For almost 300 years, the ship captained by the notorious pirate Blackbeard laid undisturbed in about 25 feet of water just off the North Carolina coast in Beaufort Inlet.
Historians knew that the Queen Anne’s Revenge sank in 1718 just off the coast of what is now North Carolina’s Fort Macon State Park. However, the exact location remained a mystery until 1996.
The wreck of the three-masted, 100-foot-long ship, which was probably concealed by shifting sand for centuries, was discovered by a group of private treasure hunters who were looking for Spanish treasure ships.
Retired Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project director Mark Wilde-Ramsing told about 75 people at the monthly History for Lunch program at Museum of the Albemarle last week that the state joined the recovery process in 1996 and that effort continues today.
Wilde-Ramsing, who is the former N.C. deputy state underwater archaeologist, headed up the Queen Anne’s Revenge recovery efforts for 16 years before retiring in 2012. He says that only 60 percent of the recovery effort has been completed. Wilde-Ramsing and Linda Carnes-McNaughton co-authored the book “Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: The 300-Year Voyage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge,” which chronicles the recovery effort.
“My hope when I retired was that everything would be up by 2018,” Wilde-Ramsing said.
Several hundred artifacts, including 29 cannon, have been recovered — the first cannon recovered from the vessel is on display at Museum of the Albemarle. Other artifacts are on display at several other museums across the state.
While none of the recovered booty includes hordes of gold or other valuable items, more than 9,000 specks of gold have been recovered. Wilde-Ramsing said that the “gold dust” amounts to about an ounce.
“It (gold) was probably just stuff that was spilled around,” Wilde-Ramsing said.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge was originally a French privateer and then the slave ship Concorde before Blackbeard captured the vessel of the coast of Martinique in 1717. Blackbeard renamed the ship, doubled its number of cannons and used the vessel as his flagship for his flotilla of ships. The squadron then raided merchant ships between the Caribbean and the North Carolina coast.
But in June 1718, and with British forces closing in, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground near Beaufort. But before the ship sank, Blackbeard and his band of pirates were able to offload all of its plunder. Blackbeard was captured and then executed by the British several months after the ship sank.
“They had time to get off so there probably would not be a lot of precious coins and precious metals,” Wilde-Ramsing said.
But everything else that went down with the ship remained hidden for centuries.
Other than the cannons, which were probably too heavy for the pirates to offload, many of the artifacts recovered are everyday items such as French plates, German jugs, Italian storage containers and a Chinese teapot lid.
“That shows the globalization of that time,” Wilde-Ramsing said.
One of the first items recovered from the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge was thought to be a cargo hook. But it turned out to be part of an ankle shackle that would have been attached to a slave from when the vessel was used as a slave ship.
“It sat in the lab for years in freshwater,” Wilde-Ramsing said. “It was two materials, metal and hemp rope. Then we saw a National Geographic article on a slave ship and we realized what it was.”
Other interesting items raised from the wreck are the toilet liner from Blackbeard’s cabin, fishing net weights, a syringe, pig bones and wine bottles. The recovery effort began at the stern of the boat and is moving forward toward the bow, which is an area were crewmembers slept.
“The final analysis is that pigs were running around on deck,” Wilde-Ramsing said. “We are learning some of the habits of pirates. They left a lot of stuff behind.”
Wilde-Ramsing said recovering artifacts from the seafloor is time consuming and that only 10 percent of the recovery effort is done under the waves. The rest of the effort is focused on preserving artifacts that have sat in salt water for almost 300 years.
“We didn’t want to bring everything up until we had the ability to do that (preserving artifacts),” Wilde-Ramsing said. “They (treasure hunters) want to go fast while archaeologists, we want to go slow. We want to make sure we have conservation labs. But a lot of it has gone through.”
Wilde-Ramsing is hoping that one day all of the Queen Anne’s Revenge’s artifacts can be viewed under one roof in Beaufort.
“They have a big part of a museum that is already dedicated to it,” Wilde-Ramsing said.