A brief history of Blackbeard & Queen Anne's Revenge
The French slave ship La Concorde was captured by the pirate Blackbeard after a treacherous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1717. The ship was renamed Queen Anne's Revenge, and it became the vessel in which Blackbeard carried out the notorious acts of his piratical career. By examining a variety of primary and secondary French documents, researchers have pieced together a limited history of the ship.
Taken in large part from Richard Lawrence and Mark Wilde-Ramsing's "In Search of Blackbeard: Historical and Archeological Research at Shipwreck Site 003BUI", Southeastern Geology, Vol. 40, No. 1, February 2001
Original source available from North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Office of State Archaeology, Underwater Archaeology Branch.
The pirate Blackbeard is perhaps the most notorious of the sea robbers who plagued shipping lanes off North America and throughout the Caribbean in the early-eighteenth century — an era commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Piracy. Despite his legendary reputation, little is known about the early life of Blackbeard. Even his true name is uncertain, though it is usually given as some variation of Edward Thatch or Teach. He is reported to have served as a privateer during Queen Anne’s War (1701–1714) and turned to piracy sometime after the war’s conclusion. Maritime archaeologist and historian David Moore, spent considerable time tracing the history of Blackbeard. The earliest primary source document that Moore located that mentions the pirate by name dates to the summer of 1717. Other records indicate that by the fall of 1717 Blackbeard was operating off Delaware and Chesapeake bays in conjunction with two other pirate captains, Benjamin Hornigold and Stede Bonnet. Late in the fall of 1717, the pirates made their way to the eastern Caribbean. It was here, off the island of Martinique, that Blackbeard and his fellow pirates captured the French slaveship La Concorde — a vessel he would keep as his flagship and rename Queen Anne’s Revenge.1
By examining a variety of primary and secondary French documents, researchers have pieced together a limited history of La Concorde. The prominent French merchant, Rene Montaudoin, owned the ship, which operated out of the port of Nantes. French records recount three slave trading expeditions of Montaudoin’s La Concorde; one in 1713, a second in 1715, and the third and final voyage in 1717. Unfortunately, records have yet to be located that describe how Montaudoin acquired La Concorde or the date and place of the ship’s construction.2
During the eighteenth century, Nantes, located at the mouth of the Loire River, was the center of the French slave trade. For much of that century, the Montaudoin family operated the leading company involved in this nefarious but lucrative trade. Ships would leave Nantes in the spring loaded with trade goods and travel down the west coast of Africa. There, the captain would purchase a cargo of enslaved Africans to be transported to the New World. The transatlantic voyage, known as the Middle Passage, would take up to two months to complete. The Africans were usually sold at the French islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Saint Domingue where they served as laborers in the sugar cane fields. Emptied of their human cargo, ships would take on new freight, usually sugar, and return to France.
The last voyage of La Concorde and the ship’s subsequent capture by pirates are documented in depositions filed by two of the vessel’s officers, Captain Pierre Dosset and Lieutenant Francois Ernaut, when the two finally returned to France. Those depositions were obtained from the Archives Departementales de Loire-Atlantique in Nantes by Mike Daniel, President of Maritime Research Institute. According to Dosset and Ernaut’s reports, La Concorde left Nantes on March 24, 1717. The 200-ton ship was armed with sixteen cannon and had a crew of seventy-five. On July 8, La Concorde arrived at the port of Judas, or Whydah, in present-day Benin. There they took on a cargo of 516 captive Africans. The captain and officers also obtained about twenty pounds of gold dust for their own account. La Concorde took nearly eight weeks to cross the Atlantic and the hardships of the notorious Middle Passage took their toll on both the Africans and the French crew. By the time they reached the New World, sixty-one slaves and sixteen crewmen had perished.3
After crossing the Atlantic, and only 100 miles from Martinique, the French ship encountered Blackbeard and his company. According to Lieutenant Ernaut, the pirates were aboard two sloops, one with 120 men and twelve cannon, and the other with thirty men and eight cannon. With the French crew already reduced by sixteen fatalities and another thirty-six seriously ill from scurvy and dysentery, the French were powerless to resist. After the pirates fired two volleys at La Concorde, Captain Dosset surrendered the ship.4
The pirates took La Concorde to the island of Bequia in the Grenadines where the French crew and the enslaved Africans were put ashore. While the pirates searched La Concorde, the French cabin boy, Louis Arot, informed them of the gold dust that was aboard. The pirates searched the French officers and crew and seized the gold. The cabin boy and three of his fellow French crewmen voluntarily joined the pirates, and ten others were taken by force including a pilot, three surgeons, two carpenters, two sailors, and the cook.5 Blackbeard and his crew decided to keep La Concorde and left the French the smaller of the two pirate sloops. The French gave their new and much smaller vessel the appropriate name Mauvaise Rencontre (Bad Encounter) and, in two trips, succeeded in transporting the remaining Africans from Bequia to Martinique.6
Leaving Bequia in late November, Blackbeard with his new ship, now renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, cruised the Caribbean taking prizes and adding to his fleet. According to David Moore’s research, from the Grenadines, Blackbeard sailed north along the Lesser Antilles plundering ships near St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Nevis, and Antigua, and by early December he had arrived off the eastern end of Puerto Rico. From there, a former captive reported that the pirates were headed to Samana Bay in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic). No historical records have been located to chronicle Blackbeard’s movements during the first three months of 1718, but by April the pirates were off the Turneffe Islands in the Bay of Honduras. It was there that Blackbeard captured the sloop Adventure, forcing the sloop’s captain, David Herriot, to join him. Sailing east once again, the pirates passed near the Cayman Islands and captured a Spanish sloop off Cuba that they also added to their flotilla. Turning north, they sailed through the Bahamas and proceeded up the North American coast. In May 1718, the pirates arrived off Charleston, South Carolina, with Queen Anne’s Revenge and three smaller sloops.7
In perhaps the most brazen act of his piratical career, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston for nearly a week. The pirates seized several ships attempting to enter or leave the port and detained the crew and passengers of one ship, the Crowley, as prisoners. As ransom for the hostages, Blackbeard demanded that the pirates be given a chest of medicine. The medicines eventually delivered, the captives were released, and the pirates continued their journey up the coast.8
Soon after leaving Charleston, Blackbeard’s fleet attempted to enter Old Topsail Inlet in North Carolina, now known as Beaufort Inlet. During that attempt, Queen Anne’s Revenge and the sloop Adventure grounded on the ocean bar and were abandoned. Research by David Moore, and others, has uncovered two eyewitness accounts that shed light on where the two pirate vessels were lost. According to a deposition given by David Herriot, the former captain of Adventure, “the said Thatch’s ship Queen Anne’s Revenge run a-ground off of the Bar of Topsail-Inlet.” Herriot further states that Adventure “run a-ground likewise about Gun-shot from the said Thatch”. Captain Ellis Brand of the HMS Lyme provided additional insight as to where the two ships were lost in a letter (12 July, 1718) to the Lords of Admiralty. In that letter Brand stated that: “On the 10th of June or thereabouts a large pyrate Ship of forty Guns with three Sloops in her company came upon the coast of North carolina ware they endeavour’d To goe in to a harbour, call’d Topsail Inlett, the Ship Stuck upon the barr att the entrance of the harbour and is lost; as is one of the sloops.”
In his deposition, Herriot claims that Blackbeard intentionally grounded Queen Anne’s Revenge and Adventure in order to break up the company, which by this time had grown to over 300 pirates. Intentional or not, that is what happened as Blackbeard marooned some pirates and left Beaufort with a hand picked crew and most of the valuable plunder.
Blackbeard’s piratical career ended six months later at Ocracoke Inlet on the North Carolina coast. There he encountered an armed contingent sent by Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood and led by Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard. In a desperate battle aboard Maynard’s sloop, Blackbeard and a number of his fellow pirates were killed. Maynard returned to Virginia with the surviving pirates and the grim trophy of Blackbeard’s severed head hanging from the sloop’s bowsprit.