for National Geographic News
The pirate Blackbeard's flagship may finally be yielding its identity after nearly 300 years on the ocean floor. Though researchers have yet to find definitive proof, evidence continues to surface off the coast of North Carolina that wreckage there was once the vessel known as Queen Anne's Revenge.
The wreck has generated attention ever since its 1996 discovery in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina.
The wreckage includes a dozen cannon and large anchors rated for a 350-ton (355-metric-ton) ship, found amid a mound of debris where records indicate Blackbeard's flagship ran aground in 1718.
"We have extensive historical records, and there is no evidence of any [other] vessel of this kind of armament sinking anywhere during the 18th century on this coast," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, director of the Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project, a consortium of researchers investigating the wreck.
Shipwreck records in the region are surprisingly complete. They include accounts of ships lost decades before the QAR and in more remote areas.
"There were people living in the area, and a [different] wreck of this size should not have gone unrecorded," Wilde-Ramsing said. "Beaufort was a little fishing village, and really less than a handful of ships that size were ever reported in the area."
Blackbeard captured a French slaver known as La Concorde in 1717 and renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge. He captained the ship until it ran aground, perhaps intentionally, at Beaufort Inlet in June 1718. (For more on Blackbeard, see sidebar.)
Some accounts at the time suggested that Blackbeard wanted to break up his crew of some 300 to 400 menand keep the choicest booty for himself.
The ship is still officially classified as "believed to be" the QAR. But mounting evidence suggests to many that the wreck is that of Blackbeard's ship.
"It's not like CSI," said Cheryl Ward, a Florida State University maritime archaeologist not involved in the project. "In the real world nobody solves anything in a 24-hour period. We may never get a definitive answer, but I think that they've got a very good case for this being the Queen Anne's Revenge. I certainly know of nothing they've found to suggest that it can't be."
Evidence Rises From the Deep
Assorted cannonballs and ammunition found at the wreck suggest that the ship had been significantly armed. To date the site has yielded 24 cannon.
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