American Treasure - Blackbeard's Castle

The Castle 
Blackbeard’s Castle is a small, historic castle located in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Sitting at the highest point on Government Hill, the Castle is one of five National Historic Landmarks. The structure is also known as The Williamsburg of the Caribbean. The original name of Blackbeard’s Castle was Skytsborg, which means protection castle. This was because it was erected by the Danes as a watchtower to protect Charlotte Amalie Harbor and Fort Christian in 1679. The tower was an important factor in the island’s defense system throughout the Danish colonial period. The Danish soldiers would utilize Skytsborg as a vantage point to spot enemy ships. The Castle’s walls are six feet thick, and the structure stands around 40 feet tall. There is a spiral staircase hidden inside Blackbeard’s Castle as well. Skytsborg became known as Blackbeard’s Castle as it was named after Edward Teach, a famous pirate who went by the name Blackbeard. In the early 18th century, Teach sailed the Caribbean Sea, and it was thought that he used the tower as his lookout. However, there is little historical evidence that this was the case, and the story likely spread through local folklore. 

Danish Colonialism 
The Caribbean islands were called the Danish West Indies (or Danish Virgin Islands) from 1672 to 1917. The islands this colony comprised included St. Jan, St. Croix, and St. Thomas. When St. Thomas was colonized, the island was uninhabited. The Caribbean islands were purchased by the Danish West India-Guinea Company, which was founded in Copenhagen in 1671. This region was used for their plantations, specifically sugarcane fields. This is because sugar was a widely used commodity in Europe in the 17th century. In order for the Danes to possess laborers for their sugarcane fields, Africans were transported by Danish ships to the Caribbean. They were exchanged for firearms and manufactured goods. Rum, sugar, and molasses were then exported to Denmark, and this overall process was called triangular trade. Triangular trade was just one aspect of the greater transatlantic slave trade. There were about 120,000 enslaved individuals exported from Africa to the Caribbean at the time. The first nation to abolish transatlantic slave trading was Denmark. In 1848, a rebellion occurred, causing slavery in the Danish West Indies to also be abolished. The United States purchased the Caribbean islands in 1917, and they have since become known as the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

The Caribbean’s Pirates 
The 17th century, as well as the early 18th century, were considered the Golden Age of piracy. More specifically, between the years 1650 and 1720. The number of pirates that were said to have been at sea was around 5,000. Pirates either attacked local towns or, more notably, ships. They would steal goods being transported. When galleons (Spanish ships) sailed back to Europe in the 16th century with newfound riches (gems, silver, and gold), a large number of pirate attacks occurred. As a result, fleets of Spanish ships with armed vessels would sail alongside each other, better protecting themselves from these attackers. Since the Caribbean is made up of keys and small islands, it makes it easier to host ambushes and assaults, with an easy escape made by trade routes. Regarding St. Thomas, another infamous pirate besides Blackbeard who arrived on the island was Captain Kidd. Captain Kidd brought six individuals to Charlotte Amalie harbor. These individuals included a sick man and five deserters. In St. Thomas, pirates were harbored during the 1680s, and Charlotte Amalie Harbor functioned as a pirate refuge during the late 17th century. 

The Famous Blackbeard 
Edward Teach was an English pirate who was known to have been active in the West Indies and the East Coast of the United States. It is thought that he raided Spanish ships in the West Indies on behalf of the British government. This occurred during the War of Spanish Succession. His pivot from being a privateer to becoming a pirate occurred under Captain Benjamin Hornigold. Soon after, Blackbeard became a captain due to his naval skills. Edward Teach then had his own ship (flagship vessel), which he named Queen Anne’s Revenge. The ship may have been stolen from the French. Blackbeard went on to sail the Caribbean, capturing multiple ships along the way. Although he only used the ship for a year, it had a crew of 300 people and 40 guns aboard. Adventure, a smaller sloop, was what Blackbeard and his crew moved onto in Charleston, North Carolina (1718). Blackbeard coined his name due to his scary appearance and thick, black beard that went down to his waist. He even lit fuses in his hair, which contributed to the daunting nature of his looks. Blackbeard’s flag displayed a skeleton holding a spear that stabbed a heart, the glass held in its other hand toasting the Devil. 

Tourism at Blackbeard’s Castle 
In the present day, Blackbeard Castle serves as a historic landmark and popular tourist attraction. Today, visitors can see Charlotte Amalie and the harbor through panoramic views from the tower. The structure was strategically placed in its location, with the extensive view allowing for the detection of approaching ships. Visitors can explore the Castle while learning about pirate legends and colonial history. Efforts are continuously made to preserve and restore the Castle, which is part of a greater historical district. There is a statue of Blackbeard outside of the Castle and, upon visiting, some tourists have the opportunity to hold up a sword and pose next to it. There are also educational programs available that inform individuals about the iconic structure. Historical exhibits are present and can be visited on-site. The Castle has a picturesque view and is surrounded by gardens. Blackbeard’s Castle is one of the only 17th-century structures on St. Thomas that still remains. It is important for the rich Danish colonial history, pirate legends, and larger significance of St. Thomas and the Caribbean to be remembered. Tourism at the site of Blackbeard’s Castle allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in an experience that keeps memories of the region’s cultural evolution alive.

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