02/10/09 — Wayne County Reads kicks off 'Blackbeard'

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Wayne County Reads kicks off 'Blackbeard'

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 10, 2009 1:46 PM

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Black Beard : America's Most Notorious Pirate, by Angus Konstam

Mark Wilde-Ramsing

About a mile off the shore of Beaufort, just beyond the surfers and sun worshippers, lies the remains of the most famous pirate ship of all time.

And the man who is in charge of saving its historic artifacts spoke Monday night at Wayne Community College, describing the techniques used to recover items from the nearly 300-year- old wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge and the progress that has been made in recent years in researching the famous wreck.

Mark Wilde-Ramsing of East Carolina University spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people as part of the kickoff for the 2009 Wayne County Reads initiative. The book chosen as the focus of this year's project is about the ship's owner, Blackbeard. It is entitled "Blackbeard: America's Most Notorious Pirate."

Author Angus Konstam did not attend the event, but spoke to the audience via video. He said he was "deeply honored" that Wayne County had chosen his book. From his home in Scotland, he hinted that one reason North Carolina treasures its association with the roguish pirate is because of his nature. He is the "black sheep" of the state's history and so people love to hear about him, to read about him, Konstam said.

The event was the kickoff of the six-week campaign to encourage the reading of the book, and reading in general. More than a dozen events, including movies, lectures and treasure hunts are planned, Wayne County Reads coordinator Tara Humphries said.

Konstam, who has spent years studying pirates, said following Blackbeard's trail had to be done mostly by researching the complaints made by merchant ships of his raids. He said that in his book he tried not only to paint a portrait of the man, whose real name was Edward Teach, but to describe the period in time in which he lived, a part of North Carolina's history as well.

North Carolina was not the bustling trade center that Virginia and South Carolina were becoming in the early 1700s, Konstam reminded the audience. It was a backwater and that "is exactly why he (Blackbeard) wanted to come here," Konstam said.

Wilde-Ramsing said that although there are many tales of Blackbeard's exploits, there is only a single piece of tangible evidence of his life -- the Queen Anne's Revenge, a French ship Blackbeard commandeered for his own use and renamed.

The ship was being used as a slave ship when Blackbeard took it and started his march through the Caribbean. Blackbeard's career was short, Wilde-Ramsing said, something most people don't realize. After terrorizing the Caribbean, he moved north, held Charleston hostage for a time, and then sheltered in North Carolina, where the inlets gave him place to hide and the local governments were friendly.

The Queen Anne's Revenge was most likely left to sink after it ran aground on a sandbar, Wilde-Ramsing said. The site is fairly compact. A true shipwreck would be more scattered, he said.

Researchers are still learning more about what happened to the ship. One method has been to study what items the pirates apparently took with them and what they left behind.

Only a single coin has been found and few small weapons, so the pirates, quite naturally, took their money and sidearms when they left.

But they left behind a lot of navigational equipment and fishing gear, apparently believing they would find what they needed ashore.

He said there remains little doubt that the ship is the Queen Anne's Revenge. Every item discovered, from cannons to buttons, is dated from the period when the ship was abandoned.

The ship was about 100 feet long and sits about 25 feet below the surface. The remains sit on a hard pan of sand, Wilde-Ramsing said, and therefore has not sunk. That has left it exposed to storms. The brighter side of that coin is that the artifacts have not sunk so deep into the sea bottom that they cannot be recovered.

Wilde-Ramsing also said that despite what most people probably think, that the vast majority of archaeological work is done in a lab, not underwater. Every week spent diving means two years in the lab, he said.

Work at the site is expected to be finished in within a decade. Those involved hope a major exhibit hall can be constructed. An open house at the lab at the Fort Macon Coast Guard Station is planned for April and Wilde-Ramsing urged attendees to visit and see how the work of preserving the artifacts is done.

The work is painstaking but advances in technology have enabled researchers to study the site without disturbing it as badly, he said, helping them obtain a truer picture of what sent the Queen Anne's Revenge to the bottom of the sea.