Years ago on our first trip to Beaufort, NC my husband and I were sitting atop the rather conspicuous doubledecker bus that provided tours of the beautiful historic town. It was a hot July afternoon, and I'm sure we would have been more comfortable in the shade of the first level, but I'm a sucker for historic architecture and was willing to endure the heat to have an unobstructed view. At the edge of the historic district stands a 2 1/2 story white house with a 2 story porch on a slightly raised plot of ground, it's view from the street slightly obscured by trees. The vernacular architecture enthusiast in me identified the "hall and parlor" layout of the first story. It was also clear that this is one of the oldest houses we had seen on the tour. The tour guide called this the "Hammock House" for the slight rise on which it was built. She also told us some of the many legends attached to the house that had been at that location almost longer than the town. The story that stuck with me the most was also the story that also was the murkiest without many supporting facts or specifics. The Hammock House first appears in a 1789 map of the coast and is prominently identified as The White House. However, it is believed to have been an old establishment by the time that map was made possibly dating back as early as 1713 when the town was first being planned. It is believed to have been an inn or ordinary. According to the earliest of the legends. Blackbeard was a regular guest, as the inn's location and Beaufort's deep natural harbor offered strategic advantages. On one occasion he is said to have brought his "wife" there on a visit. After staying at the inn for a few days, the pirate is said to have left and left his "wife" hanging from a tree in the back yard.
Of the many stories that I heard that day, this is one that sparked my imagination. I immediately began imagining scenarios that would have led to such cruelty, not that a notorious pirate would need much inducement to be cruel. What kind of woman must she have been? How had she come to be with Blackbeard? The story sparked so many questions that I had to learn more about the pirate, the town and the house.
In my research I discovered a couple more stories that further inspired me. Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, ran aground near Beaufort inlet in 1718. In 1996, marine archaeologists discovered a shipwreck near Beaufort Inlet that they are almost certain is the Queen Anne's Revenge. Some believe that Blackbeard grounded the ship on purpose as a sort of downsizing of his crew. I was fascinated by the idea of the pirate intentionally abandoning the ship that had served him so well and on the idea of pirate layoffs. What strategy would drive the pirate whose career seemed to be at it's height to jettison one of his most useful tools?
Another character that I came across in researching was Israel Hands, a person that not much is known about. As a writer that gave me a bit of freedom with which to flesh that character out. I also found intriguing, a story from Daniel Defoe's "General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates". During a card game, Blackbeard is said to have attempted to shoot another crew member, but hit Hands in the leg instead. When asked why he had done it, the pirate is said to have responded that “if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was.” which is to say "the BOSS". This sent my mind down the line of questions about how a man maintained rule over a crew that at it's zenith numbered around 300 cut-throats. By all accounts, Blackbeard was notoriously ruthless, not just with the people of the ships and towns he terrorized but also with his own crew. We can only speculate that it was that kind of behavior that inspired loyalty out of fear, but also inspired the kind of pragmatism that cause Israel Hands to testify against the corrupt officials along the North Carolina coast who helped Blackbeard elude the colonial authorities for so long.
All of these different aspects of the Blackbeard and Hammock House legends went into the creation of my story "The White House". I have tried to weave these loose bits of legend into characters and a narrative that attempts to answer some of those questions inspired by what we know of Blackbeard, his crew and this one of his many wives. Although the story is set in 1718, the questions that it attempts to answer about power, love and humanity are timeless.