By Author and WRA Volunteer- Lorraine Norwood
Landlubbers take heed – the most feared pirate of the Caribbean was not Johnny Depp. It was Blackbeard, North Carolina’s own bad boy, who robbed, pillaged, and plundered and came to a bad end in 1718. And now Blackbeard and his flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), are setting sail for the Western Regional Office of the Department of Cultural Resources. The interactive traveling exhibit features a salt-water tank, gold flakes, lead shot, ballast stones, a six-pound cannon ball, a pipe stem, pewter dinner plate, and more, all found on excavations of the QAR.
Although the Western Office is pretty far from the ocean, folks here are getting in the spirit – we’re gathering eye patches, swords, and practicing our pirate-speak. Arghhhh, me mateys!
Blackbeard, an Englishman thought to be named Edward Teach, exploited his cult of personality and in a few short years forever linked his name to the Golden Age of Piracy. Around 1714, he hit the high seas in search of treasure, sailing out of the Bahamas and Jamaica, capturing and looting large merchant vessels. In 1717, he captured a large French ship and converted her to his uses, equipping her with 40 guns, and a crew of 300 pirates. He renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge.
To add to his fearsome reputation, he created an outlandish costume designed to scare the heebie-jeebies out of merchant sailors. He braided his bushy black hair and beard into pigtails which he tied with colorful ribbons. Before he attacked his prey, he tucked fuses under the brim of his hat so that his head appeared to be smoking. To further intimidate, he brandished a couple of pistols and an oversized cutlass in a sling across his chest. Often when confronted with the scary sight of Blackbeard and the Queen Anne’s Revenge, many merchant ships surrendered without a fight.
But like a lot of big-name stars, Teach may have gotten too big for his britches. Near the end of May 1718, Teach and his flotilla blockaded Charleston, SC, the busiest port of the southern colonies, and looted all vessels going in or out. Afterwards, they sailed northward into Old Topsail Inlet near Beaufort, North Carolina. The QAR and the sloop Adventure ran aground on a sandbar and were abandoned. Blackbeard headed north to the town of Bath on the Pamlico River where he put away his fearsome fuses and cutlass, received a pardon from the governor, and married for the 14th (!) time. But like most bad boys, he couldn’t stay good for long.
Six months later, he took to the seas again, plundering ships coming through Ocracoke Inlet. There he encountered an armed contingent sent by the governor of the Colony of Virginia. In a desperate battle aboard Lieutenant Robert Maynard’s sloop, Blackbeard and a number of his fellow pirates were killed. Maynard hung Blackbeard’s severed head from the bowsprit to prove that the infamous pirate could plunder no more.
Blackbeard passed into legend, as did the whereabouts of his flagship, supposedly lost on a sandbar in North Carolina’s infamously tricky waters. Several historical sources and local lore put the shipwreck of the QAR squarely in what is now called Beaufort Inlet, but many professionals disagreed. The controversy was put to rest in 1996 when a private research firm searching the seabed near the inlet found diagnostic 18th century artifacts, including a bronze bell dated 1705, an English blunderbuss barrel, and a cluster of cannon and anchors. The state’s underwater archaeology branch dived on the site in 1997. In further dives, archaeologists mapped the site and raised hundreds of artifacts, including 13 cannon, cannon balls, and a 12-foot long anchor. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
A permanent exhibit of the Queen Anne’s Revenge is on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, the official repository for artifacts from the QAR. The museum is located at 315 Front Street in Beaufort.
The Maritime Museum is sending the traveling exhibit to several locations in the state, the first being the Western Regional Office in Asheville. The exhibit opened June 1 and runs through July 13, 2013. Regular hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Western Regional Office is located at 176 Riceville Road, Asheville, NC. For more information on the exhibit or 2nd Saturday programs, call 828-296-7230.
If you come to visit, we promise our pirates will be nice. In fact, we won’t even make you walk the plank!