Black Caesar the Pirate

Written on 01/08/2024
Mark Milligan

Black Caesar gained infamy as a pirate and served on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship commanded by Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard.

Little is known about Caesar’s early life, with many narratives being nothing more than literary inventions, but according to several sources he was a tribal chieftain before being captured by slavers.

Upon escaping his captivity, Caesar was said to lure merchant ships passing through the Florida Keys, posing as a shipwrecked sailor and robbing his rescuers at gunpoint.

Overtime, he formed a group of pirates and attacked ships on the open sea, avoiding capture when confronted by the authorities and hiding in the inlets between Elliot and Old Rhodes Key.

Allegedly, Caesar had a harem of women taken from passing vessels, and kidnapped sailors and travellers with the intention of securing ransoms for their release.

However, his time in the Florida Keys cannot be verified from contemporary sources, with accounts of his piracy likely traced to the 1798 play “Blackbeard, or The Captive Princess” and the 1922 novel “Black Caesar’s Clan.”

Caesar’s piracy would take new heights, when he joined the crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a 200-ton French privateer that Blackbeard captured in 1717 near the island of Saint Vincent in the West Indies.

Under Blackbeard’s command, the ship and an alliance of pirates blockaded the ports of Charles Town and South Carolina, ransoming the port's inhabitants for a huge sum. Yet, Blackbeard's demise came in 1718 when he was cornered by a naval force led by Lieutenant Maynard.

Although not mentioned by name, it is possible that the General History of the Pyrates (1724) makes reference to Black Caesar in a passage referring to the demise of Blackbeard within its pages:

“Teach had little or no Hopes of escaping, and therefore had posted a resolute Fellow, a Negroe whom he had bred up, with a lighted Match, in the Powder-Room, with Commands to blow up when he should give him Orders, which was as soon as the Lieutenant and his Men could have entered, that so he might have destroyed his Conquerors: and when the Negro found how it went with Black-beard, he could hardly be persuaded from the rash Action, by two Prisoners that were then in the Hold of the Sloop.”

The same text does mention Caesar being captured by Virginian colonial authorities and tried, however, sources differ in the outcome, with some saying that he was hanged, while others suggest he was acquitted and retired to a quieter life away from piracy.

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