Did Blackbeard’s Pirate Legacy End With ‘Leaks' Rather Than Mistakes?
Sitting on a throne during the Golden Age of Pirates, Blackbeard, or Edward Teach (1680-1718), was an English pirate who famously terrorized the West Indies and the eastern coast of Britain's North American colonies. However, this oceanic-criminal’s legacy came to an end after he ran aground off the North Carolina coast. The circumstances surrounding Blackbeard’s demise have always been misty, but an archaeologist has found new evidence of leaks in the ship’s hull which suggests the pirate may have run the ship aground deliberately.
The only contemporary image of Blackbeard, from Captain Charles Johnson’s “A General History of the Pyrates”, engraved by Benjamin Cole. (Public domain)
The Pirate’s Violent Theft of His Own Death Ship
Historical documents detail how Blackbeard had captured a French slave ship that had originally been called La Concorde and he renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge (QAR). According to Rick Lawrence and Mark Wilde-Ramsing’s article In Search of Blackbeard: Historical and Archeological Research at Shipwreck Site 003BUI, the 200-ton La Concorde left Nantes on March 24, 1717, armed with sixteen cannons and a seventy-five-man crew and on July 8 La Concorde arrived at the port of Judas, or Whydah, in present-day Benin.
After taking on a cargo of “516 captive African slaves and twenty pounds of gold dust” equipped with a crew of over three hundred men and forty canons, in November 1717, only 100 miles from Martinique, the French ship encountered Blackbeard. The exhausted French crew were powerless to resist.
After eight further weeks, when Blackbeard reached the New World in his new ship, sixty-one slaves and sixteen crewmen had perished under extremely poor living conditions.
Blackbeard used his image to terrify people into giving up in order to avoid fighting, and so created a fearsome pirate persona which made him infamous. (Public domain)
Discovery of Queen Anne’s Revenge
In 1718, Blackbeard master-minded a coming together of sea gangsters and formed a pirate alliance, before blockading the port of Charles Town, South Carolina, and ransoming the port's inhabitants. However, the Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground on a sandbar in the Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina.
Now, a maritime archaeologist at East Carolina University, Jeremy Borrelli, has published a paper in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology presenting his interpretation of the 300-year-old Queen Anne ’s Revenge shipwreck, in which he claims that a “major leak” may have forced the pirate to run aground.
The QAR's shipwreck was discovered by marine archaeologists in 1996 and an article by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources explains how archaeologists have since found at least two-dozen cannons at the site. According to History.com, identifying QAR took “a great a deal of work” by archaeologists and historians, until they finally determined that the wreck discovered in Beaufort Inlet was actually the remains of Blackbeard's flagship.
Model of the Queen Anne’s Revenge on display at the North Carolina Museum of History. (Qualiesin / CC BY-SA 4.0)
New Finds Suggest Blackbeard’s Beaching Wasn’t Pilot Error
Marine Archaeologist Jeremy Borrelli, who recently studied the ship’s hull, discovered patches of “lead sheathing,” which he says was a material commonly used for patch-up jobs. This, Borrelli believes, indicates the grounding of QAR was perhaps a “premeditated move by Blackbeard to rid himself of a ship that he felt was no longer serviceable.”
An article in News Observer says historic documents indicate the QAR had many leaks by the time Blackbeard took it over. “After it was captured, Blackbeard kept the pilot, two carpenters and the caulker from the French crew,” Borrelli said. And the reason the pirate kept these specific men is because each of them would have had a “good working knowledge of the ship ’s condition.”
- Blackbeard and his Infamous Pirate Ship, Queen Anne's Revenge
- Exposing the Real Treasure of the Infamous Pirate Blackbeard
- Paper Fragment on Shipwreck Reveals Blackbeard’s Crew Enjoyed Reading Pirate Stories
Blackbeard and His Return to Davie Jones’s Locker
Knowing Blackbeard and his men were moored off North Carolina ’s Ocracoke Island, British naval Lieutenant Robert Maynard departed Williamsburg on Nov. 17, 1718, and sailed down the James River, where, according to Time, the death of Blackbeard is one of the “most famous events in the history of piracy.” A contemporary account in the Boston News-Letter offers a colorful description of Blackbeard ’s final moments:
“One of Maynard’s men being a [Scottish] highlander engaged Teach with his broad sword, who gave Teach a cut on the neck, Teach saying, well done lad, the highlander replied, if it be not well done, I’ll do it better, [and] with that he gave him a second stroke, which cut off his head, laying it flat on his shoulder.”
While Blackbeard has a fearsome reputation, historians argue that he in fact avoided fighting and rather used his image to create terror in his rivals. This depiction of Blackbeard and his crew boarding a ship by Frank E. Schoonover was used on the cover of the popular 1922 book “Blackbeard, Buccaneer”. (Public domain)
Many historians regard the accuracy of this account as highly questionable. It does however leave the reader with a vivid mental impression of Blackbeard ’s headless body being pitched into the murky waters of the Pamlico Sound, where legend has it that it floated several times around the Jane, one of the ships dispatched under Maynard’s command, before sinking down to Davie Jones’s Locker, the bottom of the sea where many believe the pirate’s soul had come from in the first place.
Top image: Queen Anne’s Revenge beached. Source: Tides of War
By Ashley Cowie