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The Wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge
01 On November 23, 1996, a team of marine archaeologists worked with an air of finality. For the Maritime Research Institute, this was the last day of operations. The team knew that each dive brought them closer to the end of their fruitless search. Their quest was to find the shipwrecked hull of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, one of the most infamous vessels to sail the Atlantic during the 1700s. The ship had gained its bad reputation through the plundering deeds of its last captain—none other than the ill-famed pirate known as Blackbeard.
2 The quest for the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge had actually begun on land about ten years earlier. A man named Phil Masters was searching the London Archives, which is a collection of historical records and documents. He was intrigued by one document that gave an eyewitness account of the loss of the pirate ship. This prompted him to apply for a permit to explore a six-mile stretch of coast around North Carolina’s Beaufort Inlet. It was here that the Queen Anne’s Revenge had reportedly run aground.
03 This was not the first vessel believed to be lying under the waters of this coastal sector. In fact, this area is called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because it is believed to house the remains of hundreds of ships. But Masters knew that finding the oldest, largest, and most heavily-armed ship of its kind would be a significant achievement.
04 One of the divers on this fateful day was Will Kirkman. Making a routine, twenty-foot dive off a sandbar on the North Carolina coast, Kirkman stopped in mid-swim. Suddenly, he found himself among a mass of hulking, barnacle-encrusted objects with a familiar shape of cannons. The Queen Anne’s Revenge was outfitted with cannons. In fact the ship had forty of them! Kirkman was sure he had discovered the object of his search. The excavation could begin.
5 Kirkman and his fellow divers were familiar with the legendary Captain Blackbeard. They had also known the ship’s well-traveled history before the pirates came onto the scene. One hundred feet long with three towering masts, the ship was first named the Concord. In 1711, during Queen Anne’s War, the French captured it from the English and renamed it La Concorde. France used it as a merchant ship to transport goods for a brief period and then sold her to Spain. Later, the French got her back again to use as a slave ship. However, La Concorde made just one trip to West Africa in 1717 before Blackbeard captured it. He ran a black flag up its mast and renamed it the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
06 The pirate commanded her for only seven months. During this time he reportedly captured at least 18 other ships, stealing their cargo. In one famous incident, Blackbeard led a week-long blockade of the port of Charleston, South Carolina. The pirates apprehended and looted any ship that tried to pass. As a result of these escapades, Blackbeard supposedly had been carrying a large cache of gold and silver aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge when the ship was abandoned at Beaufort Inlet.
07 Despite this fact, the divers were not expecting to find any sunken treasure. They knew that Blackbeard and his crew had probably taken all of the ship’s valuables when they left the ship. What they have uncovered is most of the ship’s wooden hull. Also, they have discovered many artifacts including the ship’s bell (made in 1709), a blunderbuss, pewter plates, parts of a brass scientific instrument, and eighteen of its legendary forty cannons.
08 What the archaeologists want most from the Queen Anne’s Revenge is much more important than material objects. By studying her remains, many questions may be answered about the activities of Blackbeard and the society of his day. The scientists also hope that the ship itself will provide clues about ship construction and naval architecture. Finally, they hope a study of the ship and its contents will help them gain insight into the African slave trade.
09 Blackbeard abandoned the Queen Anne’s Revenge as part of an escape plan. In doing so, he left behind a “time capsule” that may give modern science the keys to unlock some 300-year-old mysteries.
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