BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE  

During The Golden Age of Piracy (1689-1718), numerous rogues pursued their lawless and murderous trade throughout the New World. Restrictive laws passed by the British Parliament had made smuggling acceptable and even desirable in North Carolina and the other American colonies. Preying upon lightly armed merchant ships, the pirates seized their contents and sometimes killed those who resisted. Because of its shallow sounds and inlets, North Carolina's Outer Banks became a haven for many of these outlaws in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Blackbeard was the most notorious pirate in the history of seafaring. With a beard that almost covered his face, he would strike terror into the hearts of his victims, according to some early accounts, by weaving wicks laced with gunpowder into his hair, and lighting them during battle. A big man, he added to his menacing appearance by wearing a crimson coat, two swords at his waist, and bandoleers stuffed with numerous pistols and knives across his chest.

The sight of Blackbeard was enough to make most of his victims surrender without a fight. If they gave up peacefully, he would usually take their valuables, navigational instruments, weapons, and rum before allowing them to sail away. If they resisted, he would often maroon the crews and burn their ship. Blackbeard worked hard at establishing his devilish image, but there is no archival evidence to indicate that he ever killed anyone who was not trying to kill him.

Blackbeard's lawless career lasted only a few years, but his fearsome reputation has long outlived him. Thought to have been a native of England, he was using the name Edward Teach (or Thatch) when he began his pirating sometime after 1713 as a crewman aboard a Jamaican sloop commanded by the pirate Benjamin Hornigold. In 1716, Hornigold appointed Teach to command a captured vessel. By mid-1717 the two, sailing in concert, were among the most feared pirates of their day.

In November 1717, in the eastern Caribbean, Hornigold and Teach took a 26 gun richly laden French &quotguineyman" called the Concorde (research indicated she had originally been built in Great Britain.) Hornigold subsequently decided to accept the British Crown's recent offer of a general amnesty and retire as a pirate. Teach rejected a pardon, decided to make the Concorde his flagship, increased her armament to 40 guns, and re-named her Queen Anne's Revenge (QAR).

Shortly thereafter, the QAR encountered another vessel flying the black flag. She was the ten-gun pirate sloop Revenge from Barbados, commanded by Stede Bonnet, &quotThe Gentleman Pirate." Bonnet had been an educated and wealthy landowner before turning to piracy. After inviting the Revenge to sail along with the QAR, Blackbeard soon realized that Bonnet was a poor leader and an incompetent sailor. He appointed another pirate to command Revenge, and forced Bonnet to become a &quotguest" aboard QAR, where he remained, a virtual prisoner, until she wrecked six months later.

During the winter of 1717-1718, the QAR and Revenge cruised the Caribbean, taking prizes. Along the way, Blackbeard decided to keep two more smaller captured vessels. When he sailed northward up the American coast in the Spring of 1718, he was in command of four vessels and over three hundred pirates.

Blackbeard's reign of terror climaxed in a week-long blockade of the port of Charleston, S.C. in late May 1718. One week later, the QAR was lost at Beaufort Inlet. One of the smaller vessels in Blackbeard's flotilla, the 10 gun sloop Adventure, was lost the same day while trying to assist the stranded flagship.

Before leaving Beaufort Inlet, Blackbeard marooned about twenty-five disgruntled pirates on a deserted sandbar, stripped Bonnet's sloop the Revenge of her provisions, and absconded with much of the accumulated booty aboard another smaller vessel. Bonnet rescued the marooned men and, with them, resumed his lawless ways aboard the Revenge, which he re-named the Royal James.

In October 1718, Bonnet and his crew were captured near present-day Wilmington, North Carolina, and taken to Charleston, where they were tried for piracy. All but four were found guilty and hung that November (the record of that trial, published in London in 1719, provided researchers with important clues to the location of the QAR site.)

Meanwhile, Blackbeard and his confidants had sailed to Bath, then the capital of North Carolina, where they received pardons from the Governor, Charles Eden. In November 1718, Governor Alexander Spottswood of Virginia, knowing that Blackbeard and his men had continued taking ships long after the period of amnesty had expired, sent a Royal Navy contingent to North Carolina, where Blackbeard was killed in a bloody battle at Ocracoke Inlet on November 22, 1718. During the action, Blackbeard received a reported 5 musketball wounds and more than twenty sword lacerations before dying. Blackbeard had captured over 40 ships during his piratical career, and his death virtually represented the end of an era in the history of piracy in the New World.


FACT SHEET

Blackbeard the Pirate
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Little is known concerning the origin of Blackbeard the pirate. Documents suggest both Bristol and London in England, the island of Jamaica and even Philadelphia as his home. He is said to have operated out of Jamaica as a privateer during Queen Anne's War (1702-1713) previous to having been a pirate.

- Historical sources vary as to Blackbeard's real name. Though most publications mentioning the pirate by name over the past couple of centuries have identified him as Edward Teach, the majority of primary source documents written during the time of his activities indicate that Thatch or some other phoenetic derivation (ie, Thach, Thache, etc.), was actually the name he was going by at the time. The name Drummond is mentioned by one early source, but this not supported by the vast volume of other documentation.

- It appears that Blackbeard began his piratical career under the command of Benjamin Hornigold. Though Hornigold's activities as a pirate can be traced back to as early as 1714, it is not known for sure when Thatch joined his crew. The earliest mention of Blackbeard by name is in the Boston News-Letter in October 1717.

- Thatch and Hornigold captured a French slave ship called the Concorde off the island of St. Vincent around November 1717. Hornigold gave Blackbeard the ship and retired from piracy soon after. Thatch strengthened the armament of the vessel, renamed her the Queen Anne's Revenge and for the next 7 months used the ship in consort with smaller sloops to harrass shipping throughout the Caribbean and up the eastern seaboard of North America.

- It is not currently known how many vessels Blackbeard captured during his exploits, but a preliminary database compiled by museum researchers currently contains over 45 prizes which can be directly attributed to Thatch's activities.

- Blackbeard was eventually tracked down to Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina by the Royal Navy and killed in a brief, but bloody battle on 22 November 1718.


QUEEN ANNE'S REVENGE (QAR)

Queen Anne's Revenge was one of the largest pirate ships to ever sail the Spanish Main. No ship played a more dramatic role in the history of piracy in the Americas. QAR is historically a very significant shipwreck, the earliest yet found in the state, and a very important site in the history of North Carolina.

QAR was Blackbeard's flagship from her capture in November 1717 in the eastern Caribbean until she wrecked in June 1718 at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. Blackbeard used the QAR as his prime weapon during the height of his reign of terror, culminating in his audacious week-long blockade of the port of Charleston (then Charles Town), S.C. in late May 1718. During the seven months that Blackbeard commanded her, QAR is known to have participated in the &quottaking" of at least eighteen ships as &quotprizes." Archival records indicate that Blackbeard and his cohorts probably removed most (if not all) of their booty of gold and silver when she became stranded and was abandoned at Beaufort Inlet.

QAR's brief but active tenure as Blackbeard's flagship makes her of considerable historical importance, but the record of her apparently colorful background prior to November 1717 makes for exciting reading itself. While there is still a considerable amount of research to be conducted on the subject, it is possible that QAR's nationality and appearance changed at least twice in her relatively short lifetime of eight years.

It appears that she may have been launched in Great Britain in 1710, during the War of the Spanish Succession (called Queen Anne's War in the American colonies.) While flying the British flag, she may have been named the Concord, with a capacity of 300 tons, and was armed with twenty cannon.

Sometime in late 1710, she was " taken" as a prize of war by French privateers, and brought into a French port. In early 1711, she was modified &quoten flute" (the configuration of her stern was altered) so that she would be more suitable for use as an armed transport. This change gave her a silhouette similar to Dutch-built ships of that era, thus causing later confusion as to her origin. The spelling of her name also changed, to Concorde.

While we are not yet certain that we are speaking of the same vessel, a Concorde of 300 tons and twenty guns was part of a French squadron which sortied from Brest in the Summer of 1711 for South America. The war was still raging, and Portugal had allied itself with Britain. The squadron sailed to the Portuguese colonial capital of Rio de Janeiro, where the French laid siege to the city, occupied and sacked it, and remained until receiving a considerable ransom in gold before sailing back to Brest, where the squadron arrived in January 1712. At war's end in 1713, all privateers were ordered to revert to peacetime trade, and the Concorde became an armed merchantman.

The Concorde taken by Blackbeard in the eastern Caribbean in November 1717 is described as a 300-ton, twenty-six gun, Dutch- built &quotguineyman," flying the French flag, under a Captain D'Ocier. Some reports say that she was, at the time, heavily laden with gold dust, plate (silver), jewels, and slaves. Apparently, she was sailing from Africa to Martinque when captured. Blackbeard increased her armament to &quotupwards of forty guns," and from then until her end at Beaufort Inlet, she flew his dreaded black flag.


FACT SHEET
The Queen Anne's Revenge

- Documents indicate that a vessel called the Concorde was captured by the French from the English during Queen Anne's War in 1711. Following some modifications, she was utilized as a merchantman and eventually sold to Spain. A few years later she was returned to France and again underwent a transformation. She was refitted as a slave ship and it was during her initial voyage from the west African coast in 1717 that she was captured off the island of St. Vincent by Blackbeard.

- The ship's armament reportedly strengthened to as many as forty guns and carried as many as 150 pirates. According to French sources the ship was about 104 feet long and had a tonnage or carrying capacity of over 300 tons.

- The Queen Anne's Revenge sailed in consort with a number of smaller vessels at any one time. However, from April 1718 until she was run aground a couple of months later off North Carolina. She sailed with Stede Bonnet's Revenge, David Harriot's Adventure, and a small unidentified Spanish sloop captured off Cuba.

- The Queen Anne's Revenge was involved with the blockade of Charleston in May 1718, arguably Blackbeard's most notorious achievement as a pirate. The flotilla of 4 vessels and as many as 400 pirates captured 8 or 9 sail coming into and out of Charleston over the period of about a week and ransomed these prizes for a chest of medicine (not to mention the valuables taken from the prizes).

- A few days following the Charleston blockade, both the Queen Anne's Revenge and the Adventure were run aground off Beaufort Inlet in order to break up the pirate company and enable Blackbeard to escape with a small group of hand-picked men and the recently taken valuables.

- The archaeological excavation which will begin this Spring will undoubtedly answer many of the questions generated about the pirate and his ships over the three centuries. This project will also offer a rare glimpse into the cultural remains of a society which remains little understood by today's historians and archaeologists.

- In addition to the obvious significance of the site due to its association with Blackbeard the pirate, the physical remains of the ship itself should provide fascinating clues into ship construction practices and naval architecture during a period and for a class of ship where limited information remains today.

- One added significance which cannot be overlooked is the potential of the site to provide insight into the African slave trade, due to the ship's former association with this practice.



The Artifacts

All of the items recovered were within a few feet of a pile of large cannon and anchors. The number and size of the cannon, along with the date and type of the recovered artifacts, all support the belief that the site likely represents the remains of the forty-gun Queen Anne's Revenge, lost near Beaufort Inlet in June 1718.

Mike Daniel, Intersal's Director of Operations, discovered the site on Thursday, November 21, 1996. Realizing that he and his crew had possibly found the QAR, and well aware of the potential historical importance of the wreck, Daniel halted diving operations less than one hour after they began. He knew of the archaeological necessity of maintaining site integrity and keeping disturbance to a minimum.

Daniel immediately notified the Underwater Archaeological Unit of the N.C. Division of Archives and History. The following day (November 22, which was, coincidentally, the 278th anniversary of Blackbeard's death,) Richard Lawrence, Head of the UAU, Leslie Bright of the UAU, and Phil Masters, President of Intersal, studied the recovered artifacts and dove on the wreck to confirm the sighting. Since it was very late in the season, all agreed that the best course of action was to immediately suspend operations until the Spring.

1) The Bell: When recovered, the one foot tall bronze bell was heavily encrusted. After chemical treatment, the one inch high letters on its surface clearly read &quotIHS [Iesu, Hominorum Salvator] Maria" near the bell's top, and &quotano de 1709 [year of 1709]" near the bottom. The bell is believed to be too small to be the QAR's bell. It is probably of either Spanish or Portuguese origin. In the 18th century Catholic world, church and ship's bells were often emblazoned with saint's names. The crudeness of its casting and lettering suggests it was made in the New World.

There are a number of possible explanations for such a bell being aboard QAR. As the French Concorde in 1711, she is believed to have been part of a squadron which captured and sacked Rio de Janeiro. She may also have been the same Concorde, which sailed to Chile and Peru in 1713. And, in early 1718, as the QAR, Blackbeard captured a Spanish sloop off Cuba. Any of these could have been the source of the bell..

2) The Blunderbuss Barrel: The most unusual object recovered from the site at Beaufort Inlet is the 26-1/2" brass barrel of a blunderbuss. When recovered, it was so heavily encrusted that, to an inexperienced eye, it looked like nothing more that an old piece of metal pipe with a flared end. A careful and thorough cleaning in the lab (by conservator Leslie Bright of the N.C. UAU) has restored it to its former brilliance.

The blunderbuss was a short shoulder-fired flintlock weapon popular in 17th and 18th century England, where small quantities were issued to British Army units and Royal Navy vessels. It was usually loaded with a handful of small shot, and was deadly in confined spaces or at short range. Its function and use was similar to today's sawed-off shotgun.

In the early 17th century, too many weapons of inferior quality were being made, imported, and/or sold in England. It was not uncommon for a cannon, musket, or pistol to blow up in the face of its user when fired. To solve the problem, a law was passed in 1637 ordering all weapons to be inspected and test- fired by the Gunmakers Company of London, a craft guild of the leading English gunsmiths. Henceforth, all weapons were required to have three specific proof marks engraved on their barrels, near the breach. The lower two from the Gunmakers Company, and the other the maker's mark. At the bottom was the &quotV" (beneath a crown) signifying that the weapon had been &quotviewed" and approved for testing. In the middle was the &quotGP" (beneath a crown) attesting that the weapon had been test-fired and &quotGunmakers Proved." Above that was the maker's mark, usually two initials combined with a unique symbol previously registered with the Company. The shape of the two Gunmakers Company engravings changed slightly after 1637, once in 1672, and again in 1702.

The brass blunderbuss barrel recovered from the wreck at Beaufort Inlet has the appropriate three engravings nea its breach, confirming its English origin. Some of the definition has worn away, but the outline of the two Gunmakers Company marks date the weapon as almost surely post-1672. The maker's initials could be &quotTH." Research indicates there were at least four London gunsmiths with those initials from 1672 to 1718.

3) The Sounding Weight: A lead sounding weight typical of the period was also recovered and has been treated and conserved by the UAU's laboratory. It is marked &quotXXI" and has some illegible markings scratched onto the surface. When the artifact was weighed, it was found to measure exactly 21 pounds, thereby demonstrating that it was of English origin, since other European pounds of the period were markedly different in weight

4) Cannon Balls: A number of iron cannon balls were recovered and are currently under conservation. Their size indicates that they are 24-pounder balls, which further supports the belief that this is the wreck of Queen Anne's Revenge, since smaller vessels could not have carried such large weapons.


FACT SHEET
The Project


- Intersal, Inc., a Florida-based research, survey, and recovery group working under the auspices of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, has located an early 18th century shipwreck believed to be the remains of Blackbeard the pirate's flagship Queen Anne's Revenge.

- The site is located off Beaufort Inlet near the communities of Morehead City and Beaufort, North Carolina. The exact location is being withheld due to the potential for illegal looting.

- The shipwreck was dated by the recovery of a small number of diagnostic artifacts including a bronze bell with the date 1709 embossed around the waist. No major recovery of material was attempted in order to update the appropriate State agencies involved, and to develop a comprehensive plan of research.

- Cartographic research provided additional clues to the potential location of the site and added to the circumstantial evidence of identification when the wreck was found.

- The project will be undertaken by Maritime Research, Inc., a non- profit subsidiary of Intersal, Inc. in conjunction with appropriate State agencies and personnel.

- At least initially the project will proceed slowly with limited archaeological testing taking place to provide a maximum amount of data with minimal effort and time. The first major problem addressed will be that of positive identification of the ship as that of Blackbeard's, or at least adding substantially to the circumstantial evidence which currently exists.

- The time involved with this project will be better measured in years and even decades, rather than weeks or months. An initial and conservative assessment of the potential time to be spent on site to totally excavate the shipwreck might be five field seasons of three to five months duration each. Then take into consideration that every month spent in the field results in an additional ten to twelve months spent in the conservation laboratory, conducting research, and writing reports.

 

 

Last updated: 26/11/04