Video of the Wreck Site!
Seeing the devilBy KELLY SIMMONS, Staff Writer
APRIL 1718, WEST INDIES
There, barely a speck on the horizon, but the merchant captain saw it straight off. His spyglass showed him four ships -- two flying the black flag.
Maybe, the merchant captain prayed, they do not see me. Maybe if I put some distance between us, I can make Hispaniola.
Eleven times had the merchant captain sailed this route -- and only once had pirates boarded him. In this breeding ground for pirates, the merchant captain had been lucky.
Maybe on this voyage, he prayed, my luck will hold.
Go, run. I'll have you soon enough.
The pirate captain ordered his lightest, fastest sloop into the hunt. That distant French Guinea Trader was riding low and slow, laden with fat cargo.
The pirate surveyed his fleet, two of them recent prizes in the Bay of Honduras. Four fine craft -- and maybe a fifth by noonday.
The merchant captain dropped sails, then dropped anchor. He could not outrun the sloop and her eight guns.
Pray they take what they want and move on, he told his crew. Give what they ask -- none of it is yours, none of it worth your life.
Behind the sloop, the merchant captain spied another approaching craft. She was big brute poking cannon from every snout. Twenty, no thirty, maybe more guns -- she was a killing machine!
The merchant captain raised his spyglass to her deck. There, he could see a monstrous figure, pointing across the water, pointing to the merchant ship, pointing to the merchant captain.
"Dear God, spare our souls," the merchant captain said aloud.
He had seen the devil. And the devil had seen him.
NOVEMBER 1996, BEAUFORT, N.C.
There, in 20 feet of coffee-like water, the monstrous ship nearly took Mike Daniel's breath away.
As he dove on the wreck this fall morning, he could just make out the ship's outline in the sand.
A pile of encrusted pipes littered the site. But these were no pipes, Daniels knew from experience. They were cannon. A lot of cannon.
In his gut, Daniels could almost feel the historical significance of the moment building. Twenty feet down, in the salt and the silt off the coast of North Carolina, Daniels could see one of the most feared ships ever to sail the Atlantic: the Queen Anne's Revenge.
Now, in only a few weeks, the world might see the stomping ground of the devil himself: Blackbeard the pirate.
The pirate captain seemed 7 feet tall. He was dressed all in black but it could not hide the coal black hair that fell to his shoulders, the coarse black beard that climbed to his eyes.
Across his chest hung six pistols and a dagger, at his waist a huge cutlass.
But what terrified the merchant captain most was the smoke billowing from the pirate's ears.
This summer, nearly three centuries after Blackbeard the pirate terrorized the Eastern Seaboard, marine archaeologists are returning to the tiny patch of water that may hold the remains of Blackbeard's famous flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge.
Long hunted, but ever elusive, this find could reveal much about a pirate awash in so much conflicting lore.
To this day, natives and visitors in tiny coastal towns like Beaufort, Bath and Ocracoke, remain spellbound by the ghost of Blackbeard -- and his long-sought but never found treasure.
Indeed, if the Queen Anne's Revenge is resting a few hundred yards off Beaufort, historians may finally have a chance to paint a more accurate portrait of Blackbeard -- and the pirates of his time.
The merchant captain was impressed by the efficiency of it all. He was invited aboard the heavily-armed ship, interrogated about his provisions, and served rum while his cargo of sugar, cocoa and coffee was transferred to the sloop.
The merchant ship was too heavy, too slow to be of use to Blackbeard. So when he finished, Blackbeard returned the captain to his merchant ship, bidding him adieu, calm seas and fair winds.
The popular image of pirates doesn't always square with reality. In the West Indies and along colonial America's coastline, most pirates had little belly to fight. And nearly all merchant crews had little motivation to resist the Jolly Roger and her cannon.
The late 1600s and early 1700s were the "Golden Age of Piracy" along the Spanish Main, the West Indies and the eastern seaboard. Plundering the shipping lanes, pirates ruled the seas.
Mother England was frustrated by the revenues lost to pirates but she was slow to act. And when she did, she was timid in disciplining her errant children -- once a mercenary sea force she had loosed upon her enemies.
After peace came in 1713 between the world's major powers, thousands of privateers -- commissioned to plunder enemy warships -- found their services no longer needed. Many of those seaman continued doing what they knew best. Off the coasts of South America, Central America, North America and throughout the West Indies, they ran amok.
Islands with familiar names today -- Jamaica, Nassau, Cuba, Haiti -- were strategically located amid major shipping lanes and so they swarmed with pirates. Vessels in these West Indies waters were easy pickings.
By 1718, England was feeling the bite and so began dispatching heavily-armed ships -- men-of-war -- to dislodge pirates from island strongholds.
This opened safer shipping lanes through the West Indies, but it shifted the problem north. Hundreds of pirates like began patrolling the coasts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia. That area offered numerous harbors and ports where pirates freely sold and traded stolen goods.
By 1700, colonial merchants were happily dealing direct with smugglers and pirates -- thereby avoiding stiff English taxes. Ironically, England had unwittingly accelerated piracy by approving restrictive trade laws that favored English merchants and penalized colonial merchants.
However, by 1718, some port cities like Charleston, S.C., Philadelphia, and Boston had built a healthy commerce -- one that depended on safe shipping in and out of harbors. As those ports prospered, pirates became a pariah.
In retaliation, pirates often raided shipping lanes in and around Virginia and South Carolina. And when the time came to escape, pirates could find no safer harbor than the rivers, sounds and islands of North Carolina.
North Carolina -- strategically located between Charleston and Philadelphia -- was more than a refuge. With its weak economy, corruptible leaders, and a wealth of islands and shoals to hide out and attack from, North Carolina was a pirate's paradise.
Now in command of four vessels and 400 men, Blackbeard sailed north from the West Indies.
His ships were loaded with treasure and cargo taken off the Spanish Main and the Caribbean. And each of those ships were well-armed.
I am no longer captain of my ship, Blackbeard mused. I am an admiral of a fleet! Now, whole cities might tremble before me.
Many in Blackbeard's crew suspected they would soon make landfall in North Carolina. There, the treasure would be divided and the crew would rest.
Blackbeard had other plans. In business, many partners make many paupers, he told himself. It may soon be time to part company.
But first, he told himself, it's time pay a visit on an old friend. Blackbeard gathered a few trusted lieutenants and shared with them only one of his plans.
Prepare your sails, he told them, for Charles Town.
Posted by The Depot and News & Record Online
© Copyright 1997