The Tale of Two Swords
Edward Teach—better known as Blackbeard was one of the most feared pirates to sail the seven seas. He and his crew had devastated shipping along the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina during the early 1700’s.
Colonial governments, particularly in Virginia, grew concerned. Blackbeard and his crew of cut-throats had taken North Carolina’s treacherous coast with its shallow inlets and sounds for protection. Virginia’s governor Alexander Spotswood developed a plan to destroy Blackbeard.
In the fall of 1718 Blackbeard returned from sea to his favorite hideaway off Ocracoke Island. He hosted a huge, wild pirate get-together with dancing, drinking, and bonfires. Other famous pirates sailed in for the days-long event.
News of the pirate bash reached Governor Spotswood and he decided that the time had come to stop Blackbeard once and for all.
So on the morning of November 22, 1718, two British sloops—Ranger and Jane—embarked for North Carolina along with the HMS Pearl under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard. The Pearl, a shallow draft fast-attack ship led the charge. Maynard’s orders were to find and destroy the dreaded Blackbeard and his infamous flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Seeing the navy’s sails, Blackbeard and his pirates knew they were trapped. Only sandbars lay between them and the navy. He knew when the tide rose the sloops would glide over the submerged sandbars and attack.
Throughout the night Maynard’s men prepared for the next day’s fighting. Muffled laughter and swearing from the pirate ship echoed across the water. Blackbeard didn’t seem worried about the upcoming battle. His pirates, however, were nervous. They stockpiled ammunition on deck and soaked blankets in water in preparation for putting out fires. They spread sand on the decks to soak up blood once the fighting started. Thinking it likely they would all die, one pirate asked Blackbeard whether his wife knew where he had buried his treasure. Blackbeard bellowed, “nobody but me and the devil know where it is, and the longest liver shall take it.”
In the morning Blackbeard didn’t try to outrun the navy sloops. Instead, he waited at his ship’s wheel. His crew was puzzled. Finally, when Maynard’s sloops started moving toward the pirates, Blackbeard ordered his crew to set sail. He seemed to be steering his ship directly toward the beach! They were going to crash!
Then Blackbeard eased the pirate ship through a narrow channel between the beach and a barely visible sandbar. The navy sloops, however, crashed into the sandbar.
Blackbeard shook with laughter. The pirates blasted the stranded sloops with cannons. Thundering explosions shook the waters. Then the pirate ship lurched backward—and became stuck on a sandbar.
One navy ship lay destroyed. Maynard’s sloop, though battered, remained afloat. He ordered his men to lighten the ship by throwing everything but their weapons into the sea. The strategy worked. Once they were free of the sandbar, Maynard’s damaged sloop edged toward the pirate ship. Maynard ordered his men to hide below decks with pistols and swords ready.
Blackbeard’s men hurled grenades onto the seemingly deserted navy vessel. When it got close enough, the pirates boarded the Pearl. All at once, Maynard gave the signal and his men rushed the deck, firing pistols and wielding swords. The stunned pirates were caught completely by surprise. The next moment the air was filled with gunfire and the clash of swords. Soon the deck was strewn with the dead and dying. Pistol in one hand, cutlass in the other, Blackbeard came face-to-face with Maynard. They both fired pistols. Blackbeard missed. Maynard hit his mark.
Shot, Blackbeard still managed to swing his cutlass and snap off Maynard’s sword blade. Maynard drew back. Blackbeard raised his arm for a finishing blow. But then something happened which neither Blackbeard nor Maynard expected. A navy seaman came up from behind Blackbeard and slashed his throat. Badly wounded, Blackbeard fought on until Maynard finished him off with one deadly blow. Upon later inspection, it was discovered that Blackbeard suffered no less than 20 saber wounds and 5 bullet wounds.
Blackbeard’s head was cut off and suspended from the bow of Maynard’s sloop as a warning to other pirates. Maynard searched for Blackbeard’s treasure but found only supplies and letters. When Blackbeard died, the secret of his treasure died, too—if indeed he ever had one.
The tale of two swords … one held up under pressure, the other broke and it almost cost the life of its master. What made the difference?
The battle is not always to the swift and neither is it to the better swordsman. It the sword fails, so does the swordsmen. So it is necessary that before one enters the fray that he makes sure his sword is up to the task.
Fifty years ago, a rare and unusual sword was found in a tomb in China. Despite being well over 2,000 years old, the sword, a double-edged straight sword, with a 21.9 inch long blade and a 3.3 inch hilt, known as the Goujian Sword, did not have a single trace of rust. The blade drew blood when an archaeologist tested his finger on its edge, seemingly unaffected by the passage of time. Besides this strange quality, the craftsmanship was highly detailed for a sword made such a long time ago. Regarded as a state treasure in China today, the sword is as legendary to the Chinese people as King Arthur’s Excalibur in the West.
So how is it that some swords last over two thousand years and others break under pressure?
Scientists discovered in the Goujian Sword a high concentration of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter. The edges are made of tin, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge. There are also small amounts of iron, lead and sulfur in the sword, and research has revealed a high proportion of sulfur and sulfide cuprum, which gives the sword its rustproof quality.
A process called shita-kitae, or foldings, requires the molten steel be poured into a form, then hammered, heated red hot, hammered and cooled between 8 and 16 times. After 20 foldings, the carbon and steel become almost homogeneous, and the act of folding is no longer beneficial.
So the question begs asking, “How many times have you been put through the fire? How many times have you been hammered into shape only to be run through the fires again and again?
Scripture reminds us that the trial of our faith … the shita-kitae, of our faith is more precious than gold which perishes though it was refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor to Jesus Christ … that the one who perseveres trials will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12.
That brings us back to Lieutenant Maynard’s sword verses Blackbeard’s sword. Two swords … two men …who will prevail? The one whose sword remains true, blow after blow after blow … the one whose sword doesn’t shatter under pressure. Are you that kind of sword?
Welcome the next shita-kitae.