American History · biography · history

Ever Wonder what was on a Pirates Reading List? The Story of Blackbeard, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and new Archaeological Evidence

I always like to keep up on new archaeological information because amazing stories from history are found almost every day. Recently, preserved scraps of paper (about the size of a quarter) were found in the excavation of the shipwreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge. This is a very famous ship as it was the flagship of Blackbeard’s feared pirate fleet. But what is so important about these little pieces of paper?

Amazingly, the type is still legible though these scraps have been sitting in a shipwreck for 300 years. I would love to know more about how these items were preserved so well because paper and books are often the first to go after being submerged in water. From these small scraps of paper historians were able to match them to exactly what book they belonged to. This provides more insight on what pirates were reading (who knew they had their own personal reading lists!) and that, in fact, more seaman were literate than previously believed. This would make sense because these men would have to know how to read navigation charts and write logs. Blackbeard himself kept a journal (unfortunately now lost) and often books were part of the plunder when taking over a ship.

So what book were these artifacts from? Historians discovered they were from Captain Edward Cooke’s 1712 book, A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711. These described Cooke’s experiences and adventures on his various expeditions. I personally wonder what this book would mean to Blackbeard and his crew. Were they reading it for pleasure, to learn tactics, or did they want emulate Captain Edward Cooke?

Other amazing artifacts have been found on the wreck site of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project site contains a lot of information on what has been found and how to visit the site; I would check it out if you want to learn more. The ships bell and 12 foot anchor have been found, an ornate sword, a pocket watch, and now evidence of books have been recovered on this excavation along with many other artifacts. The wreck was discovered in 1996 off the coast of North Carolina. A search team with a private research firm discovered the wreck and, as of 2012, 13 cannons have been raised.

Before becoming the Queen Anne’s Revenge, this ship was a French slave ship and went by the name La Concorde. It was about 200-250 tons and was able to hold about 40 cannons. On November 28, 1717 it was captured by Blackbeard and his company where it was then renamed and was made to be the flagship of his fleet. Apparently, slave ships were sought after pirate ships. Mark Daniel, president of the Maritime Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida was quoted in the Smithsonian magazine stating, “Slavers had all the right elements: They were large, extremely fast and could carry a lot of armament. They could be easily converted to a large, totally open, flush deck that could house many people and allow them to easily move around during a boarding action.”

When captured, the ship was carrying 455 slaves (those that had survived the sickness that plagued the ship). What I found interesting is that Blackbeard actually had as many as 70 former slaves who were serving in his crew. From the 455 that remained on the La Concorde, only 61 were returned to Captain Dosset (the former captain of the slaver). This was actually, it seems, fairly common. Pirate vessels were one of the few places slaves could free themselves. They would be free men serving as part of these crews. The pirate captains knew that the former slaves would be loyal to them to escape a life on the plantation. It is known that Blackbeard had many black men serving as part of his inner circle on his fleet.

Queen Anne’s Revenge

But how did this great flagship end up being found as a wreck 300 years later?

Blackbeard was also known as Edward Thatch. Not much is known of Edward’s early history until his story ended up in Nassau (future capital of the Bahamas). This was a well-defended port that the British had lost during the War of Spanish Succession. It became a safe haven for piracy with its own black market economy. It was a place that privateers could bring their loot for safety and it opened to an important seaway (Florida Straits). Most pirates here were former merchants or former naval soldiers.

Blackbeard began by working for the privateer Benjamin Hornigold and by 1716 Blackbeard was Hornigold’s lieutenant, which gave him the opportunity to command his own ship. In October 1717, Blackbeard had split from Hornigold’s crew and led his own reign of terror upon Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia, and New York Harbor. Fifteen vessels were captured over these three weeks by Blackbeard and as a result his reputation and fear for the pirate grew.

Blackbeard was not a privateer as many of the pirates we know today were. He was an actual outlaw, but the common people seem to have viewed him as a type of Robin Hood figure. He was someone who was fighting against the upper echelons of society. He was described as a strategist, a master of improvisation, a natural leader and risk taker. At the height of his career in 1717 Blackbeard and his crew had disrupted the whole Atlantic trade system and the commerce of three empires. They would threaten various colonies and occupy smaller ones. The Governor of Bermuda and of Philadelphia were always worried about an attack.

It was said that Blackbeard lit fuses and put them under his hat to give a more fearful and demonic appearance

In May 1718, months after the capture of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard and his fleet created a blockade into Charleston harbor for six days and captured any vessel in or out. They would capture the cargo and when that was not making enough profit they captured passengers for ransom. This ended up failing in the end and Blackbeard rejected the pardon offered by King George I. Blackbeard and company searched for a hideout in North Carolina and this is where they ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground to transfer everything to the smaller ships to escape more quickly, or so it is believed. This is where 300 years later the great flagship would be found.

Eventually, Blackbeard did accept that pardon from Governor Eden and they settled in Bath, North Carolina. But was their pirating over?

In fact, this new location for a settlement was perfect to slip through to the Eastern Seaboard or Chesapeake Bay and plunder more ships. With the governor in his pockets it was a perfect place to start a new pirate headquarters. Though this would soon come to an end as Alexander Spotswood, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, was looking to end Blackbeard’s piracy and disruption of the merchant trade.

An attack was launched on Blackbeard in two contingents. Lt. Robert Maynard led one of these. They were able to catch Blackbeard’s men surprised, but while sailing for open water he was able to defeat Maynard’s men. They came alongside Maynard’s ship and boarded in order to take control, but this ended up becoming a fatal mistake. Just like a movie, the remainder of Maynard’s crew jumped out from the hold and attacked the pirates. The pirates were overwhelmed and Blackbeard was killed. He received five gunshots and was cut on different places on his body. The navy took 14 prisoners from his crew and threw Blackbeard’s body into the Pamlico Sound (his head was given as a trophy to the Lt. Governor Spotswood).

I did not know much about Blackbeard or his ships, but I found this fascinating. It is amazing what archeology and artifacts can bring to light about a group of people’s lives. I have put some links below to read more about Blackbeard, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and the artifacts found during the shipwreck excavation. I hope to make posts in the future detailing more of this captain’s life.

There has been a delay in receiving the books for my research on posts I want to do, but I am hoping soon to have more content!

Food for Thought:

What other artifacts do you know of that have revealed something interesting about history?

Why do you think a pirate captain like Blackbeard would be interested in Edward Cooke’s book?

Why would a pirate like Blackbeard be someone the common people may have looked up to?

Further Reading: -Queen Anne’s Revenge Project

The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard



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