Artifact of the Month banner

Artifact of the Month: Speaking Trumpet

Project Co-PI Kim Kenyon shares her research into the speaking trumpet.

Author: Kimberly Kenyon, Project Co-Principal Investigator

Every once in a while, the x-ray of an artifact leaves us completely stumped. Even though an object is clearly there, it is not always possible for us to identify it until it is out of concretion. That was certainly true of the speaking trumpet.

X-ray of speaking trumpet
X-ray of concretion containing trumpet

When its concretion was x-rayed, we were fairly certain that it was a metal object, but the metal was either so thin or so corroded that it was going to be time-consuming extracting the fragile unidentified artifact. Different ideas for its identity were proposed: a spyglass perhaps, or even a case for the many glass beads in the same concretion. Once it was clean, the tapered tube shape and decorative banding helped us to identify it more firmly, and it became clear that it was made of pewter.

Rather than a musical instrument enjoyed as a pastime, speaking trumpets were important tools for communication, especially aboard ships when the crew needed to hear orders shouted across a noisy deck. It served as an 18th-century megaphone. In the heat of battle, commands must be obeyed promptly, and the crew could not afford to second-guess the captain’s expectations. Clear and precise instructions were relayed by the ship’s trumpeter, in whom the captain placed his full confidence to be his mouthpiece in critical moments. The trumpeter was respected as a person of authority, with the speaking trumpet acting as a visible symbol of the trumpeter’s rank.

Speaking trumpet
Speaking trumpet

Queen Anne’s Revenge was formerly La Concorde, a French slaving vessel which left Northern France in 1717. It was seized by Blackbeard near Martinique and renamed. Many documents about the ship’s final voyage have survived, including a list of La Concorde’s crew, called the muster roll. The muster roll lists La Concorde’s trumpeter (“passager trompette”): Philippe Charles from Pont d’Arche. We know that Philippe was paid and discharged from duty in Martinique following the capture of La Concorde, but it is unknown if he ever saw his homeland again.

More interesting information about Philippe is revealed in a second document. Lieutenant François Ernaud was deposed upon returning to France, describing the loss of the ship and subsequent activities of the crew. In his deposition, he mentions the trumpeter; Ernaud could not remember his name but recalled that the trumpeter provided a list of individuals who voluntarily joined the pirates after the ship’s capture. Ernaud also states that the trumpeter was black. Along with Joseph Alabard, this means that La Concorde had at least two black crew members.

Artifacts like these remind us that the objects we find once belonged to someone and were an important part of their jobs and lives. Archaeology is not just finding broken stuff but is the slow process of rebuilding the narrative of the past. In our case, it helps us to better understand this complex ship with an ever-evolving story, and hopefully piece together the lives of those impacted by La Concorde and Queen Anne’s Revenge.

-Ernaud, François. 1718. Deposition of François Ernaud, April 17. Manuscript, ADLA B 4578 f°56-57, Archives Departementales Loire Atlantique, Nantes, France.
-Höglund, Patrik. 2019. "Symbols of Power: Attributes of Rank on Warships in the 17th Century," in On War On Board: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on Early Modern Maritime Violence and Warfare, Johan Rönnby, editor, pp. 39-50. Södertörns högskola, Huddinge, Sweden.
-Kenyon, Kimberly. Forthcoming. "The Stories They Tell: Recent Finds from Queen Anne's Revenge/La Concorde," in Dead Man's Chest: Even More Archaeology of Piracy, Russell Skowronek and Charles Ewen, editors.

-X-ray of trumpet in concretion. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
-Speaking trumpet after reconstruction. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

This blog is related to: