BEAUFORT — State underwater archaeologists were pleasantly surprised recently to find two more cannons to add to the growing number found at the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck site in Beaufort Inlet.
Divers were about to close down the site for the fall dive season on Oct. 23 when they found two carriage guns north of a larger pile of cannons in the mid-ship section, according to John Morris, deputy state archaeologist who oversees the QAR project.
“We didn’t expect to find these guns,” he said.
This brings the total number of cannons discovered at the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship to 27. One of those is a signal gun, which is on display at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, responsible for curatorship of QAR artifacts.
Mr. Morris said the cannons would remain on the ocean floor until a future dive season. The goal is to retrieve all remaining artifacts, including 14 cannons, by 2014.
Mr. Morris said the two cannons would have been mounted in carriages with wheels and sat on the ship’s deck.
Dave Moore, archaeologist with the N.C. Maritime Museum, was diving at the site the day the cannons were found. He said they’re about 4-foot long and would have shot a 1.5-pound cannonball.
The cannons add to the 280,000 artifacts discovered at the shipwreck site, which was found in 1996 by Intersal Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla. The site was turned over to the State of North Carolina in 1997.
Many of the artifacts have already gone through the conservation process and are on display at the N.C. Maritime Museum. Thousands of others are going through the cleaning and conserving process at the QAR lab at East Carolina University in Greenville.
The conservation process is slow and painstaking, with archaeologists removing layers of crust and salts that have built up for the 300 years they have remained on the ocean floor.
Blackbeard’s flagship plundered merchant ships in 1717 and 1718 off the coast of the Carolinas, with records indicating it sunk in 1718 after being abandoned by Blackbeard.
Inside the ECU warehouse are dozens of custom-made tanks where cannons and other salvaged items bathe in a sodium-carbonate solution that serves as an electrolyte removing salts from the iron.
At 100 feet long, 40 feet wide and 25 feet high, the warehouse is about the size of the hull of Blackbeard’s ship.
With the warehouse full, conservators are attaching “sacrificial anodes,” metal alloys designed to draw away corrosion, to the cannons still below the sea to begin the salt-removing process.
“We’re using the bottom of the ocean as conservation space to jump-start the conservation process,” said Mr. Moore.
Officials hope to finish the project by 2014 with the help of $450,000 in private donations.
Some of the cannons found were loaded, ready to fire on some unfortunate merchant ship that might have ventured into the preying territory of Blackbeard and his four ships, manned by about 400 pirates.
Queen Anne’s Revenge conservator Shanna Daniel uses an air scribe that works much like a tiny jackhammer to carefully remove much of the concretions bound to the cannons over three centuries. Within the crusty exterior, they have found other small artifacts such as rope, nails, pistol balls, clay pipes and gun parts.
By the time they’re put on display at the Beaufort museum, the cannons will have gone through a 12-step recovery process.
Mr. Moore said other interesting artifacts found this dive season were sounding weights.
“We know there are at least five more sounding weights down there. We’ve already found five in previous dives. This means the ship had at least 10 sounding weights, and that’s a high number for a ship,” said Mr. Moore.
He has two theories as to why the pirates had so many sounding weights.
“They were taking them from the ships they had captured to possibly use as scrap lead to melt down for lead shot. Or, they may have cut them up for shrapnel to use as anti-rigging ammunition in their cannons,” he said.
Blackbeard was born in England about 1680 as Edward Thatch or Teach. It is believed he honed his sailing and piracy skills in the first decade of the 1700s when England hired seamen to attack French and Spanish ships.
At the end of Queen Anne’s War in 1713, Mr. Thatch joined the pirate crew of Benjamin Hornigold. In late November 1717, Mr. Thatch captured the French slave ship La Concorde and renamed the 300-ton vessel Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Over the next year, Blackbeard forged his legacy as the most-feared and best-known pirate in the world.
Descriptions of him at the time say he was tall and “spare” with a long black beard and hair, said Mr. Moore, who for 30 years has researched original Blackbeard and pirate records from Williamsburg to London.
Blackbeard carried six pistols and two swords when he went into battle. Despite his murderous reputation, there is no record of Blackbeard killing anyone until his final battle with the Royal Navy, Mr. Moore said.
Pirates wanted to capture a ship rather than sink it, according to Mr. Moore.
Blackbeard would fire a warning shot across the bow of a merchant ship. If that didn’t stop it, he would fire a small cannon loaded with bolts and other shrapnel to tear through the sails, rigging and men, Mr. Moore said.
“I don’t think he ever had to use the full power of the Queen Anne’s Revenge,” Mr. Moore said.
One of the cannons found at the wreck site was loaded with a powder charge, wadding, a small cannon ball, more wadding, three broken bolts and finished with more wadding.
In the spring or summer of 1718, his flagship ran aground at what is now known as Beaufort Inlet. He received amnesty from the North Carolina governor but soon returned to piracy.
That November, the Royal Navy trapped and killed him near Ocracoke. Wounded many times, Blackbeard fought to the end, but this time he was without the cannon power of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.