Monday, July 14, 2014

Blackbeard's revenge..............

Five big six pounders from t' wreck o' t' famed scurvy dog Blackbeard's ship off t' coast o' North Carolina be found.

She began her life in 1710 as the Concord, built in Bristol England as a slave ship for the Swymmer Brothers.  At that time, she was about 100 feet long, weighed 200 tons and had between fourteen to twenty cannons aboard.  In 1711, she was captured by the French and renamed Le Concorde de Nantes.  The fairly new pirate Blackbeard captured the ship off the coast of St Vincent in 1717 and renamed her the Queen Anne's Revenge.  Blackbeard doubled the cannons to forty and parted ways with Captain Hornigold, who he had been sailing with as one of his protegees.

Blackbeard encountered Captain David Herriot and his 80 ton trading sloop Adventure in the bay of Honduras sometime in March 1718 and persuaded him to travel north with the other ships.  Herriot did not know that Blackbeard had planned to shed himself of most of his ships and crew once they reached North Carolina.  He would strand the Queen Anne's Revenge in June 1718, on a sandbar in Topsail Inlet and use two other ships, the Adventure and Revenge to stage a rescue and stranding.  He then stripped the ships of their valuables, loaded it on a fourth ship now named Adventure.  That ship was an 8 gun sloop he had captured off Havana and he set off for Bath NC with about twenty of his loyal crewmen.

His interesting method of "corporate downsizing" meant that he had vastly increased the shares for those who remained.  The trip to Bath was meant for them to receive an official pardon from piracy and led to only a brief break from high seas action for Blackbeard. By the fall of 1718, Blackbeard was back to sea and plundering his way as far north as Philadelphia PA and on November 22 1718, he was run to ground in his favorite hangout in Ocracoke NC by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.  Blackbeard died that day along with some of his crew and the remaining 13 were hung in Williamsburg VA in March of 1719.

There is still debate with historians as to what Blackbeard's true name was but it is commonly accepted that he either was Edward Teach or Edward Thatch.  Robert E Lee's comprehensive book "Blackbeard The Pirate" gives a very well researched and in depth history of Blackbeard and his life.  Blackbeard may be seen as one of the most successful pirates on the sea by some but he really just an average pirate with a very short career on the seas.  His image though may be what so many people envision a pirate to be.

His ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge has been buried in history for some 300 years and now it has been found to be buried in the sands off the shore of Beaufort NC.  On November 21 1996, Intersal, a private shipwreck finding company had announced that they had discovered a wreck that they believed was Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge.  Mike Daniel is no stranger to finding historical shipwrecks.  In 1972, he helped discover the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas, a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of the Bahamas in 1656 while carrying a load of gems and gold.

Daniel is now working closely with the state-run Queen Anne's Revenge Conservancy Laboratory that is located in Greenville NC as underwater archaeologists work to recover all the artifacts they can from the site.  The wreck itself lies in only 25 feet of water and is located about a mile and a half from shore.  Since it's discovery, the excavation of the sire has moved slowly.  Part of this can be blamed on the weather and waters at the wreck site and the other cause is unfortunately..... funding.  As of this date though, over 280,000 artifacts have been recovered from the site of the wreck.

The Queen Anne's Revenge was said to have had 40 cannon on board that were designed to fire 6 pound balls.  They have recovered 20 of the cannons so far, the largest being a 3,000 pounder that is believed to have been made in Sweden.  The process of freeing the artifacts such as a cannon can take up to five years.  Various methods are used from chemical baths to air scribes.  They first try and identify what the object is through x rays before trying to clean it.

The artifacts that have been cleaned have been split between North Carolina's three maritime museums in Beaufort, Hatteras and Southport.  There have been no treasure chests but that had been expected.  Blackbeard was not known to have buried any treasure and the "accident" that grounded the Queen Anne's Revenge and the other two ships was planned so that he could remove anything of value before he abandoned them and the crew.  Historically though, they have recovered a treasure trove of artifacts that give us more of a glimpse into what pirate life and life at sea during those times entailed.

They have discovered more than just the traditional swords, cannonballs and cannon that we are used to seeing in pirate movies.  Researchers had found evidence of langrage, an 18th century type of bundled ammunition that was used to cause terror and numerous casualties.  The Royal Navy did not use theses canvas bags loaded with shrapnel at that time period, so it can be seen that the wreck was not a navy ship.  The bags were frequently loaded with chunks of lead, glass, nails and spikes and then shot from the cannons to spread the damage widely across the opponents ship.  They also found 9 inch bolts that would be loaded into a cannon after the ball so both projectiles would be shot out at the same time.  Lastly, another decidedly non navy weapon was a pairing of cannonballs that were tird together either by a metal bar or chain.  When fired from a cannon, these weapons would spin in the air and were very good at damaging an opponents rigging.  researchers working on the wreck artifacts have found that the ship was heavily armed but wasn't using large amounts of traditional cannonballs in comparison to the modified weaponry they had on board.

What about the traditional pirate flag?  Well there wasn't really one in existence.  The Jolly Roger was believed to get it's name from the early "joli rouge," the early red flag that privateers of the day would fly to alert their opponents to their intentions.  It wasn't until the early 1700's that the black backed Jolly Roger appeared and even those were customized by their owners.  They featured skeletons, bleeding hearts, cutlasses and daggers in various combinations as well as occasionally having white or red backgrounds.  It is believed that this was an early method of identifying who the ships belonged to much as ships fly the flag of their country from the mast.

The symbols on Blackbeard's flag state a lot about the pirate. His flag features a horned skeleton that is holding an hourglass in one hand and a spear in the other.  The hourglass was to warn others that their time was running out and the spear usually implied that others would suffer a violent death.  The heart that is bleeding usually meant a long, drawn out and tortured death at the pirates hands.  It is easy to see how his appearance and the flag flying would encourage other captains to flee quickly or dread being taken.

There is plenty of information about pirates that we think that we know but most of it we have learned from the movies.  Much of it is false......... thanks to the movies.  Pirates did not all speak "pirate talk" which though it is pretty cool to listen to, is difficult to be true since pirates came from many countries and walks of life.  Much of the popular look and sound for pirates comes from the 1950's Disney movie that adapted "Treasure Island" to film.  The eye patch along with hooks for hands and peg legs would almost make you believe that pirates lost a lot of body parts, more so than the average person in those days.  In reality, it is believed that if a pirate wore an eye patch, it was only to gain an advantage when attacking another ship.  The eye that was covered would be used to the dark and the pirate could easily cover the eye used to light when fighting below decks.

The movies also would have us believe that being a pirate was all about stealing booty, stealing, fighting and getting really drunk a lot.  The people who became pirates must have chosen that kind of life over a more sedate one ashore.  That is far from the truth.  Some became privateers and were later caught on the wrong side of politics.  Others left very terrible jobs to go to sea and the majority were "pressed" into service on a ship, often by the Royal Navy.  One minute you might be heading home after a few pints with friends and the next, you were at sea.  Being a pirate did have it's advantages though........ it probably was one of the first actual democracies out there.  The captain may have started out by "owning" the ship but whether he stayed the captain depended largely on the crew.  Many of the top jobs aboard a pirate ship were put to a vote and everyone had a set cut of the accumulated wealth from plundering.

 Pirates did not bury their treasure historically and there are no treasure maps lying around to find it either.  They didn't even sail the seas seeking gold and gems to plunder.  More often they grabbed what they could when they captured a ship and that could include clothes, food, gunpowder, bolts of clothe, candles, items needed to repair the ship or anything that looked like they could keep or sell for a decent price.  If they did find gold or silver, they managed to spend it all very quickly when they came ashore in one of the ports friendly to pirates.

It is expected that the artifact search will be complete by sometime in 2014 but scuba divers can dive the wreck in a very limited capacity.  The dive is not a deep dive but the visibility is poor and the currents rough.  Diving so far has been restricted to between 36-40 divers a year because of the ongoing research and recovery being done on the site. There has been no absolute proof that the wreck found is the Queen Anne's Revenge but there is no other ship known to have gone down in that area that fits the artifacts that keep coming up from below

Maybe the Queen Anne's Revenge was a very apt name............. she is finally baring Blackbeard's secrets to the world.


Joan Denman said...

Great blog article with fantastic photos, plus citations and links. Well Done!

Val said...

Thank you. I am very glad that you enjoyed it.

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