The notorious pirate Blackbeard and his fortress flagship Queen Anne's Revenge (QAR) are the subjects of a new documentary to air Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. on the Smithsonian Channel.
During the “Secrets — Blackbeard’s Ship” program, viewers will learn of the detective work that led to determining that the shipwreck off the North Carolina coast is indeed Blackbeard’s flagship, what life was like for the buccaneers during the waning days of the Golden Age of Piracy, and what Blackbeard was up to at that time.
Before being commandeered by Blackbeard, his flagship had been a French slave ship traveling between West Africa and the Caribbean. He captured the ship, La Concorde, in 1717 off Martinique, reportedly increased the number of cannons from 16 to 40, thus transforming the slaver into his flagship, which he renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Pier 21 Films, the project's Canadian film crew, spent more than a week filming in North Carolina, including at the Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Laboratory in Greenville. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, at the shipwreck site near Fort Macon, and the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Fort Macon. Archaeologists, conservators and historians all contributed to interpreting messages from Queen Anne’s Revenge.
“It was unusual that the film examined historical evidence then came to the lab to see specific physical proof and how scientific investigation can support historical evidence and vice versa,” says QAR Lab Director and Chief Conservator Sarah Watkins-Kenney. “Cannons, cannon aprons and their messages, and other artifacts were examined and analyzed.”
Blackbeard expert David Moore, curator of nautical archaeology at the N.C. Maritime Museum, examined period documents and maps, archaeologist/conservator Nathan Henry addressed the haphazard collection of cannons (pirates snatched what was available), and volunteer consultant Linda Carnes McNaughton, a material cultural and artifact specialist, interpreted the significance of the small fragments of gold jewelry recovered from the shipwreck for the documentary.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground in Beaufort in June 1718. QAR was located near Beaufort Inlet by Intersal's director of operations, Mike Daniel, who used historical research provided by Intersal’s president, Phil Masters. Daniel now heads up Maritime Research Institute, the nonprofit corporation formed to work on the project in cooperation with state archaeologists and historians of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History. John Masters, son of the late Phil Masters, explained the discovery of the vessel for the documentary.
For six days the crew filmed at the conservation laboratory located at East Carolina University. More than 250,000 artifacts have been recovered since DCR started research at the site in October 1997. To date 23 cannons, seven grenades, scores of cannonballs and scientific instruments are among the assemblage of artifacts recovered.
“Six cannons were x-rayed during filming and the biggest question we hoped to answer was ‘Can we tell if the cannons are loaded,’” explains Conservator Kimberly Kenyon.
A powerful Cobalt 60 x-ray system with new technology developed by GE was brought in by the film crew to x-ray the cannons, two up to 8-feet long. Of the six cannons x-rayed, four were loaded.
Other study focused on the cannon aprons used to cover the vents in the cannons. While a graduate student at East Carolina, Laura Schnitzer studied QAR cannon aprons and unusual markings on two of them. She reviewed her research for the film. The markings matched some found in England and were confirmed by Richard Harris at the Weald Downland Open Air Museum in Chichester, England.
On Friday, Nov. 22, 1718, Blackbeard met his death in a battle off Ocracoke Island.
For additional information, call (919) 807-7389.