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May 10, 2011

Metal History: A real pirate ship – the Queen Anne’s Revenge

Tr00 Metal Life

“Weigh anchor, hoist the sails
Cruisin’ for booty on watery trails
No exploiter we see can still sail on
Our cannons fire till his ship goes down

Coming through the waves to free all the captives
Boarding the vessels we know all the tactics
We’re the menace, the curse of the sea
We pulverize the men’o’war pay or flee

Fly our flag, we teach them fear
Capture them, the end is near
Firing guns they shell burn
Surrender or fight there’s no return
Under Jolly Roger!”

(Running Wild: Under Jolly Roger, 1987)

The Queen Anne’s Revenge was Blackbeard’s ship. You probably know who Blackbeard was, so I won’t go into too much detail, suffice to say he was one of the most notorious pirates operating off North America and in the Caribbean in the early-eighteenth century – the Golden Age of Piracy. Scholars know very little about his early life, except that his name was possibly Edward Teach and he was a privateer in Queen Anne’s War (1701-1714) and turned to piracy after that. In 1717 Blackbeard captured the French slaver La Concorde off the island of Martinique, and renamed the vessal Queen Anne’s Revenge. It was to remain his flagship until June 1718, where the Queen Anne’s Revenge, along with a sloop Adventure, ran aground in Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina, and were abandoned.

blackbeard

Blackbeard

Many scholars believe Blackbeard deliberately ran the ships aground to break up his crew, which had swelled to over 300. He left Beaufort Inlet with a hand-picked crew and the lion’s share of the plunder. Blackbeard died six months later in a bloody battle in Ocracoke Inlet. Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard slew Blackbeard and tied his severed head to the bowspit as they sailed into Virginia.

But the story of the Queen Anne’s Revenge doesn’t end there. In 1996, a private-contracting research company discovered a ship in the Beaufort Inlet in the area near where Blackbeard’s ship was meant to have sunk. Over the last 15 years, archaeologists and researchers have mapped exposed remains, examined the buried remains of the ship using remote-sensing instruments, and removed and preserved thousands of individual artifacts.

The ship has to be studied, recorded, photographs, and artifacts rescued by trained underwater archaeologists, who are dealing with an area 90 x 200 feet, some of which is submerged in the seabed. From the tremendous amount of data, the archaeologists can tell a lot about what the ship held and what life was like on board. So far, 21 cannon (with at least six more still on the wreck), navigational instruments, small arms, lead shot, grenades, the ship’s bell, a grapple hook, medical instruments, barrel loops and bottles, and gold coins and dust have been among the 16 000 artifacts extracted from the wreck.

When I was at university I did a research paper on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, exploring the possibility of using the archaeological record to determine the identification of a vessal used for pirarcy. While my research suggested this was probably impossible without historical data to back it up, I have continued to follow research on the QAR as it has come to light.

The archaeologists can generally only go down on the wreck for a few days or weeks in the Fall seasons, but the majority of work occurs in the lab, removing concretions from the artifacts, preserving, cataloguing and studying them. They might trace the sources of lead in objects, figure out the region where fibre or wood came from, analyse gunpowder residue … it’s all very CSI.

Dating the Wreck

The first task is to date the wreck. This is easily done by looking for datable artifacts. A bronze ship’s bell was one of the first clues that an early eighteenth century wreck had been found. It is inscribed with the Roman Catholic invocation “HIS [Iesus Hominum Salvator] MARIA. ANO DE 1709”. The word “Ano” suggests a Spanish or Portuguese origin. The bell is smaller than ship bells of a similar date, and suggests that it may have been a secondary watch bell. Cannon C-19 – a one-pounder cannon – bears a stamp on it’s left trunnion with [1]713. All of the datable artifacts recovered from the wreck (Plate 7) provide a mean date of 1704, and none post-date 1718, making the ship’s date consistent with the story of Blackbeard.

Identification

Most scientists believe the ship to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge – but this is not conclusive. The historical records show that there were some 200 shipwrecks in Beaufort Inlet, 8 of which could be candidates for the Intersal site, occurring in the same time period and being of a similar size and nature. The first indication that this ship was the Queen Anne’s Revenge is the fact that 21 cast-iron, muzzle loading cannon have been discovered on the site, and additional guns may be buried in surrounding sediments. The cannon are irregular in size, style, caliber and nationality – this ship was not a standard naval vessel.

Three anchors found are of a size used to hold a 100-foot vessel like Queen Anne’s Revenge. According to geologists, the majority of the ballast stones recovered are of Caribbean basalt and gabbro, which is where Blackbeard captured the slaver. Structural remains on the site appear to have been constructed in a French style. Biologists have identified the woods used for the hull planks, frames and sheathing as white oak and red pine groups, probably from Northern Europe. The majority of the artifacts are either English or French, which would be expected of a French vessel commandeered by English pirates.

All this evidence, however, is circumstantial. No object that has been found can identify the Queen Anne’s Revenge by name or nationality. Some artifacts bring questions as to the identification of this ship with the Queen Anne’s Revenge, such as the Spanish ship’s bell. It is dated to 1709, whereas La Concorde was built in 1710. It is not inscribed with the name or initials La Concorde or Queen Anne’s Revenge. It is uncommon for bells to be used on more than one ship, as each was made for a particular ship. However, there could be several explanations for this: The French ship La Concorde is believed to be part of a fleet which sacked Rio de Janeiro in 1711. In Early 1718, Blackbeard captured a Spanish sloop off the coast of Cuba. Either of these could be the source for the bell.

Pewter flatware is also not stamped with the ship’s name or initials, which was a common practice. Furthermore, there is a notable absence of trade goods. La Concorde was a French slaver, but no artifacts of the slave trade have been found. However, so far, only 2% of the site has been excavated, so it’s hard to say what still remains on the vessel. Most experts happily conclude this is the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Artillery and Arms

cannon-c2

Cannon C2 (a six-pounder)

The amount of cannon found is consistant with a sixth-rate French light warship – the main deck was the gun deck for the six-pounders, and Blackbeard would have 3-4 pounders on the quarterdeck. This was a ship designed for speed and maneuverability – in English waters, this was a lightly-armed vessal for coastal protection, but in the New World, she was quite formidable. Most of the cannon were loaded when the ship sank.

They’ve found iron shot and lead shot (used in smaller weapons or possibly for “grape”  – that’s when you pack a cannon with little grape-sized balls which tear men to pieces when they hit) along with bar shot and langrage (for destroying masts, rigging and sails), and hand grenades. According to contemporary sources, langrage was never used on royal ships – only by privateers or pirates.

grenades-queen-annes-revenge

Grenades found on the Queen Anne's Revenge

The hand grenades are cast-iron spheres filled with gunpowers, pierced for a wooden fuse. A grindstone showing considerable wear is the only evidence of edged weapons.

Booty and Pirate Life

gold dust

Gold dust

Archaeologists haven’t found a huge stash of plunder abroad (or, if they have, they’re holding out on us), but they have found coins of multiple nationalities and over 2000 flakes of gold dust. Contemporary records suggest the ship may have held vast quantities of gold dusk before she was sunk.

Thousands of clay pipe fragments tell us pirates quite like to smoke. Also, remnants of a musical pipe have been found, along with a couple of game pieces. There seems to be an unusual amount of fine items on board the ship – gold buttons, nice platters, cufflinks, etc.

crates

Archaeologists working on the wreck

Importance

Finding and documenting a pirate ship is particularly interesting to archaeologists as it allows us to ask the question – is a pirate ship “different” to a normal ship? How did pirates live? The Queen Anne’s Revenge tells us:

Pirate ships contained cannon from many different manufacturers and sources, suggesting they took cannon from the ships they pillaged to make up their arsenal. The ships were heavily armed and the crew carried a wide array of personal weaponry.

Cannon were loaded, suggesting the crew expected to meet foes

Distribution of personal effects on the wreck suggest life aboard the pirate ship was quite demographic – wealth wasn’t concentrated in one area.

The lack of trade goods may prove correct contemporary accounts that say Blackbeard didn’t take rich booty, but easily tradable commodities like tobacco and sugar.

Pirates acquired quality luxury goods for personal use, like buttons and pins. Apart from this, their life wasn’t much different from a merchant seaman’s.

They haven’t found any peg-legs or eye patches

Further Reading

Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project – official website.

X marks the spot: the Archaeology of Piracy. R. K. Skowronek and C. R. Ewen (Eds). Florida: University Press

Defoe, D. 1972. A General History of the Pyrates. M. Schonhorn (Ed). London: Dent

If the Queen Anne’s Revenge hadn’t sunk, she’d be:

– home to a pirate pub
– owned by an eccentric millionaire, like Bruce Dickenson
– the venue for 70 000 tons of metal

2 Comments on “Metal History: A real pirate ship – the Queen Anne’s Revenge

Mike Todd
October 26, 2011 at 8:18 am

I’m Really interested in this !

yvon haché
August 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm

that nice picture you have there. do you have more picture thank

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