The world's most infamous pirate, Blackbeard, terrorized the seas until 1718. His flagship Queen Anne's Revenge crashed somewhere along the shoreline of North Carolina, but nobody discovered the wreckage until 1996.
Locating the pirate ship was a lot harder than most people may think. But the 20 years of studying Blackbeard's artifacts have yielded fantastic results. Thirty cannons, dozens of medicinal items, and several diving excavations later, we know more about Blackbeard's life than ever before. See these artifacts for yourself, and learn how researchers discovered and analyzed Queen Anne's Revenge.
Blackbeard's Flagship Found Hundreds Of Years Later
Three hundred years after Blackbeard died on the shore of North Carolina, his ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was rediscovered off the same coast. In 1996, archaeologists began excavating the vessel of the world's most famous pirate.
Blackbeard raided the coasts of North America and the Caribbean during the "Golden Age of Piracy" between 1650 and 1720. Although Blackbeard's reign of terror lasted just over a year, he left an enormous mark on history.
Locating Queen Anne's Revenge
Historian David Moore uncovered two eyewitness accounts that highlighted the potential location of Queen Anne's Revenge and Adventure. One description came from David Herriot, former captain of Adventure, who claimed that Blackbeard intentionally crashed Queen Anne's Revenge to break up his 300-person crew and snatch more of the treasure.
The other account was written by Ellis Brand, captain of the HMS Lyme. In a letter, he stated that Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground in Old Topsail Inlet, now named Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina.
Diving For Blackbeard's Booty
In November of 1996, an Intersal, Inc. private research team explored the coast of Beaufort Inlet, North Caroline under a permit from the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Upon diving, the researchers discovered a cannon, a 1705 bronze bell, a blunderbuss barrel, and a sounding weight.
In analyzing the artifacts, archaeologists suspected that the ship could be Queen Anne's Revenge, although they didn't confirm this until 2011. The National Register of Historic Places noted Queen Anne's Revenge dive site in 2004.
How Queen Anne's Revenge Landed In North Carolina
In autumn of 1717, Blackbeard and his crew landed on the Caribbean island of Martinique. There, they found the French slave ship La Concorde. Blackbeard captured the ship and set sail, renaming the vessel to Queen Anne's Revenge.
A year later, Blackbeard descended upon the shore somewhere along North Carolina. Queen Anne's Revenge ran into the ship Adventure and sank. But since historians had no records of the crash for years, they couldn't find the ship.
Unearthing Queen Anne's Revenge
Before revealing Blackbeard's artifacts, the Underwater Archaeology Branch's dive team had to dig up the ship's debris. In the fall of 1997, researchers brought up two cannons, four cannonballs, pottery fragments, and a pewter platter.
In 2009, divers recovered a small anchor, called a grapnel. By 2015, the teams had exposed 24 cannons from the wreck site. But the most insightful artifacts were yet to come.
No One Could Agree On How Many Cannons Blackbeard Had
So far, researchers examining the Queen Anne's Revenge wreck site have located 30 cannons. Before historians discovered the site, they relied on conflicting accounts which incorrectly estimated the number of guns on Blackbeard's ship.
Governor Hamilton of Jamaica claimed that Queen Anne's Revenge carried 26 guns. Governor Bennett of Bermuda wrote about "a ship of 36 guns," whereas Governor Johnson of South Carolina asserted that "Blackbeard has a ship of 40 odd[d] guns." Although archaeologists have only seen 30 cannons, they could potentially excavate more in the future.
The Most Significant Finds On Queen Anne's Revenge
Although Blackbeard took a select few of his sailors and a large chunk of his treasure, Queen Anne's Revenge still contained well-preserved artifacts that gave archaeologists a glimpse into the pirate life.
The most notable artifacts included medical instruments. Archaeologist Linda Carnes-McNaughton said that Blackbeard stored these supplies to fight against "chronic and periodic illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, burns and other indescribable maladies" that his crew would suffer from.
They Boarded Supplies For Making Medicine
Archaeologists discovered a mortar and pestle made of cast brass on Blackbeard's ship. The mortar and pestle ground herbs and other food to create medicine. At the time, most medicines consisted of elixirs and rubs.
For instance, Blackbeard's crew may have ground chocolate to rub on an open wound to halt the bleeding. Or, they may have ground saffron to mix golden milk, which some with a fever would drink to subdue the symptoms.
Blackbeard Kept French Surgeons Around
When Blackbeard captured Queen Anne's Revenge, he released all of the previous French crew except for a few. Among these included the ship's three surgeons, whom he required to stay on the boat until the voyage ended.
Some of the medical instruments found had markings that indicated they came from France, likely due to these surgeons. All surgeons were being paid to attend the voyage until Blackbeard captured them.
Remove Syphilis, Infect With Mercury
Among the medical equipment on Blackbeard's ship, archaeologists dug up a urethral syringe. Carnes-McNaughton revealed that this syringe was used to treat syphilis, a fatal sexually-transmitted disease.
However, chemical analysis of the instrument unveils that it contains mercury. According to Carnes-McNaughton, this means that the syringe could remove syphilis, but the mercury in the tool would eventually poison and kill the patient.
Where Blackbeard Got The Medicine
Although Blackbeard had all the equipment and surgeons he needed, he still had to restock on medicinal ingredients. An account from Captain Charles Johnson reveals that Blackbeard stocked up right before crashing his vessel when he blockaded Charleston, South Carolina in 1718.
During a parley, Blackbeard demanded a chest full of medicine from the Charleston governor, threatening to kill his prisoners otherwise. The governor complied, and Blackbeard released the prisoners as promised.
A Way To Hydrate Faster
In the Queen Anne's Revenge wreckage, archaeologists unearthed two clyster pump pieces. This tool was likely used to pump fluid into the rectum, allowing the body to absorb water or medicine quickly. Historians still aren't sure what the pirates would have used them for.
Pirates in Blackbeard's time lived notoriously short lives. One of the causes of death on the seas was dehydration, sometimes due to dysentery. Clysters may have been used to hydrate weak crew members quickly.
Seven Nesting Weights
On Queen Anne's Revenge, seven nesting cups remained stacked inside of each other similar to a Russian nesting doll. Although these cups were traditionally used for measuring coins, archaeologists suspect that Blackbeard's crew prepared and measured out medicine with these cups.
These cups fit easily into each other for easy storage and efficient measurement. Along with the nesting cups, fragments of a small jar found on the ship likely contained medicinal supplies in Blackbeard's time.
Even Though He Terrorized, Blackbeard Rarely Killed
Historians know very little about early life of Blackbeard, whose real name may be Edward Teach or Edward Thatch. We do know that he terrorized the Caribbean and American colonies by crossing merchant ships.
Although Blackbeard gained a notorious reputation, he rarely slaughtered any of his victims. Fights meant hassle, and Blackbeard preferred to end his raids swiftly with few casualties. He usually captured the crew, plundered their cargo, and left without another word.
Medicinal Bloodletting In Blackbeard's Time
Archaeologists located an instrument called a porringer among Blackbeard's possessions. Surgeons on Queen Anne's Revenge likely used the porringer to aid with bloodletting. Although William Harvey disproved most bloodletting practices in 1628, many doctors at the time still used it to heal most illnesses.
Surgeons spilled the blood of patients before amputations, and to cure cholera, herpes, indigestion, scurvy, smallpox, and tuberculosis. The treatment was accessible for everyone, even pirates with limited supplies.
The Ship's Former Crew Were Already Sick
When Blackbeard confronted La Concorde, later to be renamed Queen Anne's Revenge, the crew of the French slave ship couldn't fight back. Due to an outbreak of scurvy and dysentery, the sailors had already suffered from 16 deaths and 36 ill crewmates.
After Blackbeard fired two volleys at La Concorde, Captain Dosset surrendered. The pirates were incredibly lucky to recruit four surgeons and a cook who weren't infected. To keep his crew strong, Blackbeard had to keep them healthy.
Artifacts Used Medically And Non-Medically
Not all artifacts found on Queen Anne's Revenge were medicinal. Some had more than one use. For instance, two pairs of brass screws that were found could have been used for repairs, but also could have been in a tourniquet, a device that limited bleeding during amputations.
Archaeologists also uncovered a pair of scissors, which may have aided surgeries. They also discovered a six-inch-long silver needle that may have been used in surgery.
The End Of Blackbeard's Reign
Six months after Queen Anne's Revenge sank, Blackbeard ran into his final battle. The Royal Navy sent by Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood accosted Blackbeard and his crew on Maynard's sloop.
Accounts of the fight indicate that although several of his crewmates died, Blackbeard put up a vicious fight. "He stood his ground and fought with great fury," wrote Captain Charles Johnson, "till he received five and 20 wounds, and five of them by shot."
The Fight For Copyright
While archaeologists studied Blackbeard's ship, the state of North Carolina battled lawsuits for copyright and ownership of the Queen Anne's Revenge wreckage. The first diving team, Intersal Inc., agreed to make copyrighted photos and videos of the wreck, but the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources excavated the artifacts afterward.
In 2015, the North Carolina State Legislature passed a law declaring that the Queen Anne's Revenge excavation is the property of the state. As a result, state museums can display videos and photos of the initial discovery.
Displaying Queen Anne's Revenge
After divers discovered the Queen Anne's Revenge in 1996, scientists spent 15 years excavating and analyzing the artifacts. Their results are still underway as they plan to determine what material makes up most of the objects.
The ship wasn't confirmed to be Blackbeard's until 2011. Since then, curators have displayed many of the artifacts in North Carolina's Maritime Museum. The opening exhibit attracted record-breaking crowds, a testament to Blackbeard's historical significance and popularity.