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Blackbeard

Blackbeard the Pirate
. . . and the Wreck of Queen Anne's Revenge.

During The Golden Age of Piracy (late 17th - early 18th centuries), 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 seventeenth and eighteenth 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 one early account, by sticking cannon fuses under his hat, and lighting them during battle. Reportedly a tall 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 Thatch when he began his pirating sometime after 1713.

Sometime during the summer of 1717, Blackbeard encountered another vessel flying the black flag. She was the ten-gun pirate sloop Revenge from Barbados, commanded by Stede Bonnet, "The Gentleman Pirate." Bonnet had been an educated and wealthy landowner before turning to piracy. After inviting the Revenge to sail along with him, 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 "guest" aboard his ship, where he remained a virtual prisoner, until the pirate company was split up some months later.

In November 1717, in the eastern Caribbean, Thatch took a 14-gun, richly laden French slaveship called Concorde Thatch decided to make Concorde his flagship, increased her armament to 40 guns, and renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge (or QAR).

During the winter of 1717-1718, 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 300 pirates.

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

Before leaving Beaufort Inlet, Blackbeard marooned disgruntled pirates on a deserted sandbar, stripped Bonnet's sloop Revenge of her provisions, and absconded with much of the accumulated plunder 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 except four were found guilty. All of the rest except Bonnet were hanged that November 8th. (The record of that trial, published in London in 1719, provided researchers with important clues to the location of the QAR site.) Bonnet escaped briefly, but was recaptured and then hanged on December 10, 1718.

Meanwhile, Blackbeard and his confidants had sailed to Bath Town, then the capital of North Carolina, where they received pardons from Governor Charles Eden. In November 1718, Governor Alexander Spotswood 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 five musketball wounds and more than 20 sword lacerations before dying. Blackbeard had captured over 50 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

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 phonetic derivation (i.e., 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 is not supported by the vast volume of other documentation.

It appears that Blackbeard may have begun 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 exactly when Thatch joined his crew.

Thatch captured a French slave ship called Concorde off the island of St. Vincent around November 1717. Thatch strengthened the armament of the vessel, renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge, and for the next seven 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 50 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 November 22, 1718.

Queen Anne’s Revenge

Historical Timeline

 

 

  • 1713-1714 – One source states that Edward Thatch (sometimes spelled Teach) turned from privateer to pirate following the end of Queen Anne’s War in 1713.
  • March 1717 – Blackbeard’s name appears in documentation for the first time, in a ship captain’s report
  • November 28, 1717 – Blackbeard and his crew capture the French slaveship, La Concorde, in the Caribbean.  They rename the ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.
  • March 1718 – Blackbeard captures the 80-ton sloop Adventure in the Bay of Honduras.  The sloop was in the area to pick up a load of logwood to take back to its homeport in Jamaica.
  • May 1718 – After causing trouble throughout the Caribbean, Blackbeard’s fleet arrives off the coast of South Carolina. They blockade the port of Charleston, capture many ships, and hold prisoners. The prisoners are released after several days, in exchange for a chest of medicine.
  • June 1718 – Blackbeard’s fleet attempts to enter Old Topsail Inlet, NC, now known as Beaufort Inlet.  Queen Anne’s Revenge and Adventure run aground and are left as Blackbeard and many of his crew flee further north.
  • June 1718 – In Bath, Blackbeard is granted the King’s pardon from North Carolina’s Governor Charles Eden.
  • November 22, 1718 – Volunteers from the Royal Navy are sent from Virginia to track down Blackbeard and his crew at Ocracoke Inlet, NC. In a brief, but bloody battle aboard their sloop Blackbeard and some of his fellow pirates are killed.

 

The morphing nature of the sandbars and inlets of the coast in addition to numerous storms cause the ships to be slowly covered by sand and water.  Over the next 278 years, Blackbeard’s legend grows but his flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, remains a mystery. 

 

·        November 1996 – A shipwreck is discovered in Beaufort Inlet by Intersal, Inc., with information provided to Operations Director Mike Daniel by company president Phil Masters. Many factors suggest it could be the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

·        1997 - The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort becomes the official repository for the artifacts and begins exhibiting them for the public.

  • Fall 1997 – The NC Underwater Archeology Branch, part of the NC Department of Cultural Resources, begins assessment of the site and recovery of artifacts. Each year since, state archeologists have conducted one to two field seasons at the site.  Many seasons have been hampered by storms.  All of them have been dependent on funding.
  • 2003 – The state’s Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Lab is established on the campus of East Carolina University. A team of conservators work on cleaning, identifying and cataloging artifacts.
  • 2009 – The Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge is established as a 501(c)(3) to provide support to all aspects of the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project.

 

 

Archaeologists believe the site holds an estimated 750,000 artifacts, with approximately 50% recovered to date. Many of the artifacts are in the process of conservation, which often takes years. A small percentage of artifacts are on exhibit at the Museum.