19 June 1701
|Base of operations||Atlantic|
Israel Hands, also known as Basilica Hands, was an eighteenth-century pirate best known for being second in command to Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. His name serves as the basis for the name of the villainous sidekick Israel Hands in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel Treasure Island; other than this, the fictional character has no connection to the historical person.
Hands' first historical mention was in 1718, when Blackbeard gave him command of David Herriot's ship Adventure after Herriot was captured by Teach in March 1718. During the winter of 1717–1718 Blackbeard harassed shipping to and from the port of Vera Cruz, Mexico and traversing the Bay of Honduras. On April 4 or 5th of 1718, at Turneffe Atoll, Blackbeard captured the ten gun log cutting sloop Adventure and forced captain Herriot to join him. Also on board was Edward Robinson, the ship's gunner, who would later be involved in the Battle of Cape Fear River. Blackbeard then made Israel Hands captain of the Adventure and began sailing for North Carolina. Later, in June 1718, Teach ran his flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, aground at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. He requested assistance from Hands with the Adventure in an effort to kedge the Queen Anne's Revenge off the bar. But the Adventure also grounded and was abandoned. Teach, Hands and Stede Bonnet then took approximately half the pirates, marooning the rest, and set sail for Ocracoke.
Captain Charles Johnson wrote that Hands was shot in the knee when Teach fired at another of his crew, missing him but striking Hands. Hands asked Teach for his reasons, whereupon Teach remarked that, "if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was."
On 22 November 1718 Teach was killed by troops dispatched from Virginia and led by Maynard. At the time Hands was in Bath, North Carolina, recuperating from his permanently disabling pistol wound. However, he was unable to escape the roundup of pirates in Bath that followed Blackbeard's death. Following his capture, he and fifteen others were taken to Williamsburg, Virginia, to stand trial. In exchange for a pardon, Hands testified against corrupt North Carolina officials with whom Teach had consorted.
The minutes of the North Carolina Governor's Council for May 27, 1719 state:
Hesikia Hands[,] master of Capt Thaches Sloop Adventure[,] seems to sweare possitively in his Depossition that the sd [said] Thache went from Ocacoch Inlet at his returne into this Country from his last voyage with a present to the sd Tobias Knights house [,] when by the same deposition [Hands] acknowledgth that to be out of the reach of his knoledge[,] he being all the time at the sd Inlet which lyes at above thirty leagues distance from [Knight’s] house and further the [said] Tobias Knight doth pray your Honours to observe that the aforsd Hesikias Hands was ... for some time before the giving of the [said] Evidence kept in prison under the Terrors of Death a most severe prosecution....
Israel Hands appears as a character in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island and media based on it, in which he is the Hispaniola's coxswain and one of Long John Silver's pirates. However, he is described as the late Captain Flint's gunner and no mention is made of Blackbeard. Hands engages in a prolonged battle with Jim Hawkins before being shot by the boy.
Israel Hands features in the children's adventure book Kintana and the Captain's Curse by Susan Brownrigg (Uclan Publishing, July 2021).
Hands appears very briefly in the 2013 video-game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag when he showed a crate of medicine needed for the population of Nassau to Blackbeard, leading him to hold hostages at Charleston.