Today, we welcome a guest post from Mark Wilde-Ramsing and Linda Carnes-McNaughton, authors of Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize: The 300-Year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge, just published by UNC Press.
In 1717, the notorious pirate Blackbeard captured a French slaving vessel off the coast of Martinique and made it his flagship, renaming it Queen Anne’s Revenge. Over the next six months, the heavily armed ship and its crew captured all manner of riches from merchant ships sailing the Caribbean to the Carolinas. But in June 1718, with British authorities closing in, Blackbeard reportedly ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground just off the coast of what is now North Carolina’s Fort Macon State Park. What went down with the ship remained hidden for centuries, as the legend of Blackbeard continued to swell in the public’s imagination. When divers finally discovered the wreck in 1996, it was immediately heralded as a major find in both maritime archaeology and the history of piracy in the Atlantic. Now the story of Queen Anne’s Revenge and its fearsome captain is revealed in full detail.
Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize is available now in both print and ebook editions.
Queen Anne Appears Aboard QAR
Despite careful site excavations of the Queen Anne’s Revenge wreckage and subsequent detailed disassembly of what has been recovered at the conservation lab, very few items of true monetary value have surfaced from the wreckage of this pirate ship. A finding of some significance which indicates that during the wrecking scene ole Blackbeard carried away the vast majority of moneys snagged from a half dozen merchant ships and their passengers during the Charleston harbor blockade. Despite recovering only 4 silver coins, however, one similar object, a unique brass coin weight, generates a lot of interest and excitement due to its profound and poignant markings. Here’s why we say this.
Though small in size, weighing 7.7 grams and not much more than a 1/2 inch in diameter, the Queen Anne coin weight served a significant and regal place aboard Blackbeard’s flagship. It was so named because it featured the profiled portrait of the popular monarch Queen Anne, who ruled England, Scotland and Ireland from 1702 until her death in 1714. On one side appears the embossed letter “ANNA DEI GRATIA” (Latin for Anne by the Grace of God). English monarchs were often shown on coinage in profile, left face or right face, in alternate directions based on succession; so, William III (Anne’s predecessor) was depicted by his right profile, Anne was shown by her left profile, and her successor, George I was shown in right profile, and so on. It was also common for monarchs to be depicted in classical Roman attire (to imitate Emperors), so Anne appeared with a draped bust and a garlanded wreath on her regal head.
On the other side was embossed a crown, the word “GUINEA”, the letter “W”, and the number “1”. Rather than a coin, the copper alloy disk was used by an assayer to measure the exact weight of a true coin made of gold (in this case the measurement was one Guinea). Typically, this coin weight was part of a boxed set which included a hanging balance scale in which a coin was placed in one tray (or pan) and the weight in the opposite tray to measure any differences. Gold guineas were first made in 1663 and of course, very popular among pirates. It was also important for the freebooters to have proper weighing accouterments to divide their plunder equitably among there brotherhood.
The Queen Anne coin weight is a relatively rare piece today and its discovery provides a tantalizing link between the ship and its namesake. In 1717 Blackbeard named his stolen French ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, apparently to champion her approval of privateering, and/or conversely, as a gesture of political satire aimed at her successor and reigning king, George I. Was it intentionally left behind as unimportant to the pirates when they fled the sinking ship, or perhaps at some point it fell off the table and rolled behind furniture or slipped down through the floorboards, lost and forgotten? Regardless of what happened, we are mighty pleased that it remained on the ocean floor until we could retrieve it 300 years later!
Mark U. Wilde-Ramsing is the former deputy state archaeologist (underwater) of North Carolina and past director of the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project. Linda F. Carnes-McNaughton is the current program archaeologist and curator at Fort Bragg’s Cultural Resources Management Program. You can read their previous UNC Press blog post here, and a Q&A with the authors here.