The popular notion of bedraggled, boorish and filthy pirates might take a back seat with the new discovery that sheds some light into the healthiness of the notorious Blackbeard’s crew. In that regard, archaeologists have excavated a range of medical equipment from the shipwreck of the famed buccaneer’s marine craft Queen Anne’s Revenge. This ship started out as a French slave-vessel named La Concorde de Nantes; but it was captured by Blackbeard in 1717 AD – an act made easier by many of the unhealthy crew-members who were already disease ridden. The pirate it seems, took this lesson from his ‘ill-kept’ enemies, and decided to make use of better health-oriented measures to keep his own crew in fighting condition.
The wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered in 1996, and since then historians have been able to make a detailed study and salvage various artifacts, all under the wing of Queen Anne’s Revenge Project. Many of these historical objects reclaimed from the shipwreck (Queen Anne’s Revenge was abandoned in 1718 AD, when it ran aground at a spot in North Carolina) pertained to various kinds of medical equipment that were used for treating specific conditions. For example, one of the finds related to a urethral syringe containing mercury that was used for treating syphilis – a sexually transmitted disease. Other artifacts included two pump clysters for pumping fluid into the rectum (though the reason is still unknown), a porringer probably used for bloodletting, and even a tourniquet used for mitigating loss of blood during those painful amputation sessions.
Furthermore, many of the salvaged objects can also be associated with medicine-making apparatuses – like the cast brass mortar and pestle, along with two sets of nesting weights. These components might have been used for crafting potions, balms and other remedies. And interestingly, all of these equipment belonged to the original French ship’s surgeons who were forced remain on-board, while the rest of the captured crew members were let go by the orders of Blackbeard. This odd yet practical act does signify the importance of healthiness on a water-bound ship, when there were frequent cases of different ailments among the men. As Linda Carnes-McNaughton, an archaeologist with the Department of Defense, and a volunteer in the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project, says –
Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times. [Still the surgeons had to deal with cases of] chronic and periodic illnesses, wounds, amputations, toothaches, burns and other indescribable maladies.
Still, beyond the capacity and medical store of the ship surgeons, Blackbeard had to ardently hunt for precious medicinal supplies – as is evident from a few historical episodes. One of these incidents entails how Blackbeard had to threaten the governor of South Carolina about killing all his prisoners and sending their decapitated heads to the official, if his demand for a chest of medicine was not met. Fortuitously, the governor in his good sense complied, and so the prisoners were let go.
Historical sources also relate to how Blackbeard himself was in a pretty good shape – so much so that he did put up a brave fight against Royal Navy soldiers, during his last stand in 1718 AD. According to Captain Charles Johnson’s account, written in 1724 –
He stood his ground and fought with great fury, till he received five and 20 wounds, and five of them by shot. At length, as he was cocking another pistol, having fired several before, [when] he fell down dead.
Image Credits: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources