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Wednesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. Secrets of the Dead: Blackbeard's Lost Ship

(Rochester, NY) Edward Teach, alias Blackbeard, was the most notorious pirate of his day. At the height of his reign, he commanded a fleet of four ships and a crew of 400 men. They were ruthless seafaring raiders who terrorized vessels in American waters. In 1717, Blackbeard even blockaded the city of Charleston, crippling its economy. Eventually he was caught and beheaded by a posse from the Royal Navy. Now, 300 years later, a marine archaeology team believe they have found his sunken flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the North Carolina coast. The remains of the shipwreck are helping solve the most enduring mystery surrounding the infamous pirate captain – did he accidentally run his ship aground, or was it a deliberate plot to betray his crew and cheat them out of their share of the plunder? Secrets of the Dead: Blackbeard's Lost Ship airs Wednesday, April 22 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (cable 1011 and DT 21.1).        

The documentary takes viewers on an underwater archaeological adventure.  The discoveries from the ongoing research are rewriting the final chapter of Blackbeard’s wild life. Featured experts include Lisa Briggs, marine archaeologist; Angus Konstam Author Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate; and David Moore, Curator of Nautical Archaeology, North Carolina.

“It’s amazing how history comes full circle,” says Jared Lipworth, executive producer of Secrets of the Dead. “300 years ago the colonists were faced with a pirate who instilled fear into the hearts of all who crossed his path, and today we’re seeing a troubling resurgence of deadly piracy off the coast of Somalia. While we recognize today’s pirates as the terrorists they are, we often have a tendency to romanticize the swashbuckling villains of the past.  This program aims to set the record straight.”

The film captures the rigorous and painstaking efforts to salvage the fragile wreckage. Among the many challenges facing the archaeological team are risky dive conditions and artifacts made fragile by centuries in salt water. Much like evidence from a crime scene, each item has to be tagged and catalogued before it can even be picked up off the seabed. From tiny game pieces to guns encased in sediment to canons weighing more than a ton, every artifact reveals more detail about life aboard an active pirate ship. The team even found gold dust—a staple of every pirate legend!

The team was able to identify the ship as the Queen Anne’s Revenge by carbon-dating wood from the hull, x-raying concreted artifacts, and retracing maker’s marks and dates on the weapons. But that was only the beginning.  Analyzing the position of an anchor and a pile of cannons leads one expert to posit that the ship had clearly run aground by accident. But when the testimonies of Blackbeard’s crew are taken into account, and the canons are examined more closely, it seems more likely that the grounding was carefully orchestrated by a pirate captain who was trying to get rid of his crew. After beaching the ship, Blackbeard transferred all the valuables onto a smaller vessel, left the majority of his men stranded on a nearby island, then sailed off into the sunset.

The archaeological treasure trove found on the Queen Anne’s Revenge provides a unique opportunity to reexamine Blackbeard’s legacy. 300 years after his death, we can piece together an archaeological puzzle that separates fact from fiction and reveals the true story of the infamous pirate.

For more information, visit http://www.pbs.org/secrets.

Pictured: Pewter ware excavated from Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Photo Credit: Wendy Welsh ©North Carolina Dept of Cultural Resources

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