The Raleigh News and Observer is reporting that the State has decided that the remains of a shipwreck off Beaufort, N. C. are in fact those of Blackbeard's flagship the Queen Anne's Revenge a.k.a QAE.
Now we should say up front that we have no clue whether or not they are correct that this wreck is indeed Blackbeard's ship. What we do have a clue to is why they have declared it to be what they have thought all along it was. Money.
First, they have no solid evidence of the identity of the ship. They have much circumstantial evidence, some of which is "scientific." But there is also scientific evidence of Atlantis. And some would use the same kind of reasoning these "historians" are applying to the QAR, shows that there is life on Mars, or wherever.
It is the same kind of reasoning that our local Economic Developer and a Merry Band of his followers have used to decide that Beasley Point near Bath was the site of the ....well, we're not exactly sure what they think it actually was...but it is related to the Secotan Indian Nation and that's enough to launch a public funding campaign to pull tourists to the area. Find a few artifacts, form a non-profit corporation, hype some publicity and then declare an authentic historical fact…all of which will lead to lobbying for more government money, and in some cases the confiscation of private property.
Most of what the archeologists have discovered near Beaufort fits the circumstances of what would be extant IF it were the QAR. Same with the artifacts that have been discovered at Beasley Point.
But the problem with all this is that both projects are being driven by commercial value rather than historical fact.
The Beaufort County Economic Development Commission bases its claim on the claims of it chief tourism cheerleader. Read "money." But when you look into it they have three pieces of evidence. One is a picture from John White, an early explorer, that shows an ancient Indian village that is named Secotan (or some variation of spelling). But the picture does not tell us where the village was located.
The second piece of evidence is a map that has the word "Secotan" or some variation of its spelling in the approximate vicinity, although the label is affixed on the map several miles away from the desired site. The third piece of evidence is that a number of ancient Indian artifacts have been found near the target site. That's good enough for the EDC to spend millions of dollars to develop a tourist attraction on the site. Never mind that you can find ancient Indian artifacts all over Eastern North Carolina.
The truth is, we don't know whether the shipwreck off Beaufort is the QAR or not and we don't know where "Secotan" was located. And we don't know what happened to the Lost Colony.
But we do remember an interesting lecture that our N. C. History professor gave our class at Campbell College in 1963.
Dr. Tripp told about Sir Walter Raleigh's attempts to settle a colony on the North Carolina coast. Of course the story included the tale of the "Lost Colony." But Dr. Tripp made a telling point in his lecture. He said "history does not know what happened to the people who have come to be called the Lost Colony, and in fact we do not even know where the colony was located." More is "known" about them from a play written by Paul Green (an alumnus of Campbell) than from any solid historical or archeological evidence. And Dr. Tripp knew how much "artistic license" Mr. Green had taken with his play.
He went on to explain that he had consulted with Paul Green in writing the play. And he had in fact committed much of his life to the study of the early colonial period in Eastern North Carolina. Then he let the cat out of the bag. He said that much of "the story of the Lost Colony" was simply made up, much to Dr. Tripp's chagrin.
Of course we budding historians in his class were interested in finding out what Dr. Tripp thought happened to the Lost Colony, knowing as we did about the word "Croatan" (or some such spelling variation) that had been carved into a tree near "where the colony was last located."
Dr. Tripp explained to us that there is no historical evidence that any such carved tree ever existed. He had a theory that the colony did exist on the western shore of Roanoke Island but several miles to the southeast. He concluded that because some of the local fishermen had dredged up a number of artifacts that were "consistent with the period and type of items the colonists would have used."
I thought about that theory when I read the N&O article on the QAR.
So all we need now is a Disney production that portrays the QAR going aground near Beaufort. That's sure to be enough for the tourism cheerleaders. Never mind the accuracy of the history.
Now I better understand why Dr. Tripp responded the way he did to a question I asked him; which was: "Why don't they do an archeological expedition to the site you discovered to see if that was where the Lost Colony was?" To which he responded: "If that were proven to be the site of Fort Raleigh then the current 'historic site' would be bogus and the State can't afford for that to happen."
One wonders now if the reason the State has now concluded the shipwreck they've been working on is the QAR is that they have invested so much in it that they really have no choice but to proceed.
And then watch out. We predict there will be one whale of a fight about who gets to benefit from the QAE, whether it is actually authentic or not. We would not bet that Beaufort County will end up with it, or Secotan for that matter. It is more political than it is historical. Watch it unfold and remember, we told you so.