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Artifact of the Month: Coal

Kim writes about analyzing coal from site 31CR314, La Concorde/Queen Anne's Revenge

Author: Kimberly Kenyon, Head Conservator/Project Co-PI

Coal from the site

Every artifact we collect from the shipwreck holds the potential to add to the story of the ship, its wrecking, and how the environment has affected it since it was last seen by human eyes. We aim to look at each artifact in terms of what can be learned from it, and many times this means we talk to scientists with different backgrounds and specialties to even know what questions to ask.

Through the years, we have found quite a few specimens of coal both buried in the sand and attached to some concretions. This started conversations with scientists who work in coal and energy to help shape research questions about the coal – what were its origins and what purpose did it serve aboard the ship? Dr. James Hower from the Applied Petrology Laboratory at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research led the team of scientists who studied the composition of the coal. What they discovered is that the coal from our site has characteristics of coal that wasn’t mined until at least the late 18th century and even more common during the 19th century.

So what does that mean?

Coal from the site
Coal from the site

We previously talked about modern intrusive material, or objects that are deposited onto the shipwreck after it sank. In the case of the coal, while it is more modern than the shipwreck itself, there was an historic event that explains how it came to be on site. During the Civil War, Beaufort served as an important coal refueling station for the Union Navy in order to maintain its blockade of Southern ports. The first shipment of coal arrived from Philadelphia in 1862, and by 1864, ships blockading Wilmington and nearby rivers were consuming 2000 tons of coal a month and relied on Beaufort for that supply. The value of naval stores in Beaufort, including 8000 tons of coal, almost surpassed the Washington DC and Baltimore stores combined. After the fall of Fort Fisher and the closure of Wilmington in 1865, the need for coal in Beaufort lessened, and the Beaufort Harbor refueling station was closed.

Information from intrusive material is still valuable in what it can reveal, in this case the historic significance of Beaufort and its strategic role in the Civil War. With the sinking of La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge in 1718, its story was paused, and the ship was kept safe until it could be rediscovered. But, through artifacts deposited later, we can still witness the interactions between the wreck’s quiet resting place and the life that continued to pulse at the surface.


-Blair, D. 2002. One Good Port: Beaufort Harbor, North Carolina, 1863-1864. North Carolina Historical Review 79(3): 301-326. 

-Kenyon, Kimberly, Rod Hatt, Trent Garrison, and James Hower. 2023. Queen Anne’s Revenge Coal Conundrum: Origins of Coal found in Association with an Historic Shipwreck, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 51(2).


-Coal from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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