A University of Kentucky researcher helps solve a mystery off the coast of North Carolina: Where did the coal on the sunken Queen Anne’s Revenge come from?
About 300 years ago, a group of pirates captured a French slave ship. Among these pirates was a man named Edward Thatch (also spelled Teach) who would become known as Blackbeard.
The ship was kept by the dreaded pirate captain, naming it the Queen Anne’s Revenge, presumably in honor of the monarch he once served. Blackbeard sails the Caribbean in his new flagship, amassing a crew of up to 400 pirates and a stash of treasure yet to be discovered.
Project Blackbeard came to an end in 1718, after the famous pirate blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. The crew left port and sailed north where they attempted to maneuver to Old Topsail Inlet in North Carolina, now known as Beaufort Inlet.
The pirate captain hit a sandbar in the inlet along the coast. This is where the reign of Queen Anne’s Revenge would end, and the ship would remain undetected until 1996.
Investigate sunken treasure
In the decades since sunken treasure was discovered, researchers say about half of the shipwreck has been discovered and recovered. Among the findings were gold grains, mercury, beads for the glass trade, and hundreds of pieces of coal.
A team of researchers from North Carolina and Kentucky wants to find out where the coal in the historic shipwreck came from. Their findings have been published in International Journal of Maritime Archaeology.
James Hore, PhD, Distinguished Fellow and Research Professor at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, is part of the research team. He took a closer look at samples of coal taken from the site.
“We wanted to find out where that shipwreck coal came from in that particular era before there was any real coal mining of any kind in this country,” said Hauer, who has more than 40 years of experience in UK coal research. coal combustion products.
Identify the sources of the coal dilemma
“There are reasons for coal being found on a sailing ship like this, so finding it is not unique,” Hauer said. “But in this case, we first needed to piece together the full picture of Queen Anne’s Revenge to discern whether the coal belonged to the ship, which it probably didn’t.”
Researchers point out that coal was primarily used for cooking or heating in 17th- and 18th-century ships because coal was not used for propulsion until the 1870s. The team found no evidence of it being used for heating or navigation on the pirate ship.
The archaeologists found the coal evenly spread across the site and speculate that there could be more specimens awaiting discovery in both the corroded iron and the excavated areas of the wreck.
Four Hower samples were sent for further analysis to CAER’s Applied Petrology Laboratory to determine the grade of coal. Coal is classified into four major grades or types based on the amount of carbon the coal contains and the amount of heat energy it can produce.
Samples from the shipwreck varied greatly in grade, from low volatile bituminous coal (87–90% carbon) to anthracite (above 90% carbon). Hauer explained that the differences are important in understanding where the coal came from.
“Low volatile bituminous coal is generally found in Virginia. It is good for cooking and is also used in steamships because this type of coal gives off no smoke when it burns,” Hauer explained. “Anthracite is not the most common type of coal anywhere, let alone in the United States, all the anthracite here comes from Pennsylvania.”
Another key to solving this puzzle is knowing when the coal sources were active.
Simply put, coal samples after grounding date Queen Anne’s Revenge. In a nineteenth or twentieth century setting, the easiest explanation would have been for the source of both types of coal in the Appalachian Mountains, but mining there did not exist in the period we are considering. Plus That being said, Pennsylvania anthracite was not discovered by European settlers until the latter part of the 1860s, and real, legal mining didn’t happen until the 19th century,” Hauer said.
The coal expert listed possible sources of overseas coal in Ireland and Portugal at the height of Queen Anne’s Revenge that could have been used on the ship.
Cause and coincidence?
“It turns out we don’t need to sort out the source because the shipwreck and the coal accident were completely coincidental,” Hauer said. “It was likely thrown from Civil War-era U.S. Navy ships.”
The shipwreck is located near Beaufort, North Carolina, an invaluable port and coal refueling station during the Civil War after Union forces captured nearby Fort Macon on April 26, 1862.
There was a heavy flow of ship traffic at the time, especially during the Union blockade of the port of Wilmington, North Carolina – a major port for the Confederacy and the last one in February of 1865.
At one point, 1,000 tons of coal was ordered to be kept at Beaufort for ships in the area. From 1862 to 1864, 421 ships made nearly 500 voyages to the town for coal.
The station would have closed in 1865-7 after the sinking of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Researchers also cite forces of nature as a factor in why coal settled in and around the shipwreck. The inlets and sandy shoals along the outer banks often shift over the years due to waves, tidal currents, tropical storms, and hurricanes.
The movement is responsible for the intrusive items that find their way into the shipwreck, archaeologists said, such as 19th-century glass and ceramic artifacts as well as 20th-century coins, soda bottles, and even golf balls.
Hauer used his experience in analyzing coal, historical knowledge of the area, and logic to help formulate a solution to this puzzle. In this case, he said, the exercise is an important way to help add context to this type of research.
“This research shows that our studies of coal are not just for use,” said Hauer. “We can do something that teaches us about our history, not just the history of mining.” “Somehow, someone used that coal. It wasn’t Blackbeard, but it was the US Navy.”
Kimberly P. Kenyon et al, Queen Anne’s Revenge Coal Mystery: Origins of Coal Found in Association with a Historic Shipwreck, International Journal of Maritime Archeology (2022). doi: 10.1080/10572414.2022.2101775
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