North Carolina has a long and rich maritime history. With over 300 miles of ocean shoreline, a vast inland sea, and thousands of miles of navigable rivers and creeks, the people of North Carolina have long relied on the state’s waters as a means of transportation, trade, and a source of livelihood. Coupled with this active maritime history, the treacherous geography of the North Carolina coast has led to countless shipwrecks. Naval warfare, particularly during the Civil War and World War II, has created additional losses.
Beginning in 1962, the Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) of the Office of State Archaeology has made steady progress in its efforts to understand and manage the state’s submerged cultural resources. UAB has documented over 1,000 underwater archaeological sites that include prehistoric dugout canoes, colonial sailing vessels, beached shipwreck remains, dozens of Civil War shipwrecks, and nineteenth and twentieth-century steamboats. UAB also maintains extensive files on over 5,000 historically documented shipwrecks, as well as a wide variety of water-related subjects such as bridge and ferry crossings, historic ports, plantation landings, riverine and coastal trade, harbor development, and improvements to navigation.
In 1997, under the direction of UAB archaeologists, the exploration, documentation, and recovery of the pirate Blackbeard's flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge began. Run aground off the coast of Beaufort in 1718, it is one of the oldest shipwrecks discovered in North Carolina and offers a wealth of information to archaeologists and historians. With the support of many individuals, institutions, companies and other government agencies, research efforts continue on this historic treasure.