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Archaeologists Hoist Anchor From Wreckage of Blackbeard’s Last Pirate Ship

The last ship of the notorious pirate Blackbeard, which ran aground in 1718, has yielded the first of its four anchors. The grapnel, used on the longboat of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, is one of the largest pieces recovered from the wreckage, which sits 24 feet under the surface along the North Carolina coast near Beaufort. The Queen Anne’s Revenge Project has been at the site since 1997 and in “full recovery mode” since 2006, according to director Mark WildeRamsing, who estimates that the site will eventually yield more than a million objects for display in Beaufort and perhaps elsewhere in North Carolina. People have called from around the world to express their interest, and Wilde-Ramsing says it’s because Blackbeard, who was killed by colonial forces five months after losing his ship, “was a bad dude.”

Historic Trove of Apples Surfaces in the Southwest

Here’s some food for thought: A recent study indicates that a wealth of historic apple varieties is lurking in orchards and homesteads around the country.

While supermarkets have dictated a simplified range of choices—11 varieties account for more than 90 percent of sales—such oldtime favorites as Winter Banana (good for cider) and Rhode Island Greening (good for cooking) have been neglected.

 Kanin Routson, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, took leaf samples from 43 old farmsteads and orchards in the Southwest and found 110 varieties with genetic “fingerprints” that didn’t match the most common types in the region.

“This is exciting,” says Routson, “because there are a lot of old varieties that can be used to restore diversity back into our orchards.” That means greater resistance to pests and drought in the crop, and a major boost in flavor.

Jefferson Tribute to Independence Refusenik Found

Two grad students recently discovered an 1808 Thomas Jefferson letter at the University of Delaware—the equivalent of a special needle in an archival haystack. Amanda Daddona and Matt Davis had been sifting through more than 200 boxes of documents relating to the Bringhurst family of Wilmington when they happened upon an unmarked folder that contained a copy of an address by James Madison, a letter from former Continental Congressman John Dickinson and a letter in Jefferson’s hand to Dr. Joseph Bringhurst. “I didn’t expect to find anything from a president, let alone Jefferson,” says Daddona. “It was, oh my god, I’m holding this thing in my hand.” The letter has special resonance because Jefferson was responding to an announcement that Dickinson, Bringhurst’s patient, had died. Jefferson’s warm valedictory on Dickinson—“his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution”—is significant because even though Dickinson supported the patriot cause, he insisted that Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was premature. “It’s clear,” says L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, co – ordinator of special collections manuscripts at the university’s library, “that Jefferson was really going on the record and paying tribute to Dickinson.”

Andrew Jackson’s Home Gets Facelift

Every old house tells the story of its flaws over time, and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage is no exception. Wind and water damage to the building’s Greek Revival facade and brick cladding is being fixed as part of a $1 million restoration project that should be completed this spring. Part of the work has a cosmetic purpose as well: replacing some 40-year-old bricks that have faded from their original deep-red color. “I call it pink mange,” says Tony Guzzi, director of preservation and collections for the house museum. Three cabins that housed slaves are also being restored.

Nuclear Ghost Town Unearthed

In order to make plutonium for the hush-hush, rush-rush Manhattan Project during World War II, a town of 50,000 people sprang up almost overnight along the Columbia River near Richland, Wash.

This self-contained community, which built the Hanford reactor between 1943 and 1945, is now the subject of an archaeological study as cleanup proceeds on the facility, which last produced the radioactive material in 1987. “People came from across the country,” says Brian Smith, whose company has been analyzing trash that was burned and buried on site. “It was a focused melting pot run by the military in a very regimented way.”

Men and women were segregated—even married couples, at first—and the intensity of this isolated environment was not always eased by its movie theater, bowling alley and other recreational facilities.

Smith’s company has been sifting for the objects that showed how workers coped, such as booze bottles, and tried to keep a sense of identity, such as knickknacks.

Parking Garage Design Displayed

Sure, most parking garages are ugly. And, yes, they facilitate the guzzling of gas. But the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., has mounted an exhibition, running through this summer, that explores the aesthetic and functional qualities of these facilities, which have been dotting cityscapes almost from the moment Americans went nuts for cars. Included in the show is a drawing by Frank Lloyd Wright for a planned-but-never-constructed hilltop tourist attraction with built-in parking—its circular style is strikingly similar to his design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York. “Many people have negative attitudes toward parking garages,” says the exhibit’s curator, Sarah Leavitt, “but our visitors have reacted very positively.”

Grave of Notorious Confederate Discovered

Some people believe that Thomas Pratt Turner was a Confederate war criminal, but the woman who recently located his grave is not one of them. Turner was the commandant of Libby Prison in Richmond, Va., where he presided over the physical abuse of Union soldiers and neglected the sick and wounded. After the Civil War ended, he fled to Cuba, fearing that he would be punished, but by 1872 he was working as a dentist in Memphis. He died in 1900 after being placed in an Odd Fellows home in the city of Clarksville, Tenn., and that’s where his grave was found by local historian Carolyn Stier Ferrell, while she was researching a forthcoming book about her hometown, Stories From the Queen City of the Cumberland. “Atrocities were committed on both side,” she says. “We’ll all be judged in the end, and I’m not going to pass judgment on anybody.”

Martha Washington Lives on in Cyberspace

A new Web site shows Martha Washington in a different light, one that bends around the huge shadow cast by her second husband and our first president. A joint venture between George Mason University and Mount Vernon, Martha Washington: A Life ( provides biographical material, as well as a gallery of documents and objects relating to her. “She’s a much more interesting person than I think she’s given credit for,” says Rosemarie Zagarri, a history professor at George Mason who wrote the site’s content. “It’s an interpretive Web site, not just the bare-bones facts of her life.”


Originally published in the April 2010 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here