Blackbeard and his Infamous Pirate Ship, Queen Anne's Revenge
“So our Heroe, Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful Meteor, covered his whole Face, and frightened America more than any Comet that has appeared there a long Time.”
History records Blackbeard as one of the most notorious pirates; but his early years weren’t as infamous or inglorious. Edward Teach, the man who would later become the pirate known as Blackbeard, had a relatively normal childhood. His criminal lifestyle aboard his ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which brought him fame later in life, wasn’t fueled by exposure to a sketchy upbringing.
Edward Teach Becomes Blackbeard
Edward was born to a well-educated, aristocratic family who were able to read and write, a skill afforded very few in his lifetime. Edward was an equally educated youth who spent most of his childhood enthralled by tales about privateering and new world explorations.
Before Edward became a pirate, he was a privateer in Queen Anne’s war which lasted from 1702 to 1713. This war was one of several wars fought between Britain and France for control of the North American continent. Both sides brutally raided one another for land and booty during the war and it is likely that during this conflict Edward became fascinated with the idea of seizing goods to amass his own personal fortune.
"Capt. Teach alias Black-Beard" colored print, engraved on copper, Oliver Payne 1736 (Public Domain)
After this war was over, Edward returned to civilian life - which wasn’t easy or adventurous by any stretch of the imagination. For a boy who spent most of his youth fantasizing about the life of a buccaneer, he wanted more out of this privateering experience. He would get his wish in 1716 when he met a man by the name of Captain Benjamin Hornigold. Edward became Hornigold’s protégé, learned the skill of piracy from him, and took on the name Captain Blackbeard.
La Concorde becomes the Queen Anne’s Revenge– A Slave Ship to a Pirate Ship
Blackbeard was very educable due to his aristocratic upbringing, so it didn’t take long for him to absorb all of the knowledge that Hornigold imparted to him and become acclimated to life as a pirate. Blackbeard seized his first ship Betty in September of 1717 and nearly a month later he seized the ships Robert and Good Intent. Toward the end of the same year, Blackbeard set his sights on a French slave ship by the name of La Concorde.
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Queen Anne’s Revenge and another ship. (Tides of War)
Blackbeard wasn’t interested in the human cargo onboard the vessel, however. He was much more interested in the vessel itself because slave ships were much faster and more reliable than most ships on the high seas. This was because the cargo it carried was much more “perishable” and therefore needed to be transported as quickly as possible from one continent to the other. Also, these ships were usually well armed because the human cargo was so valuable and needed to be well-protected in order to be delivered intact in order to be profitable.
Blackbeard believed that such a formidable vessel as La Concorde would give him the ferocity needed to rule the maritime world. Indeed, it did make him a force to be reckoned with, but to make the ship even more ferocious, he tricked it out with many more cannons, created more deck space, and named it Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Blackbeard in Smoke and Flame Frank E. Schoonover (1877–1972). (Public Domain)
Blackbeard’s Beloved Ship – Queen Anne’s Revenge
Blackbeard’s ship was his prized possession. He used Queen Anne’s Revenge to pillage other boats throughout the Caribbean. On one of his many voyages, he met Captain Stede Bonnet, who would become his partner in crime.
Together, these two men along with a crew of nearly 300 other pirates terrorized the Atlantic coast - seizing food, supplies, weapons, and anything of value that they could steal. One such attack involved the seizure of passenger ship Crowley, in which Blackbeard demanded a ransom of medical supplies in exchange for the passengers. Once he achieved this feat, he continued to sail the Atlantic, seeking more opportunities to seize goods.
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Illustration of Queen Anne's Revenge published in 1736. (Public Domain)
Queen Anne’s Revenge and all its glory was short-lived. A few months after it was seized, the ship was grounded in what is today known as Beaufort Inlet. It is believed that this wasn’t an accident, either. David Herriot, eyewitness and former captain of another ship which was also grounded, Adventure, believed that Blackbeard may have intentionally grounded the ship in order to do what he was notorious for – marooning fellow shipmates.
Soon after the ship was grounded, Blackbeard met his demise at the hands of Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard. The lieutenant ambushed Blackbeard and his crew, shooting Blackbeard five times and stabbing him nearly 20 times. He returned to Virginia to deliver the captured pirates and Blackbeard’s severed head to Governor Alexander Spotswood.
Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718 depicting the battle between Blackbeard the Pirate and Lieutenant Maynard in Ocracoke Bay (Jean Leon Gerome Ferris). (Public Domain)
The Pirate’s Ship Found
On November 21, 1996, a cluster of cannon and anchors was found on a sandbar in Beaufort Inlet by a search team from the private research firm Intersal, Inc. This is in the area that ‘Blackbeard’ Edward Teach is thought to have run the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground in 1718. After grounding her, the crew, supplies, and presumably some bounty were transferred to smaller vessels.
Illustration of the loss of Queen Anne's Revenge. (NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)
Since the initial find, tens of thousands of artifacts have been retrieved from the underwater site, although this number is probably somewhat inflated by large quantities of shot that have been found. Some of the finds were from the 18th century and include cannon tubes, a bronze bell dated 1705, a sounding weight, an English blunderbuss barrel, and two large anchors. All of these enabled a dating of the wreck.
Although no absolute proof has been found, since the Queen Anne’s Revenge is the only large battleship known to have been lost in that area it is generally accepted that this wreck is of the famous pirate ship.
Other items found in the wreck tally with the history of Queen Anne’s Revenge. A fair amount of medical equipment has been found, and this ties in with the blockade on Charles Town, South Carolina by Blackbeard and the other pirates. During this blockade, they are known to have held passengers, including several prominent citizens, to ransom (on the Crowley) in return for medical supplies. This was shortly prior to the grounding at Beaufort Inlet. Thus, the artifacts found here match the history and reinforce the claim for this being the site of Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Other artifacts that have been found include a gilded sword hilt, which could possibly be attributed to the sword of Blackbeard, and a leather horn which could at one time have been held to the lips of the infamous pirate. The speculation surrounding such items is rife.
Beached Queen Anne’s Revenge. Painting. (Tides of War)
Recently, a legal case has emerged surrounding the footage and photographic documentation of the Queen Anne’s Revenge salvage project by filmmaker Frederick Allen and his firm Nautilus Productions. According to Reuters, “Allen and Nautilus sued North Carolina in federal court after state officials used some of the documentary materials on YouTube and a state agency website. The state also passed a law converting the materials into public records.” The case will be heard in October.
Queen Anne’s Revenge and a Dead Man’s Chest
Although Blackbeard’s ship and his life of piracy was short-lived, the tales of his life and his afterlife continue to be told. A legend that survives to this day is that Blackbeard’s ghost still haunts the shores of North Carolina on Ocracoke Island near Teach’s Hole. Some believe that Blackbeard’s ghost body swims in the ocean near the shore searching for its head.
And others believe that they can hear Blackbeard’s voice during storms. Perhaps, in the same way that Blackbeard marooned his crew as punishment for their mutiny and desertion, his ghost is marooned along the shores of Virginia and North Carolina on his own dead man’s chest – the wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Top Image: Pirate ship on the open sea at sunset. Representative image of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Sources: rangizzz / Adobe Stock
By ML Childs
Roberts, N. Blackbeard and Other Pirates of the Atlantic Coast. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1993.
Johnson, Captain Charles, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates (Second ed.), Paternoster Row, London: T Warner, 1724
Smithsonian Channel, The Scariest Ship to Ever Sail the Seven Seas, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7IFTF0pSD4