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Knights of the Black Flag

blackbeardsrevenge_dmaitz1Marauders. Plunderers. Bloodthirsty sea-thieves. Whatever their name, pirates have wreaked havoc on the high seas since waterway travel began. These seafaring scoundrels command attention in a major exhibit opening Friday, March 6, at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh. Knights of the Black Flag will explore the legacy of pirates, from ancient times to the present, through intriguing artifacts, legends and history that bring their ruthless adventures to life. The interactive exhibit will be an exciting experience for all ages.

Showcasing many objects related to pirates, Knights of the Black Flag includes the largest collection of artifacts ever exhibited from the shipwreck believed to be Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Legends surround another compelling artifact on loan from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.: the alleged skull of Blackbeard. The exhibit will be on view through July 6, 2009.

Knights of the Black Flag traces the history of piracy from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome through today’s pirates in Somalia. Artifacts, some dating to the early centuries A.D., represent tangible links to a violent past. For example, a Roman amphora (storage jar) from southern Jordan may have been seized by ancient pirates on a ship in the Red Sea. Other artifacts speak to the Golden Age of Piracy, from 1689 to the 1720s. These include Queen Anne-style pistols and items discovered in the ruins of Blackbeard’s purported house in Bath. Objects related to modern-day piracy in Somalia include an AK-47, gas masks and knapsacks.

Central to the story of Knights of the Black Flag, of course, are the fearless exploits of sword-wielding, pistol-toting characters such as Stede Bonnet, Anne Bonny, Mary Read and the most famous of all —  Blackbeard. Hundreds of artifacts, including cannons, a ship’s bell and gold dust, will be on view from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the shipwreck discovered at Beaufort Inlet in 1996. Blackbeard and his crew terrorized victims along North Carolina’s coast from this ship that ran aground in 1718. Amid tools, diving equipment, and videos of underwater archaeologists at the shipwreck site, visitors witness the discovery, excavation and conservation of one of the largest pirate ships ever to sail in the Spanish Main.

Knights of the Black Flag features works of art and objects that attest to the pirate mystique in our popular culture. During the 20th century, some of America’s most well-known artists made their careers producing illustrations for children’s books, such as Treasure Island. Works by two such artists, Frank Schoonover and Edward Arthur Wilson, appear in the exhibit. Today, Don Maitz’s fiery depictions of pirates are used to advertise Capt. Morgan® Rum. His paintings will be accompanied by works by other contemporary artists.

Finally, the exhibit allows young visitors to step inside a pirate’s life, to handle pirate weapons, to capture ships and try on pirate clothes. They can watch for pirates from the crow’s nest, defend their ship from a pirate attack, and experience firsthand what it is like to be a pirate.

Plan to see Knights of the Black Flag, and discover how the brutal realities of a pirate’s violent life compare with romanticized images of swashbuckling adventurers prevalent in popular culture. The exhibit is presented as part of “Treasure N.C. Culture,” a 2009 yearlong celebration of the state’s culture, initiated by the Department of Cultural Resources.

Exhibit sponsorship is provided by SunTrust Bank, Curtis Media Group, and Time Warner Cable. To create this exhibit, the N.C. Museum of History has partnered with the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort and the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project, Underwater Archaeology Branch, N.C. Office of State Archaeology. The exhibit will include loaned artifacts from UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University, the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., and other museums.

Ticket and Group Tour Information

Admission is free for ages 18 and under. The fee is $5 for ages 19 and up; $4 for senior citizens, active military personnel and adult groups of 10 or more. Admission is free for Associates members and for adults who accompany school or youth groups of 10 or more. Purchase tickets at the Museum Shop, located in the museum lobby.

To schedule tours for groups of 10 or more, call the Capital Area Visitor Center at 919-807-7950 or toll-free at 866-724-8687. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.

For more information about the museum, call 919-807-7900 or access The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources,