London, people turned out in large crowds for the execution of notorious criminals," says Tom Hay, site supervisor of the courthouse and Capitol in
"And it's overwhelmingly likely that it happened here for the execution of Blackbeard's crew."
Still, according to the log of HMS Pearl — whose sailors took part in the Nov. 22, 1718 battle that killed Blackbeard — two condemned pirates were taken from the ship and hung on Jan. 28, 1719 in Hampton.
In Bath, N.C. — where Blackbeard and some of his crew lived for part of 1718 — surviving property and court records suggest that four of the men were still alive long after they were reported hanged.
Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood's discussion of pirate testimony in a letter dated before the March 12 trial suggests some previous legal proceeding took place — perhaps one that invoked a December 1718 royal pardon offering amnesty to repentant pirates.
N.C. historian Kevin P. Duffus — author of "The Last Days of Blackbeard the Pirate" — believes only six members of the pirate crew died on the gallows because of the king's mercy. He also thinks all six hangings were carried out in Hampton.
That may explain an unusual burial discovered in the 1980s by archaeologists probing what was once called Customhouse Point.
Laid face down between the low and high-water marks, the orientation of the remains reflected a common ritual for the interment of supposedly "soul-less" buccaneers.
"It's exactly how they buried the pirates hanged in Charlestown the year before," Duffus says.
Likely hung in chains after their deaths, the remains of the pirates may have been displayed as a grisly warning to others.
Blackbeard's head is said to have been mounted on a pike and placed on the banks of the Hampton River for the same reason.
"Plenty of people have written about it. It was the sort of the thing that would have been done — and we have pretty good evidence from the piece of land that's always been called 'Blackbeard's Point,'" Cobb says.