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Blackbeard the pirate's terror tactics uncovered

By Laura Allsop for CNN
  • Weapons discovered at wreck site point to pirate's inventive weaponry
  • Finds include: double-headed cannons and bags of shrapnel
  • Used to terrorize rather than destroy merchant ships
  • Hoped that the rest of the wreck will be excavated in the fall

(CNN) -- From his long, black hair to his Tricorn hat, braided beard and bandolier packing six pistols, Blackbeard the pirate was certainly inventive with his image.

He was also, according to new findings at what is believed to be the wreck of his ship, "Queen Anne's Revenge," inventive with his weaponry.

Munitions discovered at the wreck site, just off the coast of North Carolina near the inlet of Beaufort, include typical pieces of ordnance such as cannons, cutlasses and blunderbusses. But recent finds include two-headed cannon balls and lethal packages of shrapnel.

"We've found conglomerates mostly fused by lead, containing nails, glass and evidence of canvas," said Mark Wilde-Ramsing, Deputy State Archaeologist (Underwater Branch) for the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and project leader for expeditions to the wreck.

"It's a bag of what you would now call shrapnel, and as it's shot out of a cannon, it busts open and just sprays the opponent's crew with the stuff, sweeps the deck," he explained.

While his piratical career wasn't that long, he made such an imprint because he used psychological warfare
--Pat Croce, owner of St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, Florida

Also found were cannon balls linked together either with barbells or bolts of metal, that would cause havoc when shot, spinning through the air and damaging enemy ships. For Wilde-Ramsing, these findings indicate creative and contingent thinking on the part of Blackbeard and his cohorts.

"They had limited access to traditional military stuff, which is why they're using these other things, because they couldn't pull into a port to get them," he said.

Often, Blackbeard would simply let his reputation precede him, said Pat Croce, owner of the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum in Florida.

"While his piratical career wasn't that long, he made such an imprint because he used psychological warfare," said Croce.

"He had this long black hair and he would insert slow-burning cannon fuses underneath his hat, so that he would be encircled by smoke and the sailors or prey on the merchant ships would see Satan coming towards them," he explained.

Croce, who collects pirate memorabilia and even visited the wreck site after it was discovered in 1996, recalls seeing numerous cannons and blunderbusses lying on the sea bed. Twenty-four cannons have been found by Wilde-Ramsing's team, and 12 have so far been brought to the surface.

But despite his impressive and creative arsenal, Blackbeard and his crew did not want to sink their opponents' ships.

"They weren't trying to put a hole in the boat and sink it, they were just trying to cause enough havoc to slow things down and discourage the opponents -- that's what we are finding, that this is a signature of pirates," said Wilde-Ramsing.

Much of what is located at the wreck comes up as conglomerates or concretions, which are composed of hard sand, shell and corrosion product, in which objects including weapons, bits of sail and even human bones have been found.

But Blackbeard's riches -- obtained when he blockaded the port of Charleston in South Carolina in 1718 -- have not been located at the wreck site, prompting Wilde-Ramsing to believe that its crew ransacked the ship for the most valuable objects as it ran aground, leaving only heavy munitions, crockery and medical instruments.

The latest expedition to the site yielded the ship's anchor but bad weather conditions kept further discoveries from being brought to the surface.

With hurricanes sweeping the sea-bed and scattering artifacts, the team is in a race to excavate the wreck fully in the next expedition, which is slated for the fall.

Wilde-Ramsing hopes that the excavation will provide as holistic a view as possible into the daily lives of the men on board "Queen Anne's Revenge."

"It will be a really great study to get into their heads and say, well, what were their priorities?" he said.