Big Duty for Little Weights Aboard Blackbeard's Ship

Up close on the fleur de lis patter on the nesting cups recovered from the wreck of Blackbeard's flagship

A tiny set of seven bronze nesting weight cups recovered from the shipwreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s flagship, packs a big message.

On five of the seven stamped cups is engraved a fleur de lis pattern (a stylized “flower of the lily”), and may be another link to the French origin of Queen Anne’s Revenge. The fleur de lis traditionally represents French royalty and was first used in the 12th century.  It’s now part of the artifact collection of an 18th century pirate, and in a 21st century exhibit.

Nesting cups were used to weigh fine powders such as medicines and gold dust, and would be handy on a pirate ship for such uses.  The cups and hundreds of other artifacts are part of the largest exhibit of artifacts from the Blackbeard's shipwreck ever seen. The Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, 1718 exhibit opens June 11 at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort.

Tracing the History of La Concorde

Before being commandeered by Blackbeard, Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) had been the slave ship La Concorde. A number of French connected artifacts have been recovered at the site, including two pewter syringes, ceramic vessels, wine bottles and numerous case bottles, called flacons. The nesting cups may have belonged to one of the three surgeons aboard La Concorde. Blackbeard made two of them part of his crew when he seized the ship. He also kept as part of his crew a French cabin boy, who informed Blackbeard of the whereabouts of nearly 20 pounds of gold dust aboard ship.  

Most of the crew of La Concorde and her human cargo were transported to the smaller of two vessels that had been used by Blackbeard and his crew. The gold dust, surgeons, a few of La Concorde’s crew members and some captured Africans stayed with Blackbeard. Aboard La Concorde the nesting cups could have been used frequently by the surgeons to measure medicines. 

Nesting cups recovered from the wreck of Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge

When captured by Blackbeard, La Concorde was in the midst of 8-week Atlantic crossing from what's now Benin in Africa en route to Martinique. Before encountering the notorious pirate, 61 of the 516 Africans died, along with 16 of the 75-man crew. By the time La Concorde had met Blackbeard, another 36 of her crew was seriously ill, allowing Blackbeard’s party of 120 pirates easily took over the vessel. 

Sailors of the 18th century frequently were afflicted with scurvy and dysentery. Poor diets, unsanitary living conditions and long periods at sea made the mariners and captured Africans susceptible to the potentially fatal diseases. On long voyages, the loss of 20 percent of the crew and captured was not unusual.

Discovering the Nesting Cups

The nesting cups shown here were recovered from the aft section of the ship in 2007. The fleur de lis pattern was discovered by conservator Wendy Welsh in 2009 while cleaning the artifacts.

The two smaller weights had no markings, five of the seven cups bore the pattern. The seven graduated cup shaped weights fit into one another, and usually a hinged lid on the largest cup enclosed them all. Interestingly, the weight of the largest cup equals the total weight of all of the other six cups.  

All of the hundreds of thousands of recovered artifacts speak to the life of pirates, and more details will unfold as full recovery of the shipwreck proceeds.

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