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Donations extend Blackbeard site excavation

Posted October 19, 2012 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2012 7:37 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Bev Perdue announced Friday that  the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort has raised more than $400,000 to continue research and excavation at the site of the sunken Queen Anne's Revenge for another three years.

A Chapel Hill couple, Eric and Rita Bigham, fished into their savings for the final $32,000. All of the funds came from private donors.

The museum hosted a celebration Friday to mark the end of an eight-week expedition to recover artifacts from the ship believed to have belonged to Blackbeard and to announce the funding milestone.

"I've always said that if we wanted to give our money to charity, we should do it now while we are alive and can see the fruits of our labor," Rita Bigham said.

Since 1997, several of the cannons and more than 250,000 artifacts have been retrieved including gold, platters, glass, beads, rope, the anchor and several ballast stones.

"More than 34,000 additional artifacts remain at risk under the sea, including 12 cannons, 2 anchors and 4,000 concretions. Time is critical," said Linda Carlisle, North Carolina secretary of cultural resources, whose department led the fundraising effort.

"These financial contributions are crucial if we are to meet our goal of complete underwater archaeological excavation by 2014," she said. 

Wendy Welsh, field director for the project, has made more than 1,000 dives to the Queen Anne's Revenge. She equated her work to a pirate's quest for treasure.

"The entire thing is the treasure. These artifacts are going to be around for so long, the work to take care of them, that's where the treasure is," she said. 

In 1717, Blackbeard captured a French slave ship and renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge. Blackbeard settled in Bath and received a governor's pardon. Volunteers with the Royal Navy killed him in Ocracoke Inlet in November 1718, five months after the ship thought to be Queen Anne's Revenge sank.

"These kinds of things are precious to the people of North Carolina," Perdue concluded.  "We are who we are because we believe in our history, the history of our people, the history of our state."