The Queen Anne’s Deception

When I went to school at the University of West Florida at Pensacola, FL in the Fall of 2007, one of the classes I took there was a Shipwreck Archaeology class. My professor, a fairly young guy, had worked on some fairly significant projects, including a massive effort made in the early 1990s to excavate the La Belle in the Gulf, below the nearby mouth of the Mississippi River. We talked a lot about that particular dig in class, as well as projects pertinent to Florida – some right in Pensacola Bay (which we never left the classroom to check out; can you guess why I left?) and some further south in the Florida Keys, particularly wrecks popularized by the infamous Mel Fisher. One of the other most significant wrecks in the south is the supposed wreck of Blackbeard’s (real name: Edward Teach_last ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge. The wreck is supposed to be near the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, and is quite a contentious site among archaeologists. This piece from National Geographic’s website (it’s not really an article, to be honest) talks a little bit about some new artifacts that have been recently discovered and at least partially conserved/restored by the nautical archaeologists working for the NC Dept. of Cultural Resources. Because it’s such a high-profile wreck if it actually is Blackbeard’s Queen Anne, there is a lot riding on this for the state of North Carolina, especially in potential tourist and investment dollars.
Unfortunately, this National Geographic piece does not bother to mention the fact that there is not a whole lot of physical evidence that has been found thus far to support the idea that the wreck these archaeologists are working on actually is Blackbeard’s Queen Anne. While it’s true that it was his last ship (a former French ship by the name of Le Concorde he captured in 1717) and that he had ground when he was ‘caught’ by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of off NC’s coast in 1718 and killed, it is not as though Blackbeard’s Queen Anne was the only ship to meet her demise in those waters. While a ship’s bell (one of the best sources for validation of a ship’s name and age for archaeologists) was found shortly after excavation began in 1997, the bell was well worn by its time spent in the salty coastal waters and the dates on the bell are unclear. The best potential reading of the ship’s bell’s date actually puts the date of the bell years after The Queen Anne’s Revenge was long gone. Other than a few items, such as this new apothecary’s weight, that have been found that contain French markings (fleur-de-lis), there is almost no evidence to support the origin or ownership of this ship. What’s more, even French markings on items are not particularly solid evidence since trade for items such as these would have been commonplace during this period.
I chose to write about this because archaeology is particularly susceptible to sensationalism, and this (as well as Mel Fisher – can I just tell you that Mel Fisher is a bad man? He is. He’s a low-down, dirty, greedy treasure hunter) is a perfect example of how a lot of pomp and excitement are generated not over facts and honest archaeological work, but in order to raise more tourist and investment dollars.

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