In Pursuit of Blackbeard



As our politicians squabble over seemingly trivial matters, we can take some comfort from the fact that "it has always been thus".

300 years ago, Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood was the chief executive of the colony of Virginia, from 1710 through 1722 (Governor Hamilton was the nominal governor but never left England). Spotswood is remembered for laying out much of the city plan of Williamsburg, and building the Governor's Palace and Bruton Parish Church. However, relations between the Lt. Gov. and the House of Burgesses were abysmal, to a humorous extent.

The Journal of the House of Burgesses survives. Here are a few entries:

Nov. 24, 1712 - The House refuses any more money for building the Bruton Church than the 200 pounds voted in 1710.

Nov. 27, 1715 - Gov. Spotswood charges that the House of Burgesses aspires to greater authority than was ever pretended by the House of Commons [in London].

Nov. 8, 1718 - Spotswood offers to bet the House of Burgesses 1,000 pounds that their charges against him would be decided unjust by any impartial person.

Nov. 21, 1718 - The Governor complained of for appointing George Walker, a known Quaker, to execute the office of a naval officer in the Lower District of James River.

This last involves our family: George Walker, the "known Quaker", was our ancestor. Walker was a James River pilot and ship repairman who lived in an area called Kecoughtan, a few miles down-river from Williamsburg. He was also an artillery gunner at the nearby fort at Point Comfort, at the mouth of the James. Walker was a life-long Quaker, and was married to Anne Keith, daughter of the celebrated Scottish Quaker minister, Rev. George Keith. Quakerism was tolerated in Virginia for the most part, but evidently not by all.

There is another fascinating entry in the Burgesses' Journal from the same time:

Nov. 18, 1718 - Reward offered for the capture of Captain Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and his officers and crew.

Gov. Spotswood launched a campaign against Blackbeard in the summer of 1718, gradually collecting intelligence on Blackbeard's whereabouts. On Nov. 17, 1718, two British ships departed from Kecoughtan and sailed to Ocracoke Island off North Carolina where on Nov. 22 they found Blackbeard and crew camped. During a ferocious battle, the notorious Blackbeard was killed.

We can be fairly certain that George Walker was involved in the preparations for this expedition, since he was the Naval Officer for the lower James, and the British ships departed from Kecoughtan where Walker lived and worked. In fact, just 4 months earlier Spotswood had awarded Walker a deed for additional riverfront land for a new wharf in Kecoughtan, "gained by his industry."

Might Walker have had earlier encounters with Blackbeard? Repaired ships damaged by Blackbeard's pirates? Fired the Point Comfort artillery at Blackbeard's fleet? It would be fun to know how often Blackbeard sailed into the Chesapeake Bay, whether he attacked and damaged ships based on the James, and whether he ever approached the fort at Point Comfort. Any research or information on these questions is welcome!