Of Ships and Shapes, Part II

One more thing about the shapes of ships – we’ve talked about this before: try to keep up. You’ll remember that I’m trying to figure out the shape of Blackbeard the Pirate’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.

You’ll also recall how we talked about tonnage being available space, not weight, and how sailing ships had a specific balance between fore and aft, wind and water, to make ’em easy to sail.

One thing we forgot to discuss was, well, the shape of the ship.

Here are some details that teach us about ship shapes:

1778: HMS Pandora, 114 feet long, 32 feet wide, 3.5/1 length to width

1779: USS Constitution, 175 feet long, 43 feet wide, 4/1 length to width

1869: Cutty Sark, 212 feet long, 36 feet wide, 6/1 length to width

1991: USS Arleigh Burke, 505 feet long, 31 feet wide, 16/1 length to width

What does this tell us? We’ll start at the top: Pandora was a frigate, fast and efficient for her day. More than that, she was a stable ship, carrying 26 guns.  Constitution was designed to outsail anything the Royal Navy had to offer, which she did. Cutty Sark was designed to quickly haul tea around the Horn from China. In her day, she was the fastest ship afloat. Arleigh Burke is a modern destroyer, built to cut through the water quickly, which she does.

Do you see the trend? As ships get more modern, they go faster and faster. But so does the ratio of length to width. We can assume, and it’s true, that a narrower ship will sail faster than a broader ship.

So, why build broad ships? Because wider hulls carry more cargo, and more cargo means more money per voyage.

Since Queen Anne’s Revenge was built to haul cargo, we can assume she had a length-to-breadth ratio in the range of 3 to 1. Kevin Duffus, in his book The Last Days of Black Beard, felt she had a length on only 104 feet. We know, then, that her breadth was about 30 feet.

See? All this math pays off. Kind of.

Of Tons and Guns

Sometimes you goof things up. You give the dog the cat’s food – he loves that! You unthinkingly dip your cracker into the jar of pasta sauce, assuming it’s the Nutella.

I goofed up. In my novel Marigold’s End, a Phineas Caswell Adventure, I refer to the Kathryn B, really the star of the book, as about a hundred feet long.

By today’s standards, that’s how we think. It’s because ships and boats are so specialized, and so standardized, that their length is the most logical way to categorize them. I have a friend that owns a 35 foot sailboat. A modern destroyer is about 550 long.

In the Golden Age of Pirates, between about 1680 and 1730, the luxury of such standardized descriptions just wasn’t available.  In those days, the times of the pirates of the Caribbean, a ship had to be a jack of all trades.

A good example is Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge (I’m dying to get actual dimensions on her and have therefore been researching her quite a bit). She began life in 1710 as English merchant ship, was captured by the French and converted into a slave ship, and then was taken by Blackbeard and made into a pirate ship.

First and foremost, ships of this time were built as merchant ships.  If you had a hundred tons of molasses to ship to Jamaica, you wouldn’t care how long a ship was, you’d care about how many tons she could hold.

Here’s a funny thing: when you think of a ton, you think about 2000 pounds. In ships, a ton is a measurement of cubic footage, not weight. You look at the available space into which you can cram cargo, run some math on it, and boom, there’s your tonnage.

Queen Anne’s Revenge, therefore, was considered a ship of about 200 tons. Not her weight, of course, but the amount of cargo she could carry. The Kathryn B, being a little 100-foot long brig, could probably manage 150.

In the Golden Age of Pirates, most countries could not afford the expense of building and maintaining fleets of warships. Instead, they relied on merchant ships, commandeering them and mounting extra guns in time of war.

Later, in the Golden Age of Sail (all these Golden Ages makes you think there should be some Little Golden Books about them), in the second half of the 18th Century, warships became specialized, and were identified by their guns. For example, Lord Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, the Victory, was a first-rate, 100 gun ship of the line. Captain Jack Aubrey’s first frigate, the Surprise, was a fifth-rate, 28 gun ship. Captain Isaac Hull’s Old Ironsides, the American ship U.S.S. Constitution, is rated as a 44 gun frigate.

Although the specific length of each type of ship wasn’t an identifying feature, it made sense that a 100-gun ship would be longer than a 28-gun ship. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th Century that a ship’s external dimensions gained importance.

So, you go swap out the dog’s food and put away the pasta sauce, and I’ll seriously figure out the gross tonnage of the little Kathryn B and the actual size of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Hey, how’d you get the easy job?

Davy Jones is Mad About his Locker

You’ve seen Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Pirates abound, of course, and sea monsters, and that poor devil with a squiddy face. I wonder if he likes sushi…

And there’s the Queen Anne’s Revenge, as pictured above. Ah, the QAR, with that enormous cathedral-style window in the transom, and those soaring balconies. Let’s not even talk about the skeleton figurehead, and all those carvings. Someone must have taken years to carve all that awesome stuff.

Remember, Queen Anne’s Revenge is the name Blackbeard gave to the French slaver La Concorde, after he captured her. National Geographic argues that he took her specifically because she was a slaver, and her crew was depleted by disease, and only half her gunports had cannons behind them. How he could have known all this in advance of meeting her…

While she looks menacing and theatrical and creepy, I often wonder who did all that work on her? This would have been around 1718, so the only power tools available were those that you powered yourself. Perhaps those are all real skeletons, wired together and mounted out on the forepeak. That’s really creepy, and would take an immense amount of medical work and craftsmanship to get them to stay together, but it might be easier to accomplish then carving them out of wood.  As our Mr. Beard had the QAR for less than a year, he must have had quite a contingent of artists and craftsmen in his crew.

Of course, ships in the Golden Age of Pirates, around 1680-1730, were only powered by the wind. Shipwrights of the day focused on designing long, straight lines, from a ship’s stem to her stern. She was as carefully balanced above and below the waterline as she was from her cutwater to her rudder. The goal was to make it easy for the sails to move the ship, and, through thoughtful symmetry, to make it easy for the crew to sail her.

A great example is the Sovereign of the Seas, the very largest, gaudiest ship of her day – launched in 1637. She was built to intimidate every other ship on the sea (if you’ve ever built a model of her, you were probably intimated by all that gold work: she’s the most tedious thing in the world, all guns and gold leaf. Oh, and some rigging). If you put your finger where it seems like her center of gravity would be, you find yourself at the main mast, near the center of the ship.

Compare her  with the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and you’ll see how much more balanced, fore and aft and above and below, she is.  Queen Anne’s high, high stern would be heavy, and would push her bow up out of the water. Put your finger on the place you think her center of gravity will be – not quite the center of the ship!

While her shallow draught below the waterline would allow her to sail into places most other ships could not go, she has very little compensation against the weight of her masts and sails, and the pressure of the winds. Sadly, she would be very difficult to sail on a nice day, and would find herself extremely challenged to stay upright on anything more than a slight breeze.

But, she accomplishes her mission in the Disney films: she is menacing and awe-inspiring.  As the Queen of Creepy Ships, she ranks right up there!

In our search for a correct interpretation of Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, however, I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a pass on the squiddy-faced fellow’s ride.

 

Pirate Terms Gone Awry

Researching pirates from the “Golden Age of Piracy”, about 1680 to 1730, is a difficult business. While there are scores of books and movies to draw from, you find that they themselves mostly draw from Cap’t Charles Johnson’s book, A General History…of…Pirates. The link on his title takes you to our Further Reading page, which features the full title of the book.

My most recent novel, Marigold’s End, A Phineas Caswell Adventure, puts the young protagonist in the midst of the worst of the worst. The novel I’m working on now requires even more research – sadly, most of it comes out from Cap’t Johnson!

What makes Johnson’s book so compelling is that it is the only one. Period. It was written in 1724, and it describes all of the nasty fellows of the day.  Beyond his book, there is simply no other organized documentation. There are the records kept by the colonial governors, by the courts, and by the shipping companies. But those generally detail specific events, and don’t tell the story. And they’re not literary in the least, making it very difficult for we 21st century pirate hunters.

I had planned to write this post about how the word “long” got into Long John Silver’s name. But, in my research, I hit a rather blank wall. I’ll tell you what I know:

Pirates did not wear earrings as fashion. They wore earrings, like every other sailor of the day, to denote their survival of a shipwreck.

Pirates did not wear fake eyepatches to be able to see better in the dark.

Pirates didn’t wear hooks or wooden legs because they wanted to.

And, pirates did not get the word “long” added to their name because they consumed human flesh.

If you look it up on many of the blogs out there devoted to pirate stories and legends,  you’ll see that the term “long pig” is cannibal reference to human flesh. Imagine your ship has been becalmed, without a breath of wind, for a month straight. All your food supplies are gone. No fish are biting. No bird can reach you because you’re in the middle of the Atlantic under a hot, broiling sun.

Maybe the topman Simpson has a fall, breaking his neck. You and your shipmates are literally starving to death – you’ve even eaten your leather belts. And then here’s Simpson.

Come on, lad. It ain’t like you’re doin’ him no harm – he’s already in heaven. What point is there in starvin’? God knows when you’ll eat again… just close your eyes, boyo. It tastes just like pork.

So, like the rest of the survivors, you choose to stay alive and eat the long pig. When finally a breeze comes and you finally sail out of the doldrums, you vow you’ll never tell anyone about it.

But then start the rumors, once you’re ship’s in port and paid off. You know about John Silver, don’t ye? They say he’s Long John Silver, if ye catch my meaning…

It’s a compelling story, but it’s just not correct. The phrase “long pig” was first used in print in 1847 – well over a hundred years after the likes of Long John Silver and Blackbeard.

The term appears to be a translation of a Polynesian word for human flesh. While it can be used in reference to a crew – they ate long pig – it doesn’t belong in the lexicon of the Golden Age of Piracy.

I went to Chapman’s The Sailor Lexicon, by Admiral W. H. Smyth. It’s a lexicon. It has 15,000 slang and professional sailor terms. There’s no mention of long pig in it.

So, my friend, be careful what you confer to our piratical brethren. They were rough, nasty folk, and they were the scourge of the seas, and they very probably were forced into cannibalism upon rare occasions.

And, while the Long in Long John Silver, a fictional creation of Robert Louis Stevenson in 1881, may have been meant to include Silver in that group, it was most likely applied because it was a popular and fanciful term in Stevenson’s day, not Silver’s.

 

The Smithsonian Weighs in on Queen Anne’s Image

Just so you know, I think this computer-generated ship image from the Smithsonian Institute is a little suspect. There, I said it.

She appears to be based on the Hispaniola from the 1950 film Treasure Island. Correct for her size, this ship has three masts, and a well found shape. That squares with Queen Anne’s Revenge, but this ship, from a video called “How Blackbeard Tricked Out His Ship,” on the resources page at si.edu, seems a tad too undefined to accurately represent the Queen.

As we’ll recall from previous posts, Queen Anne’s Revenge was built in England in 1710 as Concord, a 200-ton merchant ship. She was taken by the French and renamed La Concorde de Nantes. She worked the slave trade between the French Caribbean plantations and Guinea.

Benjamin Hornigold, a privateer turned pirate, had used his small fleet of piraguas (sailing canoes) to attack and overwhelm the small sloop, Happy Return.  With that sloop and his canoes he attacked and overwhelmed a heavily-armed merchantman named Ranger. Once he was in command of that powerful ship, he let go of the piraguas, and put his second-in-command, a fellow named Edward Thatch, in charge of the Happy Return.  With Happy Return and Ranger, Hornigold took the 26-gun Concorde de Nantes, and gave her as a reward to Thatch.

Thatch decided to part company with Hornigold, and began his solo career as the pirate Blackbeard. The first thing he did was change the ship’s name to Queen Anne’s Revenge, and then mounted as many guns in her as she could carry.

That’s where the Smithsonian’s interesting model comes in – the orange guns are those they feel would have been added to her. It’s sort of funny that Blackbeard would have added so many guns to what was already a well-found ship. The British of that period wanted as many guns as they could cram aboard, hoping  to find a competitive edge of French and Spanish warships of similar tonnage. In fact, the guns invariable ended up on the foredeck and quarterdeck, adding enormous weight far above the waterline, making the ships harder to sail and somewhat crank. The lesson: hardware can never stand in for good seamanship.

So, here at PhineasCaswell.com, you know we’re on a quest to find an accurate image of this ship. Here’s the question: is this Queen Anne’s Revenge?

I think we’re voting no on this one. For size, yes, for accommodation of the guns, probably. But, is this what Queen Anne’s Revenge actually looked like? I think not.

Let me know what you think – and certainly let me know if you have an image of the QAR you’d like to share.

For more about Blackbeard from the Smithsonian Institute, visit here.

A Step Closer to Queen Anne’s Revenge

One of the things I love most about writing is the marvelous places you visit – some in person, some in your head, and some on the Internet.

As you may have surmised, I’ve been piecing together Blackbeard’s story. Some parts are very hard to fit together – his ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) being among the hardest.

She went hard aground off of Beaufort, North Carolina, in November of 1718, and all traces of her were lost. We know she was a British ship first, and was taken by the French and used as a slaver named Concorde. Blackbeard took her and renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge. Her skeletal remains have been found, and many artifacts have been taken from her. But, no one knows what she looked like.

Archaeologists at the Smithsonian, however, believe she resembled the ship in the image, Le Mercure, of 1730. She’s only twenty or so years newer than QAR,  which is very close in terms of ship design from that era. Technological leaps were still relatively slow in coming.

We have to remember that, at this time, purpose-built warships seldom fell into the hands of pirates. They instead modified merchant ships to their purpose. Le Mercure appears to be pierced for 20 guns – Blackbeard would have up-gunned her to 40, which appears plausible if he used the quarter- and fore-decks.

Although she’s not Queen Anne’s Revenge, she’s in the ballpark.

A Letter of Marque

In the Golden Age of Piracy, the last thing you wanted to be called was a pirate. Pirates were dirty scoundrels, the scourge of the seas, and when caught, were most often hanged for their crimes. Blackbeard’s head, after he lost it in his fight against Lieutenant Maynard, hung from the bowsprit of Maynard’s ship, Ranger, as a grim reminder to all other pirates of their certain fate, was they caught.

So, you can see why it was unhealthy to refer to one’s self as a pirate.  A person on the other end of a pointing finger that hurled the word as an accusation could very well find himself hanged.

But, to be called a privateer, well, that was a different story.  A privateer was authorized by his government to attack and capture ships of a specific other government – for example, England sent out hundreds of privateers to attack ships bearing a Spanish flag. The Spanish equally dispatched them to attack English, French, and Dutch ships, among others.

For governments, privateers were an easy way to build an ad-hoc navy. In fact, ships taken by privateers were often brought into a home port and purchased by the government. Everyone associated with the privateering ship, from her owners down to the cabin boys on board, got paid, and the ship went into the navy.

To be a privateer, however, you had to have a commission from the king, or a local governor. To get it, you had to be a person of fair standing (obvious scoundrels need not apply), and you had to have a ship, fitted out at your own expense, and a crew that could fight.

This commission was in the form of a “letter of marque,” and you guarded it with your life.  The letter, signed by the king or a regional governor, stated that your actions were on behalf of the crown.  It gave you legal permission to attack other ships. Most important, should your ship get taken in an action, and you were captured, the letter of marque guaranteed that you would be tried as a prisoner of war, and not as a pirate.

There were many moments when an English schooner was waylaid on the high seas by an English warship. The naval first lieutenant, with half a dozen marines, stands, arms crossed angrily in the schooner’s sally port, swaying over the heavy waves, with a firm look of accusation on his face.

“Oh, no, sir,” says the schooner’s captain, nervously. “We don’t be no pirates, sir. We got ourselves a commission. Here, here comes Saunders with it now, sir.”

The lieutenant takes the proffered document from Saunders’ dirty, trembling hands and reads it carefully, noting the exchequer’s seal on the bottom. He glances about the schooner’s deck, noticing scars in the woodwork from another ship’s guns, the polished cutlasses in the rack around the main mast, the poorly stacked crates and casks waiting to be taken to the hold.  He glances at the letter one more time, then hands it back.

“We have a report that you attacked the Elizabeth, a pink under the English flag out of Dover,” he says frostily.

“Oh, no, sir,” the captain replies sheepishly. “As ye can see, why, we don’t have no commission to be attacking English ships, does we?” He chuckles with a slight wheeze, knowing that the commission is his get-out-of-jail-free card. 

The privateer’s commission was a powerful, but limiting tool. Privateers were forbidden to attack ships of their own country. But it happened nevertheless, and the line between privateer and pirate was often hard to see.

In truth, many of the most famous pirates, including Blackbeard, began their sea roving careers as privateers. Sir Henry Morgan drifted in and out of piracy, but always retained his commission as his defense. Despite his attacking English ships, he was actually knighted by the king himself for his service to the crown.

So, when the day was done, and the pirate caught, he might well save his neck if he could just provide that one document, the letter of marque.

 

Captain Avery, Part II: Henry’s Diamonds

If you read Part I, you’ll know that the legendary pirate Captain Henry Avery, in company with the pirate captains Tew and Dew, in the year 1695, attacked and took a royal ship belonging to the Grand Mogul of India – a ship filled with diamonds, gold, and an overwhelming number of other treasures. Captain Avery swindled all of the treasure away from Captains Dew and Tew, and sailed off to North America, where his crew broke up to become wealthy landsmen. What they never knew was that Captain Avery had swindled them, too, as he had secretly filled his pockets with diamonds from the Grand Mogul’s ship.

Captain Avery must have been pretty pleased with himself. He held a huge fortune quite literally in his pockets. Wherever he wanted to go in the world, whatever he wanted to do, he could now choose with abandon. Except.

Except that while many members of his crew had accepted a pardon for their piracy offered by King William III, Henry was afraid to do so: he was aware that his taking of the Grand Mogul’s ship had caused a major international incident, and that, instead of a pardon, a local governor would more likely offer him a noose.

Except that the diamonds in his pocket were beautiful, and exceedingly rare. So rare, that he dare not sell them in the Americas for fear of being discovered as a sea rover and hanged.

So, sadly, Henry took ship to Scotland, and then to Ireland, where he felt certain he could sell them and make his fortune. To his utter dismay, outrage against piracy was just as strong in Ireland as it was in the new world.

He crossed over into England, finding an acquaintance in Bristol who knew some rich fellows that were well versed in managing the kind of financial problems Henry faced. He stayed in the small town of Bideford and changed his name. The acquaintance brought the financiers to Bideford, and the meeting went well.

The financiers gave Henry a tidy sum of money as a deposit, and took the diamonds back to Bristol to sell them. This all seemed well and right with Henry, who finally was on his way to his fortune.

Except that he heard nothing more from the financiers. No money came, no letters, no words. The tidy sum, while tidy, was not enough for him to last very long. As the months went by, he began to worry.

Taking his courage in hand, he traveled to Bristol, and confronted the financiers in their offices. They gave him a much smaller sum of money. When he demanded his diamonds back, they refused.

“Begone, ruffian,” they probably said, “or we shall turn you in for the pirate that you are.”

The tiny sum of money wasn’t enough, and didn’t last very long, and Henry was very probably fearful for his life. He decided to go back to Ireland, where he was quite unknown.

But he had no money, and no skills to get any. The famous Captain Avery took to begging. “Help a sailor down on his luck…”

Except that his pride caught up with him. He resolved to get those diamonds back, let the ashes fall where they will.

He took a job as a common sailor on a ship bound for Plymouth, England. Once there he jumped ship and walked through the countryside, determined to get what was his.

Except, on a bright and sunny afternoon, walking a common dirt road in the English countryside not too far from Bristol, Henry stumbled and fell face first in the dirt. A cloud of dust lifted around him, flickering in the sunshine. The birds in the trees fell silent for a moment, but then went back to their squawking and chattering. Henry Avery was no more.

Captain Henry Avery, murderer, rapist, liar, cheat, swindler, and, above all, a diabolical pirate, died face down in the dirt, trying to get what he deserved.

So ends Part II of the Captain Avery trilogy. Sad, yes, but don’t you find it poetically correct?

There is one more part to this amazing tale: the adventures of Tew and Dew and their crews.

This abbreviated story is from A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, first written in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson. You can find more information on the Further Reading page.

Captain Avery, Part I: A Tragedy in Three Parts

On the Further Reading page, you’ll find a reference to a book called A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, by Captain Charles Johnson.

Captain Johnson’s book was first published in 1724, right smack in the middle of the Golden Age of Piracy, by a fellow about whom nothing is known. Was he Daniel Defoe, the popular novelist of the age? Maybe. Was he himself a pirate, writing under a false name so as not to get hanged for his crimes? Likely.

Regardless, most of our knowledge of pirates from this era comes from him. There were newspaper accounts, and official records, of course, but nothing that comes even close to the depth of detail provided by the good captain.

And no story in his History is as ironic or poetically pleasing as his story of Captain Henry Avery. What is most fascinating about Avery’s story is this it’s very short, stunningly wicked, and is actually three stories – three forks of a tale, or tail.

Part One: Duke’s Crew.

In 1695, the Spanish have trouble keeping English pirates from taking ships bound for their ports in the Caribbean. As they don’t have enough ships themselves, they hire, in England, two powerful British ships, the Duke and the Duchess, to patrol the Caribbean waters on their behalf.

These are powerful ships, of 30 guns each. Captain Gibson, in command of the Duke, is a well-respected, established sea officer with many years of experience behind him. His first mate is a fellow named Henry Avery, born some years before in Devonshire, near Plymouth, England. Avery is a tough and able sailor.

Avery notices early on in the voyage from Plymouth to Jamaica that Captain Gibson likes to drink and pass out in his bunk early in the evening. Every evening. Avery sees that the crew notices this, too.

It doesn’t take much for Avery to convince the bad apples in Duke’s crew, and there are many of those, that it wouldn’t take much effort to steal control of the ship away from Captain Gibson.

One night, while Captain Gibson sleeps drunkenly in his cot, Avery orders the ship to weigh anchor, and off they sail for India. The captain awakens with a start when he senses the changed motion of the ship.

“Are we run aground?” he stammers.

“No, Captain,” replies Avery, who is in the cabin when the captain awakens. “I have taken your ship from you, and we are at sea. Pray, put your clothes on and come out to the main deck. I will put you and those who don’t wish to go to sea with us ashore in a boat.”

Which is exactly what happens – Captain Gibson and five of his men watch the Duke sail over the horizon with almost a hundred sailors, all of who had turned pirate.

That’s the story according to Captain Johnson. Wikipedia doesn’t describe this part of Avery’s history, and differs from the good Captain in detail for what comes next. We’ll stick with Captain Johnson’s story, because it’s intriguing.

Avery puts into a small bay on the island of Madagascar to find wood and water. There he meets Captains Tew and Dew, each in command of a small sloop. The three agree they should go a’pirating together.

The three ships together attack and overwhelm an Indian royal ship, belonging to, according to Johnson, the Grand Mogul himself. The ship is packed with passengers who are on their Mecca, and have brought enormous piles of gold and diamonds and money as offerings.

Johnson glosses quickly over what happened aboard that ship in his book. But the details you’ll find on Wikipedia make it clear that these men were barbaric at the least. It must simply have been horrifying for the pilgrims on that ship.

So, according to Johnson, before splitting up the wealth, Avery himself lines his pockets with the diamonds that he finds, knowing that his fortune is made. He has quite hit the jackpot.

After they dispatch the Mogul’s ship, Captains Avery, Tew, and Dew hold a council as to how best to secure the treasure. All three captains agree that they don’t need to be pirates anymore, as their futures are secure. All they have to do is get the treasure off of the sea, away from capture by other pirates. Avery suggests, and they all agree, that the Duke is the most powerful of the three ships, and should therefore carry the treasure.

They all make a solemn pact to meet at Madagascar to divvy up the goods. They drink, they shake hands, Tew and Dew row back to their ships, and, in the dark of night, Avery quietly sails away with everything.

Avery and the Duke’s crew divvy up the treasure amongst themselves, and each member of the crew finds himself terribly wealthy.

This is where the first part of the story concludes: the crew is terrified of getting caught as pirates, so they break up, and wander off into the wilds of North America – some to the Carolinas, some to New England – assuming new names and leaving their horrible crime behind them. Some became landed gentlemen – we’ll never know who, because everybody changed names.

So, what became of Captain Avery? That’s part two.

And what of Tew and Dew? Oh, that’s a fascinating story – very much part three.

 

Blackbeard’s Trio of Mysteries

If you Google the name Blackbeard, everything you read will start with something like “Blackbeard was the most famous pirate…” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Here are just some of the cool things about Blackbeard:

Mystery #1

Captain Charles Johnson, who wrote about pirates in 1724, referred to Blackbeard as the bloodthirstiest of pirates. He once sat at a table with his “friends” Israel Hands and another fellow. As they chatted, Israel noticed that Blackbeard slowly lowered two pistols under the table, and he heard the click as Blackbeard cocked them. Fearing the worst, Israel leapt to his feet – but too late. A pistol ball smashed his knee. The second shot completely missed the other fellow.

“Why on Earth did ye do that?” Israel bellowed.

“If your crew don’t fear ye, they won’t respect ye,” came the laconic reply.

And yet, and yet, many historians write that Blackbeard was way more fearsome than bloodthirsty. An educated man, he doesn’t seem to have done half the nasty things history says he did.

This requires research!

Mystery #2

Although little pieces of a book were found inside one of the cannons recovered from the wreck of Blackbeard’s prized ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, they appear to have been torn out of a popular book of the day about an ocean voyage to Peru.

And yet, and yet, at the end of Captain Johnson’s book, he says that Blackbeard kept a journal, and that, when asked where on his South Carolina plantation Blackbeard buried all his treasure, the pirate’s response was “that’s between me and the devil.”

So? Is there a journal? Does the journal tell us where the treasure is buried?

This, too, requires research!

Mystery #3

This isn’t so much of a mystery for you, but it certainly is for me. As a modeler of fine and beautiful sailing craft, I would love to put my hands on plans of Queen Anne’s Revenge.

And yet, and yet, such plans don’t seem to exist. What? Marine archaeologists have found her, in the shallows off of Beaufort, North Carolina, and have brought thousands of her pieces ashore. But no plans have been drawn – not even a deck plan!

She began life as a 26-gun British ship, was taken by the French during the War of Spanish Succession, and then was taken by Blackbeard. Blackbeard, typically, up-gunned her to 40. It’s no surprise she ran aground.

Oh, here’s a bonus mystery for you: by the time he ran her aground, Blackbeard had about 300 pirates in his company – that’s a lot of guys!

Stede Bonnet, a co-captain, felt that Blackbeard ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on purpose, so as to break up that huge number of pirates. According to Captain Johnson, he actually stranded 17 men on a desert island, with no food, no water, no nothin’. If Stede Bonnet hadn’t rescued them, himself having been ditched by Blackbeard, they’d have been goners for sure.

So? Why no plans of Queen Anne’s Revenge? And, did Blackbeard run her aground on purpose?

 

It’s all mysteries, my friend. All crying out for research. Are you up to the challenge?