Blackbeard’s Last Stand – Revealed

Thursday 30th July 8.00pm

The historical documentary series concludes. Blackbeard was the most notorious pirate of the 18th century. At the height of his power he commanded his own navy, with four ships and a 300-strong pirate crew. Archaeologists now believe they have uncovered the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Could their discovery shed new light on this elusive character?

One mile offshore from Beaufort, North Carolina, a team of marine archaeologists has made a staggering discovery. Ten metres below the ocean’s surface, the scientists have uncovered a wreck they believe could be the Queen Anne’s Revenge – the flagship of America’s most notorious pirate, Blackbeard. If the team can find evidence within the wreckage to support this theory, it could shed new light on the career of the infamous plunderer.

Blackbeard initially worked for the British government as a crew member on a privateer. When the French war ended he turned to piracy, becoming one of the most feared men of his day. Captain Johnson’s General History of Pirates recounts how Blackbeard adorned himself with smoking fuses to create a terrifying appearance. “I have no doubt that Blackbeard cultivated a fearsome reputation,” says marine archaeologist Lisa Briggs. “If you were sailing the high seas, your reputation preceding you was one of the only things you had.”

David Moore, Curator of Nautical Archaeology at North Carolina Maritime Museum, began his quest to find the Queen Anne’s Revenge after reading the trial testimonies of a number of captured pirates. On 10 June, 1718, Blackbeard attempted to sail the Revenge through the Beaufort Inlet, but the ship ran to ground on the sandbar. Abandoning a number of his crew on a nearby island, the disreputable buccaneer made off in a small boat. The marooned pirates later claimed Blackbeard destroyed the Revenge in order to escape with the ship’s loot. “We have to prove it’s Blackbeard’s flagship, that’s the first thing,” says David.

The team must first demonstrate that the vessel dates from the early 1700s. They start by mapping the position of the cannons and timber. Every piece is tagged with an evidence number and the position is recorded. The cannons are vital, as many bear the makers and the year they were cast. Lifting the cannons is extremely dangerous – if the cable snaps, the divers below could easily be crushed. But getting the cannons ashore is just the beginning. At the lab, centuries of marine growth must be painstakingly brushed away. “To know you’re the first person in 300 years who’s laid eyes on this artefact is truly special,” says marine conservator Wendy Walsh.

Results from the carbon dating of the wreck prove that the ship was constructed between 1690 and 1710, which places it in the right time period. The first cannon retrieved from the wreckage is also dated at 1713 – five years before the sinking of the Revenge. Crucially, the cannons appear to come from a number of different countries. “This is certainly suggestive of a vessel capturing a number of ships from various nations,” David affirms. The team also finds glass beads commonly used in the African slave trade and a brass cockerel – the symbol of France. The Revenge was originally a French slave ship called La Concord, so these findings go some way to proving its origin.

David is convinced they are looking at the wreck of the Revenge. He is also persuaded by the theory that Blackbeard sabotaged the vessel. The team discovers that the cannons in the centre of the ship were not loaded, suggesting they were used as ballast and were not moved to refloat the ship. Angus Konstam, author of Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate agrees that Blackbeard destroyed his own ship in order to make his getaway. “It was deep drafted. It couldn’t go and hide – Blackbeard had to get rid of it,” he asserts. Was the grounding an accident? Or did Blackbeard’s treachery extend to his own crew?

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