The waters off the coast of the Outer Banks of North Carolina have claimed the lives of thousands of ships throughout the past several centuries. However, few vessels that have met their fate in their shoals along the Graveyard of the Atlantic are as well-known as the one sailed by a pirate named Edward Teach—better known as Blackbeard—in the early 1700s. In true pirate fashion, Blackbeard commandeered the merchant vessel—which he renamed the Queen Anne’s Revenge—then overtook its crew and outfitted the ship with a series of armaments he would need to wreak havoc on the high seas and earn his title as one of the most notorious pirates who has ever lived.
Although Blackbeard—who was seen as a menace by merchants and a threat to the supplies sailing in and out of area ports—was killed by a lieutenant in the Royal Navy in 1718, the whereabouts of his infamous vessel remained a mystery for hundreds of years, until it was discovered at the bottom of the ocean in 1996. The flagship of Blackbeard’s small fleet of ships, the Queen Anne’s Revenge was a 200-ton frigate built in Rochefort, France. Originally named La Concorde, the ship was owned by Rene Montaudoin—a prominent French merchant who ran a slave-trafficking company—and used primarily for slave-trading operations. According to the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project, the ship operated out of a port in western France called Nantes, which was situated at the mouth of the Loire River and became the heart of the French slave trade during the 18th century.
From 1713 to 1717, La Concorde made three journeys. Each trip, the vessel was stocked with trade goods at the port of Nantes during the spring, and then it sailed south to the west coast of Africa, where its captain was responsible for purchasing enslaved Africans who would be kept as “cargo.” La Concorde would then set sail from the shores of Africa and head to the New World—a transatlantic voyage that typically took up to two months. The 500-plus slaves transported as human cargo during each trip were typically taken to islands in the Lesser Antilles, where they were sold as laborers to work in the sugar cane fields. Once the enslaved Africans were taken off La Concorde, the ship was loaded with new cargo—often sugar from the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe—before it set off en route to France once again.
During La Concorde’s third and final voyage transporting slaves from Africa to these island nations, the vessel was sailing through the shipping lanes of the Caribbean—an area known for the presence of pirates who would commandeer the ships and ruthlessly pillage any trade goods they found onboard. On November 28, 1717, La Concorde was captured by Blackbeard and his pirate crew as the ship was sailing near the island of Martinique. Blackbeard quickly converted the former merchant vessel into a ship better suited for acts of piracy, mounting 40 guns on the 103-foot-long frigate and renaming her the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Blackbeard and his crew of 300-plus men—including some who had worked aboard La Concorde before it was plundered—continued to sail back and forth between Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, attacking merchant ship after merchant ship along the way. Eventually, his flotilla made its way up the Eastern Seaboard to South Carolina, where Blackbeard famously blockaded the port of Charleston and looted virtually every vessel that sailed into or out of what was at that time one of the busiest ports in the southeastern United States. After successfully plundering dozens of ships in South Carolina, Blackbeard headed up the coast toward the Outer Banks, where he would frequently anchor the Queen Anne’s Revenge in the waters of Ocracoke Inlet—a high-traffic waterway that vessels making their way from the open ocean to mainland settlements along the Pamlico Sound frequently passed through.
However, during a voyage that took his flotilla of pirate ships farther south, toward the Shackleford Banks on June 10, 1718, Blackbeard ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on a sandbar near Beaufort Inlet. Supplies and stolen goods from other vessels were quickly transferred from his flagship to a smaller vessel in his flotilla, and Blackbeard and his crew escaped the ordeal. The damaged Queen Anne’s Revenge, however, was left stranded on the sandbar, where it eventually was claimed by the shifting shoals and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The notorious 18th century pirate was later killed in combat on November 22, 1718, when he and his crew were the recipients of a surprise attack by British sailors who sought to put an end to piracy. For centuries, the exact whereabouts of his sunken flagship were unknown—that is until a marine archaeology team found what they believed to be the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge on November 21, 1996. Strewn along the seafloor, the team discovered several 18th century artifacts, including anchors and cannons. In 2004, the site where the Queen Anne’s Revenge was found at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and many of the artifacts were transported to a conservation lab in Greenville, North Carolina, where visitors can view these pieces of piracy up close and personal during a tour of the facility.
*Stay tuned for our upcoming blog about the discovery of the Queen Anne’s Revenge off the coast of North Carolina as well as the numerous centuries-old artifacts that were found within the wreckage of Blackbeard the pirate’s famous flagship.