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Israel Hands
Israel Hand

19 June 1701
Piratical career
Nickname Basilica Hands
Rank Captain
Base of operations Atlantic
West Indies

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 other connection to the real Israel Hands.


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 sailing 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 logwood cutting sloop Adventure and forced its 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 and 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." Another theory is that Teach shot him so that he would not die in the battle against Lt. Robert Maynard.

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....

What happened to Hands after this is not known for certain. However, in Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, Hands is said to have died a beggar in London.

Modern portrayals

Films and TV series based on Treasure Island

  • Joseph Singleton in the 1920 silent version.
  • Douglass Dumbrille in the 1934 version.
  • Geoffrey Keen in the 1950 version and Rod Taylor in its 1954 sequel film, Long John Silver. Though believed to have been killed in the first film, a return expedition to Treasure Island finds Israel Hands alive.
  • Aldo Sambrell in the 1972 live-action version.
  • Patrick Troughton in the 1977 version.
  • Gennadi Yukhtin in the 1982 film.
  • Jean-François Stévenin in the 1985 version.
  • Michael Halsey in the 1990 version.
  • Dermot Keaney in the 1999 version.
  • In Disney's 2002 animated movie Treasure Planet, Hands appears as a giant four-armed pirate voiced by Mike McShane. He is a minor character, while another pirate named Scroop (voiced by Michael Wincott) fills the role of directly threatening Jim. He is later plummeted by Doppler, when trying to thwart Jim, Doppler and Amelia escape.
  • Geoff Bell in the 2012 version.
  • Irish actor David Wilmot portrays Hands in the fourth season of Starz’s Treasure Island prequel series Black Sails.

Historical Figure

  • Mark Noble in the 2006 documentary Blackbeard: Terror at Sea, which starred James Purefoy as Blackbeard. Hands serves as the narrator.
  • Anthony Green in the 2006 television movie Blackbeard which starred Angus Macfadyen in the title role. In this version, Hands dies during the battle against Lt. Robert Maynard, portrayed by Mark Umbers.


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.

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