Note: This piece is published in conjunction with the exhibit, Blackbeard 300: Commemorating North Carolina’s Rich Maritime History, on display at the Western Office of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources November 6, 2017 – January 6, 2018, Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m with special programming Saturdays November 18 and January 6.
In the early 18th century a notorious pirate preyed upon the coast. This dubious fellow was known as Blackbeard. Although he was documented as Edward Teach, or Thack, or Thatch, we’re not quite sure as to who he really was. Scholars think his ability to read and write shows that he came from a well-off English family. He probably changed his name to protect his relatives from the embarrassment of his exploits.
Blackbeard began his career as a privateer during Queen Anne’s War. Non-military seamen were hired by the English crown to raid Spanish ships. After the war (and out of work) he turned to piracy. In 1716, Teach learned the tricks and twists of the pirate trade, when he fell under the tutelage of one Benjamin Hornigold, who, the following year, rewarded him with a ship that Teach renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.
A robust man, his appearance was indeed impressive. It is written that he stood over 6 feet tall with a face full of black hair which he twisted into strands and entwined with small pieces of rope. To these pieces of hemp, he would set a match, which in addition to being useful for igniting cannons, gave him a devilish smoky aura.
After successfully blockading Charleston’s harbor in 1718, Teach ditched Queen Anne’s Revenge (and most of his crew) in Beaufort Inlet and moved all his loot and booty onto the ship Adventure. Teach and his pared down crew set sail for Ocracoke where it was believed he would set up a pirate base of permanent proportion.
Citizens of the Tar Heel State knew all too well of Blackbeard and his threats to shipping. They were frustrated with Governor Eden who had been unable to keep the fiend at bay. After learning of Blackbeard’s plan to set up shop off Ocracoke, a group of landowners petitioned Governor Spotswood of Virginia to put an end to Blackbeard’s terror and to restore peace of mind to the Albemarle region and its surrounding waters.
Governor Spotswood dispatched two ships that had been guarding the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to head to Ocracoke and once and for all take care of Blackbeard. In a fierce hand-to-hand battle, Lt. Robert Maynard finally killed Teach, whose body suffered 5 pistol shots and 20 sword cuts and slashes. His head was then severed from his body and hung on the bowsprit of the sloop as proof that the bold Blackbeard had been defeated. His body was tossed overboard. Storytellers and raconteurs liked to embellish that it swam around the ship 7 times.
In 1996, Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered off Beaufort, N.C. Artifacts have been raised from the sea floor and cautious eyes have been waiting and watching for something to discount this underwater archaeology site as that of the QAR, but nay-sayers need to take a back seat, because after all this time nothing has been discovered to disprove the theory.
It is important to note that there are no plans to ever actually raise the ship, rather researchers headed up by the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and East Carolina University, plan to recover the artifacts and preserve them for future display.
Every relic recovered is assigned two numbers. One designates that it is from the QAR site, and one identifies the object for the North Carolina master list of archaeological finds.
Artifacts surfaced are usually in the form of concretions. Natural elements such as sand and shells have bonded to them, making their identification difficult. Sometimes smaller concretions are found within larger concretions. All artifacts are given the utmost care at the conservation lab at East Carolina University.
Items recovered include a bronze bell with the date 1709, pewter plates, cannons, navigational instruments, nails, gun hardware, bottles, and smaller personal items such as a button and a tobacco pipe. Even a small amount of gold dust has been recovered. Experts estimate that over 500,000 items will be recovered from the site.
These fascinating finds will help future generations understand early ships, armaments, and life on board a pirate ship, and will ever keep us aware of the golden age of piracy. For more information visit http://www.qaronline.org/default.htm.
In 2018, the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will host an exciting array of educational experiences for a wide range of audiences.