Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ships: From Concorde To Revenge

Edward "Blackbeard" Teach's flagship, which he named Queen Anne's Revenge, was one of the largest successful pirate ships of the Golden Age. Only William Kidd's Adventure Galley and Bartholomew Robert's Royal Fortune can boast as many men and arms.

Teach's ship was probably built in the first decade of the 18th century. She was 200 tons with a length of 103 feet, 25 feet at the beam and a draft of close to 13 and a half feet. Obviously she was bulky and her draft was almost preposterously deep for a freebooter. Teach, of course, worked his magic more through reputation than fast sailing. Hiding out in shallow cays wasn't exactly his style.

Queen Anne's Revenge was most probably one of the early model frigates being built in England, Holland and France during the late 17th and early 18th century. She had a fore, main and mizzen mast, could carry up to 40 guns and was probably envisioned with a 125 to 150 man crew. Teach would probably have crewed her far more numerously than that. Pirates and privateers not only worked on strength of numbers but needed extra hands to man prizes once they were caught. A reasonable estimate might be 200 to 210 men all together.

From the history available, it appears the Teach's flagship was originally Concorde, a French merchant turned slaver. She carried 14 guns and made trips between the Guinea coast and France's islands in the Caribbean, probably Haiti (then San Domingue) in particular. It was, of course, a cruel trade and when Teach caught up with her in his much smaller sloop Revenge he knew no one aboard would want to fight. Concorde had been becalmed off St. Vincent and her crew and cargo were suffering from fever and dysentery. When Blackbeard raised his skeleton flag, Concorde's captain surrendered without a struggle.

Teach tortured the French captain until he gave up the hiding place of a chest of gold dust. Then he put captain and crew aboard Revenge, to tell the tale of the terrible Blackbeard, and sailed off in Concorde - now Queen Anne's Revenge - with her human cargo and her gold. Once the ugly business of slave trading was taken care of, Teach added 28 guns to his new ship's deck and headed out to really embark on his short but brilliant career of non-stop terror.

It was with Queen Anne's Revenge that Teach blockaded the city of Charleston, eventually receiving a ransom and medical supplies to release her. Shortly after this brilliant episode, in June of 1718, Teach grounded his ship in Beaufort Inlet, North Caroline not far from his home port of Ocracoke Island. In this instance, Queen Anne's Revenge's deep draft was her downfall. The ship could not be hauled off the bar and Teach had to salvage what he could and leave her for a wreck.

In 1997, a ship very nearly fitting the description of Blackbeard's was found in 24 feet of water off Beaufort. Archaeologists are still examining the wreck, bringing up bits and pieces of seafaring life in the 18th century. The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort has more information about the ship and the pirate here. The scientific jury appears to be still out on whether or not the ship is actually Queen Anne's Revenge. Some are certainly convinced while others remain hesitant. It's hard for me to imagine that the vessel is not what she seems, but maybe that's wishful thinking.

Edward Teach, the infamous Blackbeard, followed his ship's burial at sea only five months later when his headless body was tossed into the ocean by the British off Ocracoke. It seems only fitting, in a violent, piratical sort of way.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Ya gotta love that Blackbeard. Not the greatest of pirates by any means, but definitely a true "badass". Very cool that they may have found his ship. I hope it turns out to be true, too. I wonder when they will have a definitive answer? I guess we'll just have to wait for the documentary on the Discovery or History channel.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! It seems to me that the entire Queen Anne's Revenge project is a lot less forthcoming then the Whydah project off Cape Cod. I imagine two reasons for that.

First off the people in charge of the projects. Academics are rarely as media friendly as "adventurers". Second, since Sam Bellamy didn't have time to refit Whydah - as Edward Teach did with Concorde - it was much easier to ID.

When you find a bell that has the name of the ship you're looking for on it, you pretty much know you scored.