Exposing the Real Treasure of the Infamous Pirate Blackbeard
Edward Teach / Tache / Thatch, better known as Blackbeard, is arguably one of the world’s most notorious pirates. Like most other pirate tales, the story of Blackbeard also involves a treasure that is buried somewhere. It has been pointed out, however, that this is a myth, made famous thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. For archaeologists, Blackbeard’s ‘treasure’ was found in 1996, when the remains of a vessel believed to have been Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered in the North Carolina Shallows.
Blackbeard’s Early Days as a Pirate
Blackbeard was born around 1680 in the city of Bristol, England. Little is known about his early life prior to his involvement in piracy. It has been suggested that Blackbeard served as a privateer for England during Queen Anne’s War (1702 – 1713).
This war was fought in North America between England (Great Britain after 1707) and France (and their Spanish allies) for the control of the continent. A book on the lives of notorious pirates which was written by an anonymous author in the 1920s claimed that during the war, Blackbeard, as a privateer “had often distinguished himself for his boldness. He was never thought fit to be entrusted with any Command.”
Blackbeard (c. 1736 engraving used to illustrate Johnson's General History). (Public Domain)
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This source also mentioned that it was 3 years after the war that Blackbeard joined the crew of Benjamin Horningold, a notorious pirate in his own right. One modern researcher, however, has reported that the earliest piece of primary source document he found that mentioned the pirate by name dates to the summer of 1717.
Horningold saw potential in Blackbeard, and gave him the command of a sloop he had captured. In the autumn of 1717, Horningold and his pirates were in the eastern Caribbean. It was here, off the island of Martinique, that a French slave ship called La Concorde was captured by them.
Capturing La Concorde – A Slave Ship From France
This ship was owned by a prominent French merchant by the name of René Montaudouin, and operated from Nantes, a city located at the mouth of the Loire River. According to modern research, this vessel had made three slave trading expeditions, the first in 1713, the second in 1715, and the third in 1717.
Typically, such expeditions would leave Nantes in the spring for the coastal areas of West Africa. These ships would have arrived loaded with goods, which were then traded for slaves. With its new cargo, the ships would sail to the New World, where the slaves would usually be sold in the islands in the Caribbean that were controlled by the French. The ships would then return to France with new cargo, normally sugar, which was obtained from the sugar cane fields where the slaves worked as laborers.
In 1717, La Concorde did not make the journey back to Nantes. Instead, it became the flagship of Blackbeard, and was renamed as Queen Anne’s Revenge. After its capture by the pirates, the slave ship was taken to the island of Bequia in the Grenadines, where the French crew and its cargo of slaves were put ashore.
Some of the crew voluntarily joined the pirates, whilst others were forced into the trade. In ‘exchange’ for La Concorde, the pirates left the remaining French crew with one of their sloops. The French (perhaps as a demonstration of their sense of humor) named their new vessel Mauvaise Rencontre (meaning ‘Bad Encounter’). Interestingly, the Frenchmen succeeded in transporting the remaining slaves from Bequia to Martinique in two trips.
Illustration of Queen Anne's Revenge. (Public Domain)
Life on the Queen Anne’s Revenge
As for Blackbeard and his crew, they began capturing other ships in the Caribbean with Queen Anne’s Revenge. In addition to a new name, the ship was given additional cannons, which increased its fire power. One source claimed that 46 guns were mounted onto the ship.
In 1718, Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground off the coast of North Carolina. Some have suggested that this was merely an accident, whilst others believe that this was done deliberately by Blackbeard as he wanted a break from piracy.
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As for his flagship, it remained where it was for almost 300 years before it was rediscovered in 1996 by a private research firm called Intersal Inc. A number of artifacts have since been retrieved from the wreckage, including “a roughly cast Spanish bronze bell, a pewter charger big enough to serve a suckling pig, an English blunderbuss barrel, even a French urethral syringe for the treatment of syphilis.”
It has been pointed out by some that such objects were common on merchant ships of that period, and thus does not prove that the wreckage found was the Queen Anne’s Revenge. The huge amount of lead shot retrieved, as well as the identification of at least 25 cannons, however, suggest that this is Blackbeard’s flagship, or at least another pirate ship.
Edward Teach's severed head hangs from Maynard's bowsprit, as pictured in Charles Elles's ‘The Pirates Own Book.’ (1837) (Public Domain)
Featured image: A painting entitled ‘Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718’. Photo source: Public Domain
Anon., 1922. The Lives and Adventures of Sundry Notorious Pirates. [Online]
Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/24439/24439-h/24439-h.htm#
Bourne, J. K. Jr., 2006. Blackbeard's Shipwreck. [Online]
Available at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/07/blackbeard-shipwreck/bourne-text
Jerreat, J., 2013. More treasure found on Blackbeard's ship as divers salvage five cannons from wreck once captained by notorious pirate. [Online]
Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2479204/More-treasure-Blackbeards-ship-divers-salvage-cannon-wreck-captained-notorious-pirate.html
Minster, C., 2015. Blackbeard: Truth, Legends, Fiction and Myth. [Online]
Available at: http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/Pirates/p/Blackbeard-Truth-Legends-Fiction-And-Myth.htm
Minster, C., 2016. Biography of Edward "Blackbeard" Teach. [Online]
Available at: http://latinamericanhistory.about.com/od/historyofthecaribbean/a/Biography-Of-Edward-Blackbeard-Teach.htm
North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, 2015. Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge 1718. [Online]
Available at: http://www.qaronline.org/
Tucker, A., 2011. Did Archaeologists Uncover Blackbeard's Treasure?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/did-archaeologists-uncover-blackbeards-treasure-215890/?all&no-ist