In nearby North Carolina, where Blackbeard met his grisly end, archaeologists are probing a shipwreck for new clues to his life. Although he struck terror from Pennsylvania to the Caribbean, it was along this coast that he found a welcome that lingers to this day, his memory saluted in trinket shops, inns, and bars. An audacious rapscallion, he came out of nowhere, never surrendered, and went down in a hail of musket balls. Even after his corpse was tossed overboard, some said it circled the boat three times before sinking. Like the pirate himself, the legend just won't die.
No one knows where the man named Edward Teach, or Tache, or Thatch, called home. Capt. Charles Johnson (who some believe was Daniel Defoe) claimed he came from Bristol in his 1724 tome, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, the primary source of most Blackbeard legends. Others trace him to a prominent family on Jamaica, or to the Carolinas. Like thousands of other English tars, he was thought to have turned to piracy after sailing on privateers during the War of the Spanish Succession from 1702 to 1713. And no wonder: A single prize could be worth 20,000 pounds sterling, and a pirate's share worth many times what an honest seaman would earn in a lifetime.
Teach sailed onto the stage in late 1716 in charge of a sloop stolen by Capt. Benjamin Hornigold, one of the most successful free-booters of the age. With Hornigold as his mentor, young Teach had risen through the ranks showing "uncommon boldness and personal Courage," according to Johnson. Teach soon joined forces with Maj. Stede Bonnet, a wealthy planter from Barbados who'd taken to pirating, it was said, to escape a shrewish wife. With Teach calling the shots, the two captured 11 ships from Havana to Delaware Bay.
Near the island of St. Vincent, Teach chased down La Concorde, a French slaver limping along with a crew decimated by scurvy and dysentery. After a brief skirmish, the French captain surrendered, and Teach dumped most of the crew and slaves on the tiny island of Bequia, leaving them a small sloop and a few tons of beans. He refitted the big slaver with 40 cannons and renamed her Queen Anne's Revenge. With one of the largest and most powerful pirate vessels ever to sail the Spanish Main, he sallied forth for a long season of plundering that the world would never forget.
Three centuries later, David Moore, curator of nautical archaeology for the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, methodically dons his diving gear aboard a research vessel about a mile (two kilometers) off Atlantic Beach. A pulse of clear green ocean water has raised the underwater visibility from its normal murky stew to nearly six feet (two meters), making Moore and the crew of marine archaeologists almost giddy. Just 22 feet (six meters) below, partially buried in the shifting sands, lie the remains of what he and his colleagues believe is Blackbeard's flagship. Discovered by treasure hunters in 1996 to great media fanfare, the wreck was subsequently turned over to the state. Ever since, a dedicated team of archaeologists and conservators has been slowly recovering artifacts that ultimately will reside in the maritime museum. After years of shoestring budgets and numerous hurricanes, this is the project's first large archaeological expedition to the site in nearly five years.