Artifact of the Month banner

Artifact of the Month: Scraper and Red Lead Pigment

Daniel shares a specialized tool in our collection, its use, and other associated artifacts

Author: Daniel Lowery, Lab Office Manager


As sailors traversed the high seas, they needed a large array of tools for ship construction and maintenance at their disposal. These tools ranged from lathing hammers and pry bars to jacks that are not so different from ones used on cars today. One such tool we have recovered from a concretion is particularly interesting and could possibly provide insight into the appearance of La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge and the maintenance it required: a paint scraper that was found alongside bits of red lead pigment.   

Blades of scraper
Blades of scraper

Scrapers were often used aboard ships to remove excess pitch and tar after caulking jobs were completed, or to treat wooden surfaces by removing flaking layers of old paint. This scraper is shaped similarly to a dual-edged hoe, with two cutting faces lying perpendicular to the handle. It is about 9.5 inches long, and flares into a socket where a wooden handle would have been attached. Applying firm pressure, sailors would drag this tool towards their body to scrape away previous layers of paint, tar, or varnish.

Traces of red lead pigment
Traces of red lead pigment

As the scraper was removed from its concretion, other small fragments of concretion broke open to reveal a further surprise: bright red-orange flakes that were designated as pigment. Using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) elemental analysis, it was determined that this red pigment consisted primarily of lead, with small traces of iron. Further tests of a reference sample of red lead paint, provided by conservator Larry Houston from ECU’s Joyner Library, returned almost identical XRF signatures. Though we cannot confirm the exact appearance of La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge from what is left of the ship, the discovery of this red lead pigment could indicate that this was one of the paints applied to the vessel. Pigments would be taken to a slab and ground into a fine powder by using a hand-held muller stone, after which they would be mixed with oil and painted onto surfaces. Intriguingly, a muller stone was found in the shipwreck 11 feet away from the scraper and pigment, which could suggest that all of these artifacts belonged to a singular tool kit.

Though popular culture might lead one to believe that Queen Anne’s Revenge was painted all in black to be intimidating, vessels were painted in a variety of colors during the 18th century, ranging from white and black to brighter colors such as yellow, red, and blue. Just as flags helped to identify where a ship hailed from and whether it was friend or foe, paint jobs could also provide clues to the identity of a vessel. Paint colors and patterns on an approaching vessel could help distinguish them as a British warship or a French merchant vessel. For Blackbeard and his crew, knowing the identity and trade of a vessel would be essential as it could tell them the most valuable and vulnerable ships to plunder.

-Lawrence, K. 2020. Tools of the Trade: A Material Culture Study of Hand Tools from Queen Anne’s Revenge. MA Thesis, East Carolina University, Department of History.

-Paint scraper from site 31CR314, La Concorde/Queen Anne’s Revenge. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
-Blades of scraper from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
-Red lead pigment from site 31CR314. Image by NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Related Topics: