Archaeologists excavating Blackbeard’s flagship ‘the Queen Anne’s Revenge’ have encountered some interesting finds. Among the many artefacts were medical supplies that could suggest Blackbeard struggled mightily to keep himself and his crew healthy.
Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, is possibly the most famous pirate to have ever sailed the seven seas, and he captured his legendary flagship in November 1717 CE. At the time, the ship was a French slave vessel that sailed under the name of La Concorde de Nantesthat. The vessel was easily captured due to the fact that its crew members were almost entirely stricken with disease and dying or already dead. To prevent the same fate from befalling his own crew, Blackbeard kept three surgeons on board his ship.
In early 1718, the Queen Anne’s Revenge befell a common, but unfortunate fate; it ran aground on a sandbar in North Carolina. Blackbeard left most of his crew to fend for themselves and set out with a select horde and almost all of his plunder. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it, Blackbeard was killed and beheaded during battle in late 1718.
The wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge has been under excavation by the ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge Project’ since the vessel was rediscovered in 1996. Among the many medical finds was a urethral syringe that once contained mercury, a chemical that was used to treat syphilis.
In a recently published paper that was presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology’s annual meeting, archaeologist Linda Carnes-McNaughton stated: “Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times,” among the most frequent ailments were “chronic and periodic illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, burns and other indescribable maladies”, including syphilis. Concerning the mercury based treatment of syphilis, she explained that although it was unknown at the time, if applied over a period of time, mercury would undoubtedly have caused poisoning and ultimately death to whoever ingested it.
Two pump clysters that were used to forcibly insert water into the rectum were also found in the wreckage. At this time archaeologists are unsure why the clysters would have been necessary, but it has been speculated that they may have been used to treat constipation or dehydration.
It is also suggested through medical records that Blackbeard did not only plunder for his own monetary gain. As well as keeping the three surgeons aboard his vessel, he pirated several ships and towns for medicinal supplies, so as to keep his crew healthy and up to the standards he required for a life of piracy and pillaging.
According to historical accounts, Blackbeard himself was in peak physical condition. During his final stand, he suffered multiple wounds and continued to fight until being slashed in the neck and killed by a group of naval officers.
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