Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar
The Eastern Caribbean, Nov. 1715
Through his glass, Captain Dosset, aboard La Concord, studied the two ships that had suddenly appeared to the north of his position. He maintained an outward calm that belied the panic he was feeling inside. The watch, stationed high on the main mast, first spotted the smaller, faster sloop. She appeared to be light, mounting only eight guns, all eight pounders. Dosset thought to order his men to load and roll out his own guns, all forty two of them. Thirty, eight pounders and twelve, sixteen pounders. Then the frigate came into his view, bearing twenty eight guns loaded, rolled out and ready. As well armed as his ship may be, his crew were not fighting men and after the long voyage from Africa, they were in no shape to take on these faster, heavily armed ships. He ordered his second in command to turn the ship to port and take a heading for the channel that ran between Baliceaux and Bequia Islands, in a futile attempt to outrun the approaching ships. The maneuver, requiring them to tack in the light, morning wind, was a fatal mistake. It was a tortuously slow maneuver that brought La Concord’s forward progress to a complete stop.
Captain Dosset held the glass to his eye and studied the two fast ships approaching him from the north. Neither flew a flag, he was not surprised by that, of course. Their game had been obvious from the moment they appeared. Dosset focused his attention on the frigate, but her aspect would not allow him to see a name. As he was studying what detail he was able to see, a black flag ran up the mizzen stay. Dosset diverted his attention to the flag then and saw a white skeleton holding a spear and a goblet and next to that a red, bleeding heart. The meaning of the flag was clear, while the unique design easily identified who it was pursuing them, the knowledge of which filled him with terror. Unable to maneuver and unprepared to do battle, Captain Dosset faced a terrible decision. After wrestling with it for a moment, he turned to First Lieutenant Ernaut, his second in command, and, in a voice resigned and defeated said, “Collect the gold from my cabin and hide it on your person. It is Barbe Noire.”
Teach had accurately anticipated the frigate’s tack to a northwest heading and had already ordered Grace a Dieu, to a heading that would intercept the ship on her starboard side. Hornigold read Teach’s new heading and turned south to bring Ranger across La Concorde’s stern. As he approached the listless French frigate, Teach ordered Israel to fire one of his port guns across La Concorde’s stern, as soon as Ranger was clear. A moment after the shot was fired, to Teach’s great disappointment, he’d been spoiling for a fight, the Frenchy struck her colors and surrendered. Hornigold’s crew were first to board her, from the ship’s port side, while Teach and his crew maneuvered to starboard, threw their grappling hooks, and mounted her decks a short time later.
Once Teach was aboard, the reason for her captain’s quick surrender became obvious to him. Many of the crew and most of their human cargo were sick. The stench of human filth and disease permeated the still, morning air. Because of the overpowering smell and, at Captain Dosset’s request, Teach showed remarkable compassion by sailing the captured prize across the channel to the island of Bequia, where there was pure water, forage, and a small settlement, before dropping anchor and putting her crew and her human cargo ashore. So many of the captives had to be carried off the ship in litters, that it took the rest of that day to complete the task. In the course of that monotony, Teach took note of several French crewman who had nose bleeds, some were even bleeding from their eyes and others suffered from a sickly yellowing of their skin. Fearing the diseased state of the ship, Teach stood clear of the operation, insisting that Hornigold’s crew take care of disembarking the French and their cargo of captives, while he ransacked the officers quarters for valuables, looking for the rumored shipment of gold. Frustrated by the lack of anything of value aboard the vessel, Teach ripped open a lumpy bunk pad, emptying the contents onto the deck, but finding nothing inside. As he stood in the great cabin, surrounded by filthy straw, cursing the French for being so frugal, a small voice spoke out from behind, causing him to jump.
“Masseur Barbe Noire?”
Teach spun around to find a fair, young boy staring up at him. The boy smiled. “Mon nom est Louis Arot. Je suis garcon de cabine.”
Teach looked confused. “I’m sorree.” The boy said in heavily accented English. “My Eeenleesh eees not so good. You seek zee gold?”
Teach’s eyes narrowed. “Whot gold?”
“Capitaine Dosset, ‘ee ‘ass taken zee gold ashore wees heem. He ‘ides zee gold on zee person of Lieutenant Ernaut.”
Teach grinned and, patting the boy on the head, ordered some of his men to row ashore and return the French officers to the ship right away. The boy followed close behind him then as he returned to the main deck.
“Weel you take me weeth you Masseur Barbe Noire?” The boy asked, his eyes sad and begging.
Teach glared at him, seeing a look familiar to his own youth.
“I want to be zee pirate, like you.” The boy grinned up at him. “I ‘ave poor treatment weeth thees men and weeth Capitaine Dosset.”
Teach hesitated for a long moment, remembering his own tortured youth. He was well acquainted with the burning agony of “poor treatment” at the hands of men of authority, of the consuming rage that followed, of the changes within that gave birth to a murderous heart, of the blood and the look of surprise and terror in Humphrey Pitts’ eyes as he drove the knife deep into the man’s flesh again and again.
His glaring look softened as he gave answer to the boy, “Then you’ll join us an’ learn our ways, boy.”
“There are manny others among zee crew who would like also to joieen.”
“Aye, boy, then go ashore with th’ boat an’ bring ’em back wi’ th’ officers.” Teach commanded.
The boy ran off to catch up with the crew of the longboat, before it left the ship, while Teach returned to his search of the cabins. He felt a growing fury over Captain Dosset’s abuses of the cabin boy and his plot to hide the gold, thinking he would play Blackbeard for a fool. It put Teach in a mind to kill the man, leaving him to struggle with a wave of anger that threatened to consume him. He began arguing with himself in a loud voice that others could here, among them Israel Hands, who moved in Teach’s direction.
“Yer can’t let ‘im defy you like this in front o’ the men.” Teach complained, then, hearing his own ill tempered advice, he argued for restraint, saying, “Keep yer ‘ead, Teach. See ‘ow the man conducts ‘isself when you confront ‘im with ‘is lie.”
Struggling to belay the buzzing of his own mind, Teach forced the thoughts aside, walked out on deck and began an inspection of the ship. Israel followed close behind him. “Everythin’ good wi’ you, Teach?”
Surprised, unaware that Israel was following, Teach turned and glared at him, then, without a word, he went on with his inspection. Israel went with him, a little disturbed by the behavior he had just witnessed, but saying nothing more about it.
La Concorde was a fairly new ship, sound and well fitted. A second rate frigate boasting forty two guns ported and eight swivel guns on deck. Her rigging was in good shape and other than the awful stench left in her hold by The Trade, she was clean and sound.
By the time the longboat returned, in the late afternoon, with the French officers aboard, Teach’s mood had improved dramatically. He was elated by his decision to keep the ship for himself and by Hornigold’s lack of interest in having the prize, along with his quick agreement to give it up. La Concorde was the perfect vessel to fulfill Teach’s personal vision and purpose, a new ship with new rigging, powerfully armed, the new flag ship of his imagined fleet. Though she was not as maneuverable as Grace a Dieu, in consort with her and Hormigld’s sloop, Ranger, Blackbeard would be unstoppable. He’d spent many years fantasizing about this day and now, in his mind, fighting a secret war for the queen, he thought to name his flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.
His spiraling thoughts were drawn to a commotion on the main deck. The longboat had arrived with the French officers aboard. Teach ordered his men to line them up along the port rail. Captain Dosset stood near the center of them, a portly gentleman who, unfortunately, reminded him of Pitts. Teach drew his sword and put it to Dosset’s throat, then, wanting to be fair, insulted the man in a loud voice.
“Yer a thief and a liar, sir. Arm yourself and I’ll give you satisfaction.”
“You steeel my sheep and call me a theef? I theenk you are mad, sir.” Dosset retorted with surprising bravado.
“Give this man a sword!” Teach blustered.
“I weel ‘ave no sword, sir, so dat you can add my own murder to your leest of crimes. You are well known to us all. But, tell me, what ees my offense?”
“I asked where you keep th’ gold and you said you had none. You lied, sir, and now you shall die for it.”
“I ‘ave not lied.” Dosset retorted. “You may search me to suit yourself.”
Teach grinned and said, “I’ve no need to provide you such pleasure. You’re not carrying it.”
Teach stepped away from him, still grinning and called out in a loud voice, “Lieutenant Ernaut! Step forward, sir!”
The lieutenant was startled and fairly jumped upon hearing his name.
Seeing his reaction, Teach addressed him, pointing with his sword. “Empty your pockets, there, sir. And open your tunic that we may see.”
The lieutenant did as he was told, placing a folded paper and a locket on the deck. Then he stood ramrod straight with his hands at his side. Teach retrieved the locket from the deck and carefully unfolded the paper. There was writing on the inside in the soft, smooth strokes of a female hand. Teach caught the scent of perfume and waved the letter in front of his nose, taking it all in.
“Are you married, sir?” He asked.
“No.” Came the simple response.
“Ahhh. The sweet scent of a lover.”
The crew, standing about him, laughed aloud.
Teach said, “May I?”
He held up the locket but Ernaut gave no answer as he looked away with feigned disinterest. Teach opened the locket and studied the miniature portrait inside. It was a good rendition of an attractive young woman with dark hair and dark eyes.
“She is very beautiful. Your fiance?”
“Would you like to see her again, sir?”
The lieutenant nodded that he would.
“Then open you tunic as I have asked. Pull the tails from your trousers and open it wide that we may see clearly.”
Ernaut did as he was told, slowly pulling the tails of his white, linen tunic from his trousers. As he did, something slipped from his waistband and traveled down the inside of his trouser leg. He tried to stop it, but it was too heavy and soon completed its route, stopping at his knee, looking like a swollen injury.
“What might that be?” Teach asked, pointing the tip of his sword at the lump on Ernaut’s knee.
Ernaut blanched and remained silent. Teach flicked the tip of his sword, tearing a hole at the cuff of Ernaut’s trousers. The lump fell out onto the deck. It was a soft, brown, leather pouch filled with the dust of purest gold, and weighing perhaps two pounds. A tiny amount of the bright, yellow flake spilled out onto La Concorde’s rough wooden deck.
“There it is, Captain Dosset. Right where you ordered it to be. As I said before, you are a liar and a thief. Will you defend your honor?”
Dosset looked down at the deck without answering.
“I thought not.” Teach concluded, struggling within for constraint, adding, “Because you are also a coward.”
Losing his private battle and without warning, he thrust his blade through Dosset’s heart then watched the man collapse on the deck. He leaned down and picked up the pouch of gold, ignoring the few spilled flakes, then, handing the letter and the locket back to Lieutenant Ernaut, he said, “When you see her, tell her Blackbeard let you live.”
He stepped away and, facing the line of officers, commanded them, “Get off my ship.”