Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Jolly Noggin of Blackbeard

In 1996, a marine recovery team found the remains of a wrecked ship in an inlet on the coast of North Carolina. Since then, about a third of the wreckage has been excavated, yielding over 16,000 artifacts of British origin. The wreck has been identified as probably being the Queen Anne's Revenge, a pirate ship that scourged the coast of the southern colonies under the captaincy of Edward Thatch (sometimes given as Teach), better known as Blackbeard.

Blackbeard made his last stand off the coast of NC almost three hundred years ago. Despite the fact that Blackbeard had decided to accept a Royal pardon and retire, Governor Spotswood of Virginia sent two sloops out of his jurisdiction to hunt down the illustrious Captain Thatch.

Lieutenant Robert Maynard, in command of the mission, engaged Thatch near Beaufort Inlet. After a spirited exchange of insults and gunfire, Blackbeard and ten of his men threw grenades made of rum bottles full of gunpowder onto the deck of Maynard's sloop. After covering the deck with smoke and broken glass, they boarded.

They say Blackbeard was shot five times and stabbed close to twenty before he fell. Maynard cut off Thatch's head-- not only for a trophy, but also as proof to collect the bounty (a meagre £100). He hung the head from his bowsprit. That's the beam that juts out from the front of a wooden ship.

According to legend, Blackbeard's decapitated body was thrown overboard, where it swam around the sloop seven times before sinking. But the head was kept, this we know. And scholars suspect that we still have Blackbeard's actual skull.

This supposed skull of Blackbeard and many of the recovered artifacts from the supposed Queen Anne's Revenge will be on display at a grand exhibition of pirate history from antiquity to the present at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. The exhibit, entitled Knights of the Black Flag, opens tomorrow.

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