Teach's Betrothal Gift Picture

The quaint, coastal village of Bath is located in Beaufort County, North Carolina. While now nearly nonexistent (the current population is less than three hundred), it was once the colonial capital, and home of the Royal Governor. It was also the home of the infamous Edward Teach, otherwise known as Blackbeard (technically, it was one of several occasional homes along the Carolina coast, along with various haunts in the Caribbean). Besides the active commerce, convenient location and tactically beneficial waterways, Teach chose Bath because the Royal Governor at the time, Charles Eden, was a conniving scoundrel who, for the right price, turned many blind eyes to Teach's criminal misdeeds.


This painting illustrates a legend related to the two men. As the story goes, Blackbeard was desirous of a thirteenth wife, and chose to pursue the crooked governor's beautiful daughter, Penelope. The governor gave his full consent (either out of fear or, more contemptibly, in exchange for payment)- Penelope, however, did not. She was in love with a local young man who, when learning of Teach's intentions, bravely ventured to the wicked pirate's stronghold. They promptly dueled- Blackbeard won with ease, chopped off the boy's hand, and tossed the mangled corpse in the harbor.

Teach then had the severed hand placed in a satin chest and, bringing it with him to the Royal Governor's mansion, ceremoniously presented it to poor Penelope as a betrothal gift.

In the end, Penelope bolts out of the mansion, bringing along several servants who clandestinely row her across the harbor, to the opposite shore. From there they secret themselves away in the home of Margarete Palmer, a friend who keeps Penelope and her confederates safe from the pirate's advances. Teach apparently loses interest, and soon sails off once more for new adventures.


I took many liberties with this illustration. The date is supposed to be around 1715, but none of the costumes could possibly be called "accurate." Of course, I didn't want them to be- I was going for feelings and expression, rather than anything historical. Blackbeard's appearance is especially indicative of this. His principle costume is wild and impractical, and his cape, twisted and curling around Penelope, is entirely impossible. I believe it fits his persona, though. Edward Teach, more clearly than any pirate in history, has reached semi-mythological status. He is a larger-than-life, brass-buckled, sea-faring Paul Bunyan. Nearly every county in eastern North Carolina, including my own, has "Blackbeard's House" (very few actually are- though he really did keep one in Bath) and nearly every old family will swear they are his distant descendants.

Penelope's costume is colored to make her stand out from everyone else (her neon ribbons and shoes are my favorite part of this picture). She keeps her arms and legs drawn inward, in contrast to Blackbeard's open embracing pose. The knife-wielding servant beside her is in deep thought, contemplating stabbing Teach from behind with a kitchen knife to protect her mistress (the story could go in a much different direction, depending on her actions). Beyond, Governor Eden and his wife watch from the doorway. He is weak- refusing to intervene either from fear or greed. His wife scolds him harshly, but is, herself, unable to act.

The room in this illustration was originally inspired by the upper hall of the Palmer Marsh House in Bath (the home of Margarete Palmer, where Penelope was kept safe. It is still standing, and is now a museum). The woodwork, however, is far more ornate than anything surviving in Bath. It was modeled on late Renaissance and early Baroque architectural designs.
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