Blackbeard's Final Prize - The Martinique Sugar Ship (Completed Project)


In August of 1718, the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Edward Thatch) was cruising in the warm Caribbean waters when he came upon two French sugar ships outbound from "Martinique." One was fully loaded with sugar and cocoa and the other was empty. Captain Thatch had continued his piratical activities even after taking the "King's Pardon" and promising never to commit piracy again. He captured both ships without a fight and placing the crew from the full ship on to the empty ship, he took the full ship and sent the rest on their way.

     He brought his final prize to Ocracoke and unloaded the cargo (but not the ship's fittings or equipment as these could trace the ship back to him and be used as evidence against him.) He then claimed the ship as a salvage and after taking a share of the cargo, the governor of North Carolina agreed and the case was closed. Very soon after, Thatch claimed that the ship had become leaky and was in danger of sinking and closing up a part of the channel. He took the vessel "up into the river" and burned the ship to the waterline, where it lies today. In November of 1718, Blackbeard was attacked by Lt. Maynard and Royal Navy troops and killed in Teaches Hole, near Ocracoke.

     On May 28, 1997, SIDCo was issued a permit authorizing a search for this vessel. The permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, includes about 60 sq. miles of bottom around and including Ocracoke. Our work on this project started around July 1, 1997 and included remote sensing work and preliminary identification of cultural resources in the permit area.

     Phase One of this Blackbeard project consisted of exploration of obstructions on the sea bottom found by fishermen's nets. These obstructions, commonly called "hangs" are recorded by the fishermen, using loran equipment so that they will not hang a net on them again. We will go to these coordinates and send divers down, who in turn will use a "sweep line" to do a circular search of the ocean floor. Though not as reliable, this was a good place to start and the most logical starting point for this project.

     Phase Two began our remote sensing portion of the project. In this segment, we used a magnetometer ( a device that detects changes in the earth's magnetic field such as would be associated with a shipwreck) to look for hidden wrecks or targets in specific areas of our permit bottom. The most probable sites for the scuttling of the sugar ship will be searched first.

     Phase Three will begin once we have found the Martinique sugar ship. This part will be exploration, survey, mapping, and recovery of the site. Along with this will be restoration preservation of all artifacts and cultural materials. A separate permit must be obtained once we are ready to begin executing this phase. The project may take as much as 10 years to reach this point ...and it may be the first hang that we dive on.