Blackbeard’s Ship…Or Not?

In 1718, Blackbeard the pirate ran his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge aground at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. In 1996, a shipwreck was discovered in the area. Is this Blackbeard’s fabled frigate?

Blackbeard battles Lieutenant Maynard

Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718 – Shows the battle between Blackbeard the Pirate and Lieutenant Maynard in Ocracoke Bay
Painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1920)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Blackbeard & Queen Anne’s Revenge?

Blackbeard, whose real name was probably Edward Thatch, is perhaps the most famous pirate of all time. After the War of Spanish Succession, he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold. On November 28, 1717, Captain Hornigold captured the La Concorde which at that time was a slave ship. He turned it over to Blackbeard. Blackbeard renamed the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, which may be an indication of his allegiance to the Stuarts. He mounted 22 guns on the ship and began a reign of terror unmatched in pirate history.

In 1718, he staged an incredible blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, in which he ransacked about nine ships as they attempted to leave the port. Shortly afterward, he mysteriously ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground and took off for North Carolina in a smaller vessel named the Adventure. Some historians believe this was a deliberate move by Blackbeard to disperse his crew and secure a greater share of the spoils for him and his friends.

A Mysterious Shipwreck?

For more than two centuries, the ship remained lost. Then, in 1996, Intersal discovered a shipwreck in the area. Since that time, extensive excavations have uncovered more than 16,000 artifacts. While the ship is generally believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources has always been cautious in its statements…until now.

On August 29, National Geographic reported that the shipwreck “has been confirmed as that of the infamous 18th-century pirate Blackbeard.”

“There was not one aha moment. There was a collection of moments and a deduction based on the evidence.” ~ Claire Aubel, North Carolina Maritime Museums, Public Relations Coordinator

According to the article, the main evidence used in the identification was “the sheer size of the wreck and the many weapons that were found in the rubble.” The rest of the evidence is even more circumstantial. For example, apothecary weights found on the wreck could belong to the ship’s original surgeon when it was still in French hands. Some traces of gold found among lead shot could have been concealed by a French sailor trying to hide it from Blackbeard. On the bright side, artifact dates appear to be in the right ballpark. Underwater archaeologists found “a bell engraved with the date 1705.” Previously announced discoveries include a brass coin weight cast sometime between 1702-1714 as well as a wine glass made to commemorate the 1714 coronation of King George I.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Still, I have to admit that I find this “confirmation” strange. There remains no real hard evidence to link this shipwreck to Blackbeard. And over the years, some researchers have called into question the so-called mountain of circumstantial evidence. For example…

Rodgers, Richards and Lusardi challenged the assumption that the many guns indicated a heavily armed pirate ship. All ships during the period were similarly armed, they said, and the number and and caliber of the guns suggest that the wreck was probably a merchant ship. They said only 14 guns were probably mounted on the Beaufort shipwreck, while the others were too small to damage a ship or were stowed in the hold as ballast. The number of those mounted is what would be expected on an average merchant vessel during peacetime in the first half of the 18th century, they said. Varying historical accounts say the Queen Anne’s Revenge carried 22, 36 and up to 40 guns. In addition, the archaeologists said, one cannon bears a rough mark they interpreted as 1730 or possibly 1737. If that is the date of the cannon’s manufacture, they said, it would eliminate the wreck as the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Now, that article is a couple of years old, but I imagine at least some of it is still relevant today. Furthermore, the timing of this announcement raises awkward questions. According to David Moore, curator of nautical archaeology at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, there were two reasons behind it. First, the museum didn’t want to entitle its new exhibit something along the lines of “Artifacts From the Purported Queen Anne’s Revenge.” Second and more disturbing, the confirmation will “help the museum secure private funding to continue excavating the wreck.”

The shipwreck in question may or may not be the Queen Anne’s Revenge. It seems to fit the profile and time period. And I understand that identifying the wreck is an extremely difficult task. Hard evidence may not even exist, although I’m holding out hope that divers will recover an engraved bell or something along those lines. Regardless, based on the obvious conflict of interest here, this confirmation seems meaningless to me. A better exhibit title? Additional funding to make up for state budget cuts? Good lord.Supposedly, there are 750,000 remaining artifacts aboard the wreck. Recovering them all could take an additional 15 years. Let’s hope one of those artifacts serves as “the smoking gun.” Because at this point, I’m just not convinced.
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