Already You Are Mine
November 6th, 1896.
Dear Cousin R—,
Knowing your interest in all things related to the history of North Carolina, I am sending you these, which I discovered in the drawer of a chifferobe I acquired at a recent sale of such things.
I remain as ever, yours, E_ J_
Almost one hundred and fifty years before the above letter was penned, on a pleasant April morning, a small sloop put in at a tiny hamlet in North Carolina, and a number of rough, seafaring men came ashore. Pirates to a man, they had come to surrender to Governor Charles Eden and obtain certificates of pardon, but their true aim was merely to delay their day of reckoning and gain a stronghold from which to carry out further depredations. They were confident of their plan's success, for their leader was none other than Edward Teach, better known as the notorious Blackbeard.
In those days, North Carolina was a sparsely populated royal colony with vast tracts of virgin forest. Most of its settlers were illiterate, and its humble capital was Bath, a settlement (I cannot bring myself to call it a town) of less than one hundred people, three streets and perhaps a dozen buildings, perched on one side of marshy Bath Creek.
On the opposite bank stood Cleftstone, the four-hundred acre plantation of Governor Eden. By all accounts, Eden was a close and secret fellow, and it was to this authority that the pirates were directed.
Captain Teach quickly arranged a pardon with Eden, even (perhaps as proof of his pledge to settle in the area) marrying a young girl, Mary Ormand, whom local lore describes as the last in a string of ladies Teach "wedded".
Miss Ormand had recently inherited the Cauley plantation, near Bath, and it was to Cauley that Teach repaired for several weeks with his new bride. Evidently, though, he never renounced his pirating ways, arranging several murky transactions through Charles Eden, with whom he had established a firm friendship.
Teach's great ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, remained anchored just off the Carolina coast at Okracoke, part of the Outer Banks. This slender chain of low, sandy barrier islands is noted for its beauty, but is chiefly uninhabited due to the frequent, savage hurricanes which sweep in from the Atlantic. Desolate Okracoke was, however, perfectly suited to Blackbeard's need for a refuge from prying eyes, as we shall see.
This much we can establish through documents at the Archives and History Library in Raleigh. The story I must tell, however, has its source in the journals and ship's log which came to me in the manner described by my cousin's letter. The boards of one journal were warped from being tightly clasped over some extraneous material, which turned out to be the draft of a letter to an unnamed person, and this letter also bears on the story.
Through these documents, I have pieced together one of the strangest accounts of Blackbeard, though it is far from complete. If true, it may serve as a warning of how man's efforts to thwart Fate may be the very means by which its ends are accomplished.
The first part of the story comes from Mary Ormand Teach's journal. She rhapsodizes (a little prematurely, we may think) about the blessedness of Teach renouncing his ways as a murdering sea robber, and writes that life at Cauley was tranquil and happy – until the second week of June.
On Monday of that week, the housekeeper, Phebah, reported a certain dream to Mary Teach. Phebah (also "Affiba", for I find both spellings) was the oldest slave at Cauley, a Barbados woman renowned for her gift of prophecy. Phebah informed Mary that a "lady of timber" had spoken to her in a dream, saying that Mr. Teach would die before the year was out, struck down by a one-legged man.
Mary pondered this dramatic prediction, and, somewhat diffidently, mentioned it to her husband. He dismissed it with a laugh. "The only one-legged man I know of is Banks, m' ship's cook," he said, "and the old devil's already had countless chances to kill me either with his cookery or the stink of his breath. Cripples like that must cook or go begging for their bread, being good for naught else." And he said there had been no such warning from his Quartermaster who, as he boasted, could see the future better than any shrivelled Barbados hag.
The following day, a most unexpected guest arrived. Angelica, Teach's only daughter from a previous liaison, had long been presumed lost by him. Now she appeared at Cauley, seeking a reunion with her father. Angelica was very close in age to her new stepmother, which may partly account for the mutual resentment which sprang up. Mary accuses Angelica of trying to influence Teach's every thought. However, since the only source we have is Mary's diary, I cannot opine on the justice of this accusation, for surely Angelica would have said the same of Mary. In any case, the air at Cauley became poisoned with tension and ill-feeling.
That night, as the divided family sat at supper, Angelica turned away from her stepmother, raised her glass to Blackbeard, and offered a toast to "the future, that you and I may make up for the time we've lost." She drank the toast with her father, but Mary did not trouble to raise her glass, being so clearly excluded from their discourse.
"Yet, according to the prophetess of Cauley," Blackbeard answered with a derisive chuckle, "I have only a matter of months to live." He smiled grimly at his wife, and Angelica made a remark that puzzled Mrs. Teach.
"We have only to go to the Fountain and drink," she said with a sly look at her father. "Then you would have all the time in the world."
Blackbeard laughed loudly at this, which stirred Angelica to more insistent pronouncements. "You can cheat a prophecy!" she declared excitedly.
"And whose life would you offer up?" he countered, as Angelica's gaze flickered towards her stepmother, then returned to the goblet in her own hand.
"There could be more than one," she said in a low voice, holding the goblet close to her lips. "I have a plan." At this point, her father abruptly turned the conversation to the topic of indigo growing, and no more was said about the prophecy. Mary notes, however, that Angelica and Blackbeard remained downstairs, talking late into the night.
Over the next few days, the fighting between wife and daughter left Blackbeard no peace. At the end of the week, there is a brief entry in Mary's diary to the effect that Teach has left Bath, accompanied by a triumphant Angelica.
The private journal of His Excellency, Charles Eden, records the strange return of Blackbeard and Angelica around mid-August.
They arrived on the familiar shallow-drafted sloop, but the vessel was loaded, almost to the point of capsizing, with large ship's figureheads of the usual sort - mermaids, admirals, nymphs, queens of the seas, wild beasts, and partially-clad allegorical maidens. This eccentric cargo was loaded onto a wagon and driven to Cauley, followed by the pirate and his daughter, mounted on horses, and it was Cauley's slaves who stacked the figureheads near the plantation's grist mill. It appeared that Blackbeard had embarked upon some enterprise, but Eden provides no details, and probably was not privy to them.
During this visit, the inhabitants of Bath and the Cauley plantation began to be troubled by disturbances of a vague and unsettling nature.
The first signs of disquiet begin one week after the figureheads were stored at Cauley. Mary writes the following in her journal, "Of late, I have often felt an oppressive sense of being watched from without the house by some observer, the cause of which I cannot discern. Worse yet is the same disturbing dream that troubles my sleep night after night. I dream that I am reading a book in my room with my back towards a window. The afternoon sun spills over my shoulder, illuminating the page I am reading, and I see the usual large square of sunlight spread across the carpet near my seat, just as it appears each morning. But in my dream, as I look, the square grows narrower and disappears, as if the light is blocked by that which is passing by the window, casting a shadow also across the page I am reading, and a great terror overwhelms me. I am so filled with dread of what may be walking by the window (so high up!) that I dare not turn my head to look. Here the dream ends, and I wake in a pitiable state – I cannot rest but must light the candle and pace until dawn, or ring for one of the maids to come sit up with me."
On subsequent dates, other peculiar stories are noted in Eden's journal. He describes one in particular: Bath's hapless town drunk insisted that, loitering at the edge of town one night, he had met a monstrous being which he swore was not human. He tried to escape its presence, but found his every move followed by its staring black pupils, as the painted whites of its eyes gleamed in the moonlight. Bath, a quiet village to begin with, became positively deserted each day as the sun began to set.
Tales also circulated in Cauley's slave quarters. Aunt Queetha told of glimpsing the back of an awkward, looming figure, as it walked away through the tall grasses near the grist mill, just before dawn. After that, Cauley's servants avoided the mill and protested that they were busy elsewhere whenever Blackbeard or Angelica required their service.
All this time, Mary constantly begged her husband to remove the figureheads. Her pleas must have had some effect on him, for in early September of the same year, Teach, Angelica and the figureheads vanished from Bath as abruptly as they had appeared. The separation was evidently permanent, as Mary's diary contains no further mention of her husband or his daughter.
Eden's journal, however, tells of an extraordinary, secret visit to Cleftstone that took place about two weeks after their departure.
In mid-September (the entry is undated), the governor was awakened in the small hours of the morning by a deal of loud shouting and other noises. Upon arming himself and going to investigate, Eden discovered Teach and Angelica on the front steps of the house in an altercation with one of Cleftstone's servants. Teach appeared very drunk ("much worse than his usual custom" Eden writes) and in an excited and unpredictable temper.
Eden dismissed his servant and brought the pair into Cleftstone's library, Teach threatening and swearing oaths, all the while demanding "protection" from some person or persons unknown who were evidently pursuing him. In his journal, Eden wrote, "If ever I have seen the face of a man haunted by demons, that man was Edward Teach."
Angelica adamantly denied any understanding of her father's wild humor, but said that he had sometimes been subject to fits (although Eden took this for "one of her typically facile lies"), and begged to be left to care for him. The governor provided a supply of rum for his guests and bade them good evening. As he departed, Angelica was telling her father urgently, "This only means that we need it now more than ever."
Eden was deeply curious about the fate of the figureheads, but resolved to leave the matter until morning. He found, however, that his friends had departed Cleftstone early, and we hear no more of them in his journal, except for notes made years later, for an unrelated case involving goods originally obtained from his friend Teach.
We turn at last to the ship's log of Captain Edward Teach to throw light upon the cause of these curious events. Indeed, we are fortunate that Teach seems to have had more education than most pirates, and tended to keep records of his enterprises, using the log almost as his own journal.
From the ship's log, we learn that Teach, Angelica, and the figureheads had reached the Queen Anne's Revenge on September 3rd. They remained anchored off Okracote for several days while some work was carried out. The four entries below were made during this time. I cannot do better than to reproduce his entries for the relevant dates, in full (I omit only the nautical notations as to tides, etc.).
Sept 7. – Granted extra rum for crew. Work on Okeercock [sic] complete. Figureheads now piled in shed, ready for burning in but a few days. I be placed in a new bewilderment by the Quartermaster. This morning he has said that I will meet my death at the hands of a one-legged man. If it be so, then Phebah spoke truly. Yet she also spoke of [probably vengeance or vigilance here, but illegible].
Sept 8. – A— with me until two bells of the first watch. To be sure of her calculations, we went over the count of bottles once more. Dead calm this evening, but disturbed by sounds as of some great sea bird tapping at the bulkhead all night.
Sept 10. – Banks' cooking not fit for weevils - caused bad night's rest. Dreamt that I went to my private cabinet, which opened its doors as if it were the rigging commanded by my sword. As I stood looking at the bottles with their living miniature ships , noticed one of the figureheads slowly swivel first its eyes, then its head towards me . It stared at me through the glass of the bottle, which seemed horrible enough in the dream, but in a way I cannot describe. Then it dr e w back its lips and grinned at me . Startled awake upon a sudden, by same sea-bird crying outside my cabin.
Sept 12. – Rid myself of a miserable cook and pleased A— at the same time. She is much pleasanter now that all my crew have two legs. Women will have their little whims humoured. Noises continue at night, but there be no sight of the damned gannet causing them.
There is no entry for the thirteenth. After several blank pages, the entries resume on the twenty-first. Teach goes to some effort to reconstruct the night of the thirteenth; we may assume that the occurrences of this night lie at the root of his startling midnight visit to Cleftstone. It is worth quoting this extract in full:
Sept 21. – Returned from Cleftstone, much recovered from the thirteenth, a night of horrors. I will attempt some record of those events, however difficult: -
One week ago today, I fell asleep as usual to the infernal tapping, and straightaway began to dream. It was midnight, and I was standing on the shore on Okeercock, looking at the shed. Then I saw that I was awake, having come there by no means that I can remember. It began to rain, and I was looking for the shore boat, when the door to the shed opened. A heavy figure stood in the doorway, but the only light was from within the shed. Its silhouette was very bulky about the head and shoulders. Then it spoke, in a rumbling voice that caught on the words. "I see him! He is standing outside!" it cried.
"Welcome him inside at once," commanded a shrill, grinding voice inside. "To do otherwise is spiteful."
The figure stood still for a moment, then waved its arm in a stiff, jerky manner, and called out, "Please, enter." The ugly, oversized head bobbed once or twice.
I hesitated, but when I looked behind at my ship, the moonlight made it look as though the figurehead of my warship had turned, and the skull was regarding me.
Seeing no way out, I turned back and went into the shed.
When I stepped inside, I saw all of them gathered near the door, waiting for me. The figure, which had hair carved like a periwig, said, "You see? Here he is!" Just beyond him, there was a group of them – and I could see large expressionless eyes slowly blink as they looked at me.
A grotesque, crowned figure with heavy eyebrows and oval eyes leaned out of the group, and encircled my wrist with a splintery hand whose surface was as rough as tree bark.
"Not yet!" said the voice that had ordered my welcome. The hand was withdrawn.
With many shuffling and scraping sounds along the floor, they arranged themselves, and I saw the owner of that voice: a full, rounded figure with a misshapen head, grooved tresses trailing over her bosom, and an unsmiling, flat face of a Minoan type. Her undraped form bore the marks of a crude woodcarver, and there were many patches of white gesso where her crackled, flesh-tinted paint had flaked away. Her body ended in a scaled fish's tail, painted green and brown.
"Pardon Galene's lack of manners," she said, holding up a lantern. "Since we no longer watch over our ships, we have begun to change in other ways. I am Amphitrite."
I found myself strangely unable to think of a reply.
"We must thank you for this shelter," she said, as though she spoke of a rotten cabbage, "although it would burn easily."
Then she held the lantern close to one face after another so that I could see them clearly.
They were all in the same neglected state, with here and there a patch of raw wood where a finger or nose had broken off. As each was introduced, they would first move only their eyes towards me; then, slowly, their head, so that face and eyes both stared intently.
"This is Admiral Rooke, Galene, you know, Halia, Melite, Sao. Except for Admiral Rooke, all our names mark us as guardian spirits, naturally." They crowded in on me with soft clacking noises – more than what they appeared, but whether devils, ghouls, or something else, I know not. Their eyes had a kind of dull madness in them.
"Since you prevent us from protecting our ships, we have only vengeance. We have made our preparations."
I have never feared physical harm, and I challenged her. "Do your worst," I said. "My death was already foretold. I took your ships and the lives on them to add their years to my own—"
Amphitrite interrupted me. "You have only brought about your own death. It was ordained the moment you divided us from our ships."
"I am to be killed by a one-legged man – not a rabble of painted zombies!"
"We don't concern ourselves with prophecies," Amphitrite said, speaking the word contemptuously. "The man whose sword will avenge us has two legs." Her heavy lips curved up. "One of flesh and one of wood."
Galene murmured, "One of flesh … one of wood – as we are." She began to reach towards my wrist again, making strange little sounds.
"We will allow you to see," said Amphitrite, then she nodded to the others. "You may show him."
Their hands reached out and grew longer, encircling one or the other of my arms with a creaking, straining noise like wood being forced to bend. Each hand became as immovable as if I had been fixed in the stocks of a pillory – I could not throw them off, and my will subsided into a kind of paralysis. The one called Melite held up one of her hands, in which I saw a reflection of my face. But it was not a reflection; it moved and looked back at me as if it had a life of its own.
I saw my skin [some words obscured here, flame or possibly flayed] and the reflection's face . . . I can write no more of it – I will not. There are some things a man should never see, and I was spared nothing. Then Amphitrite's voice said, "We release you for now. You know what is to come. And that you yourself have set it in motion."
I must have sunk into a stupour then, for when I opened my eyes, I was lying on the sand outside the shed, which was engulfed in flames.
I remember little else . I fear I was beyond all reasoning until I found myself at Cleftstone with Angelica.
There are numerous later entries, indicating that the fear of this curse is distressing Blackbeard and his daughter. They keep watch, but they no longer know whence the danger will come.
They never returned to Bath, but there is a sequel to this eerie tale. The Queen Anne's Revenge eventually made her way to the waters off Hispaniola, searching for a ship called the "Pearl", which carried, in Angelica's opinion, a particular chart or map.
Spying their prey one night, they opened fire and engaged her. There is an odd allusion in the log to "commanding her rigging", but the outcome is clear; the Pearl was captured. The rest of the pages are blank, but a letter was tucked into the log at a later date. It may be related to the Pearl's capture, and describes an ominous occurrence. From this excerpt, we may guess the identity of the writer (I have preserved the original spelling):
We borded [sic] her and storm the capitain's quarters, ready to take the chart and kill any who oppose us. But when we rushed into the cabin, I forgot the chart. A sight was there that struck my soul with horror – I fell to my knees – before me, in a thick pool of blood, there was a man's leg. And no man in the crew was so maimed – we can not tell who it might be. And now I call on the Virgen – ore por nosotros – is there no hope?
I tell you we could not have done what we did to the ships with out taking the guardian and putting the simulacro. And now the last prize brings the instrument of my father's death – eso sí que es ! What have I done? La Fuente de Juventud is our only hope, but now I think it brings death – let it be to the one-legged man, and not Father! Pero, Dios, I fear it will be otherwise – Voy a orar por mi padre –
After this, history is silent on Blackbeard's fate. A few sources hint that he was killed in a duel (common at that time), but this story suggests a more fantastic and gruesome death.
There is nothing more to tell. No sign of a shed exists on Okracote – the Great Coastal Hurricane of 1806 would have obliterated it. Cauley escaped being burned by Union troops, but caught fire in 1878 and was destroyed. Recent digs at the site have turned up a large, charred wooden arm, but nothing more.