The Tools of the Trade Winds: The Guns of Blackbeard

by John Elliot

Pirate lore has become tremendously popular, with several movies appealing to children like my eight year old grandson Glenny. At the top of his list of favorite characters is the legendary pirate known simply as Blackbeard. Well, aside from the romanticized depictions seen in films, who was Blackbeard, what type of person was he and what weapons did he use?

Blackbeard's actual name was believed to be Edward Thatch, although there were some derivatives of the last name including Thatche, Teach and some others. He was believed to be born in Bristol, England, but some reports indicate his place of birth may have been London some time around 1680.

But the most appropriate place to start when attempting to flesh out the character of the man may be his master ship, the recovered contents of which are now undergoing research by archaeologists. It turns out that the Queen Ann's Revenge may have been the pirate's flagship. The name he attached to the ship was in essence a nod to his prior service to the Crown of England before he turned to piracy. The ship was actually a French slave ship, the La Concorde, captured by the pirate in 1717. He transformed the ship into a fighting vessel armed with a wide assortment of mismatched weaponry including more than 40 cannons, and he used it to lead his small fleet of pirate ships as they plundered their way across the Atlantic Ocean and up and down the eastern seaboard of North America. They even brazenly blockaded the harbor of Charleston in their search for anything of value, anything that could be stolen from ships daring to enter or depart the harbor.

When the Queen Ann's Revenge tried later to enter the Beaufort Inlet in North Carolina along with its sister ship the Adventure in 1718, they became stuck on a sandbar and eventually sank in about 25 feet of water. The flagship was discovered in 1997 and those recovery efforts continue to this day.

Some of the weaponry recovered thus far includes sword hilts and ammunition, handheld firearms and a variety of cannons of English and Swedish origin. They range from -pounders to 6-pounders, but what sets these finds apart from other similar archaeological discoveries over the years was that literally all of the weapons were fully loaded and ready to be fired. And they just weren't loaded with standard cannon balls, but with an incredible assortment of lethal shot including broken glass, cut pieces of chain, nails and an assortment of iron pieces never intended to sink another ship, but instead intended to inflict the heaviest casualties possible and to clean the opposing crew right off their decks. This revelation may partially answer the question about what sort of person he was, because it is plainly obvious that Blackbeard was nothing if not completely ruthless.

In addition to this, his ship carried several 24-pounders intended to sink enemy vessels if need be. Like the smaller cannons, these were fully loaded and ready for use. A large number of 24-pound cannon balls have been recovered from the site and they, like the rest of the weaponry, are undergoing restoration and preservation. After so many years immersed in salt water it is a long and tedious process to bring those artifacts back to life.

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Marcy 9, 2013