Blackbeard’s Treasure​

by Michael Bernzweig

Tablet of contents:

  • The Loot of the Most Famous Pirate of them All: Blackbeard's Treasure
  • Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard
  • Blackbeard and Queen Anne's Revenge
  • Blackbeard on the Run
  • Was the End Near?
  • Blackbeard's Modern-Day Treasure Hunters
  • Why Blackbeard's Treasure Is So Fascinating
  • Blackbeard's Treasure Phenomenon
  • What did Blackbeard's treasure consist of?
  • Was Blackbeard's treasure found?
  • Blackbeard: A Man of Myth and Mystery
  • Other Shipwreck Theories
  • Blackbeard's Last Stand
  • Where is Blackbeard's treasure buried?

The Loot of the Most Famous Pirate of them All: Blackbeard's Treasure

Piracy is as old as the concept of merchants putting things on boats and transporting them from port to port to sell them. There has always been someone willing to try their luck at stealing what the merchant has. But while pirates have been a constant of the seas, the real Golden Age of Piracy occurred in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in the Caribbean and the Western Atlantic as rich ships laden with gold and silver bullion and valuable cargoes of sugar, tobacco, cotton and beaver furs sailed from Canada south to the Windward Islands. Here, between the 1660s and the 1720s, a man could become rich quickly by engaging in piracy, and he and his fellows could then escape to a pirate-friendly port in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean to sell their ill-gotten gains. As he traveled, he likely attacked ships near Antigua, Martinique, the Grenadines, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent, among others.

Additionally, there was limited oversight of these seas at the time and few people to stop any wood-be pirates as a result. Indeed some of the governors of these colonies colluded with the most powerful pirate captains, accepting bribes in return for turning a blind eye to their activities.

Moreover, the continuous wars between France and England between the 1660s and the 1710s swelled the ranks of mariners serving on ships in the Atlantic. When the wars ended, these men often took down the flag of their respective nations and raised pirate flags. But it could not last forever, and when the crackdown by the British Royal Navy came in the mid-1710s.

Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard

The man who would become known as the black beard was probably born in Bristol in England sometime around 1680 as either Edward Teach or Edward Thatch. Almost nothing is known about his life until, when he was most likely in his twenties, he shows up on board a hired ship sailing out of Jamaica in the Caribbean during the 1700s under the colors of England as part of the War of the Spanish Succession. When that particular conflict ended in 1713, he, like many others, elected not to join the official British Royal Navy. Instead, he turned to piracy. In 1716 he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, a ruthless pirate who commanded a small flotilla of ships based out of the Bahamas. Teach evidently made an impression, and within just a few months, Hornigold made him captain of one of his ships.

Blackbeard and Queen Anne's Revenge

Late in 1717, Hornigold and Teach captured a large French vessel named La Concorde, a twenty-gun ship that Teach now took over and renamed the French slave ship Queen Anne's Revenge. He added another twenty cannons to it, clearly stating his methods. Now heavily armed, Teach captured at least eighteen ships in the six months that followed. His reputation quickly spread amongst the pirate brethren of the Western Atlantic and the Islands and also colonial society in North and Central America. He cultivated a flamboyant image, mixed with a reputation as a fierce fighter. Teach, for example, sported a massive beard which he occasionally placed slow-burning fuses in to add to his fearsome aspect. It gained him much notoriety, and he was soon known by another name: Blackbeard. In time, Blackbeard quickly gained a gruesome reputation as an opportunist. With bases both in the Bahamas and North Carolina, his reign of terror was centered in the West Indies and the Atlantic coast of North America.

Blackbeard on the Run

Yet the British government was determined by this time to crack down on the pirates and, in the late 1710s, dispatched several ships to the Caribbean to force the leading captains to surrender in return for pardons and to hunt down those who wouldn't. Hornigold quickly accepted a pardon and retired, but Blackbeard, in the act of incendiary defiance, instead blockaded the major port of Charlestown in the Carolinas for a whole week, seizing upwards of a dozen ships. Blackbeard entered the Charleston, South Carolina harbor in late May 1718 with the Queen Anne's Revenge and three lighter vessels. While attempting to enter or leave the port, he looted several merchant freighters. The pirate squadron prevented any other vessels from transiting the harbor. Samuel Wragg was one of the Charleston citizens aboard one of the ships Blackbeard captured in the harbor mouth.

Was the End Near?

Then, having committed this audacious act, Teach absconded to Beaufort Inlet, where the Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground (on which more below). He was sailing north from Charleston at the time. Shortly afterward, as the crackdown on his fellow pirates intensified, Blackbeard sought and obtained a pardon from the governor of North Carolina, Charles Eden. He was no land dog, though, and within months, he was back at sea. It was a fatal mistake. The Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood, was determined to hunt down figures like Blackbeard, and he offered a large bounty on his head. As a result, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, commanding two sloops and nearly sixty well-armed soldiers, engaged Blackbeard and his crew in a naval battle at Ocracoke Inlet off North Carolina on the 22nd of November, 1718. There Edward Teach fell fighting. It was a short career as a pirate, but one which bred infamy that continues to the present day. That is partly because of the persistent interest in where he might have buried his treasure.

Blackbeard's Modern-Day Treasure Hunters

The legend of Blackbeard, the Chesapeake Bay pirate who captured slave and merchant ships, has been around for centuries, and it continues to fascinate people today. Many people believe that Blackbeard's treasure is out there, waiting to be found. 

There have been many attempts to find Blackbeard's treasure, and while multiple items have been recovered from what is rumored to be the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship or pirate galleon he famously captained, the treasure itself has yet to be found. 

This hasn't stopped people from looking, though. Over the years, there have been many expeditions, and even today, there are people who dedicate their lives to finding the lost treasure. 

Why Blackbeard's Treasure Is So Fascinating

Captain Blackbeard, or Edward Teach, was one of the most famous pirates of his time. He was known for his ruthless tactics and was referred to by some as "Terrifying Blackbeard" and was indeed feared by many. 

He operated in the Caribbean, Cayman Islands, and along the East Coast of the United States. As a pirate, he amassed a large amount of treasure. It is believed that this treasure is still out there, waiting to be found. 

Blackbeard is believed to have buried his treasure. On Cayman Brac, a thin island 18 kilometers long, locals call the Treasure Pit a place where he may have buried his loot.

Governor Eden of North Carolina even offered a pardon to any pirate who could bring Blackbeard's head to him. In 1718, Blackbeard was killed in a battle with the Royal Navy. His ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was sunk in the battle. 

The allure of finding Blackbeard's treasure has always been strong, and many people have been drawn to the legend throughout the years. The fact that the treasure has never been found just adds to the mystery and appeal. 

What has been found?

As mentioned, multiple items have been recovered from a ship thought to be the Queen Anne's Revenge, the pirate ship Blackbeard captained. Discovered in 1996 in New York, the ship was an important find for historians. 

Among the items found on the ship were cannons, tools, medicine, and personal effects belonging to the crew. These items have helped to shed light on life aboard a pirate ship in the early 18th century. 

Blackbeard's Treasure Phenomenon

Even though Blackbeard's treasure has never been found, the legend of Blackbeard's treasure continues to fascinate people. Multiple events,  TV shows, movies, and books have been dedicated to the pirate treasure legend. 

The Nashville Symphony created an educational concert for children called 'Pirates! In the Curse of Blackbeard's Treasure' in which Captain Enrico and First Mate Pip discover a clue to the lost treasure of Captain Blackbeard, so they enlist their new crew of sailors to explore the seas in search of this legendary prize.

The History Channel detailed another theory of Blackbeard's treasure in an episode titled 'Buried Treasure.' The theory covered the Isles of Shoals in New Hampshire and the notion that the treasure was buried somewhere on one of the islands. 

There are also several attractions dedicated to Blackbeard, including:

  • Blackbeard's Treasure Campground in Surf City, North Carolina.
  • The Blackbeard Treasure Trail in Beaufort, North Carolina.
  • A historical marker for the Queen Anne's Revenge in Fort Macon State Park
  • Blackbeard's Pirate Jamboree in Hampton, Virginia.

These are just a few of the events and attractions that have been created in the spirit of finding Blackbeard's lost treasure. 

What did Blackbeard's treasure consist of?

Like all famous pirates, it is assumed that Blackbeard had an extensive treasure that he buried somewhere along the seaboard of North America or in the Caribbean. In Teach's case, there is substantive interest because the ruins of the Queen Anne's Revenge, his flagship, were seemingly discovered in November 1996 by divers at Beaufort Inlet, whereas we saw the ship ran aground shortly after Blackbeard and his crew had blockaded Charlestown in 1717. Hundreds of artifacts were recovered from the site in the months and years that followed, including valuable sword hilts, some gold fragments, and a few coins bearing the likeness of Queen Anne, who ruled over England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1702 and 1714. However, while nothing was uncovered during this time that would seem to be indicative of a major pirate hoard, or treasure chest, the discovery piqued renewed interest in where Blackbeard's treasure might be and what it might have consisted of. After all, if Blackbeard's treasure wasn't on the Queen's Anne Revenge when it went aground in 1717, then where was it? Some of the most famous pirates in history have had the most impressive treasure troves, including Henry Morgan, Edward Teach, Bartholomew Roberts, and, yes, of course, Blackbeard.

Was Blackbeard's treasure found?

Theories as to the location of Blackbeard's treasure are numerous. If it isn't to be found at Beaufort Inlet, then it might be found somewhere around Ocracoke Island, where Blackbeard met his demise in November 1718 in the naval engagement with Lieutenant Robert Maynard. According to an account which was penned by Daniel Defoe, the famed author of Robinson Crusoe, which he published under the pen name of Captain Charles Johnson in the 1720s, Blackbeard had his ship ringed with powder and explosives that day and possibly had left instructions with his crew to blow the ship if it looked like being captured. This fact provides another clue to the possible whereabouts of the treasure. If this story is true (and it might well be apocryphal), and if Teach had his hoard on board at the time, then his vast riches might have sunk to the ocean floor on Blackbeard's flagship somewhere around Ocracoke Inlet off the coast of North Carolina.

Blackbeard: A Man of Myth and Mystery

Another very plausible theory holds that Teach might have hidden away his booty in the few months after he received his pardon late in 1717 and before he went out into active piracy again in 1718. During this period, the man who had been known for wandering on deck with lit explosives in his beard had settled down as a humble shopkeeper at Plum's Point in the town of Bath in North Carolina. His treasure might well be buried near where he lived in Bath. One particular site of interest in this regard is a nearby field where Blackbeard had set up a tar pit or 'kettle', which was used to make wood tar that was used in the early eighteenth century to seal the hulls of ships. Perhaps when he was digging out the tar pit, Teach dug a nice hole for his gold and silver as well. Moreover, while these are the most plausible leads, there is no shortage of further possible avenues to explore in terms of where Edward Teach might have stowed away his ill-gotten gains. These range from an obscure spot on an island where he and his crew stopped to get provisions to somewhere that a fence or middle-man might have secreted his things while he was away at sea.

Other Shipwreck Theories

One of the strongest arguments against Blackbeard's shipwreck is found on a cannon barrel marked with three very large numbers - 1, 7, 3 - and a slightly smaller zero. This would end the Blackbeard theory if these numbers represent a date, 1730. However, historians believe the figure refers to a weight system from a long since obsolete era or perhaps a catalog number. This shows us that it is important to look at all the symbols made by the pirates, not just numeric figures. Blackbeard's use of log-talk could have been to throw off outsiders trying to find his valuables and predict his whereabouts.

Blackbeard's Last Stand

Ocracoke Inlet off the coast of North Carolina is where Blackbeard made his last stand. Is his treasure possibly lying on the seabed here? Many a treasure hunt has been undertaken to find out. In addition to the anchor recently brought to the surface, thousands of artifacts have been recovered from Queen Anne's Revenge. Could this be just part of the hidden treasure? Yet, no treasure of gold, silver, or bullion has surfaced. So, is Blackbeard's elusive treasure out there somewhere buried and waiting to be found? The answer is yes, possibly. Like all other major pirate captains of the Golden Age of Piracy, there is little doubt that Edward Teach would have accumulated fairly vast riches in a short period of time in the 1710s, particularly so given how prolific the Queen Anne's Revenge was in capturing shipping. Equally, he had to have done something with the wealth he obtained. Yet, like all other pirate treasures, if it is out there buried somewhere, then it will probably remain elusive.

Where is Blackbeard's treasure buried?

This leaves us with an excellent question, where did Blackbeard store his treasure? Where should a treasure hunter begin their search? Blackbeard was a pirate, so he had to have a place to hide his treasure. There are surely many clues and many riddles to solve. He wasn't just going to put it out there for the world to see. Pirates like Blackbeard during the Golden Age plied their trade from the waters of the St Lawrence River in Canada all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico and eastwards towards South America. Many even periodically ventured from the North Carolina coast across great distances into the Southern Atlantic. There are records of some pirates who were based out of the island region, even plying their trade across the high seas as far away as the Red Sea between Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula. Given how expansive the world of the pirates was in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, then the X on any of the treasure hunters' treasure maps could really be anywhere at all!

Copyright 2021 Detector Electronics Corp. - Revised September 2022