The Research Effort

In the summer of 1984 Philip Masters, the Company’s late founder and President completed course training in shipwreck research and archaeological diving given jointly by Ray McAllister, then Professor of Ocean Engineering at Florida Atlantic University, and the noted, now deceased, nautical archaeologist Peter Throckmorton.

In the summers of 1985 and 1986, Mr. Masters worked as project historian and diver on the excavation of HMS Feversham, a 1711 Royal Navy frigate lost off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  In 1989, Mr. Masters participated in the successful marketing of the Feversham coins through an auction at Christie’s in New York.

By the fall of 1985, Mr. Masters decided to seek a suitable shipwreck to research, survey for, locate, excavate and eventually market.  Well aware of the political and legal problems usually encountered by salvors in dealing with foreign governments, he was determined to select a vessel that had wrecked in the waters of a U.S. state which had a fair and equitable permitting program in place.  Mr. Masters also knew that, in order to attract risk capital, it had to be a ship lost with a cargo valuable enough to produce a substantial return on investment.           

Mr. Masters started out by searching through two well-known “shipwreck” books, The Treasure Diver’s Guide by John S. Potter Jr. and Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere by Robert Marx.  By early 1986, Mr. Masters’ interest had narrowed down to the 1750 Spanish treasure fleet.  According to the two books, the fleet’s seven ships had been caught in a hurricane while sailing from Havana to Spain, and had wrecked on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Virginia.  According to the Potter book, one named El Salvador had been lost while trying to enter Beaufort Inlet with a cargo of at least 200,000 pesos in Spanish silver.

In the spring of 1986, Mr. Masters researched the 1750 fleet at the University of Florida libraries in Gainesville, the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, the University of North Carolina libraries in Chapel Hill, the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and the 42nd Street New York Public Library.  By early summer, his interest had narrowed to the two ships in the fleet that had apparently not been re-floated or salvaged by the locals: Nuestra Senora de La Soledad and El Salvador.

In July 1986, Mr. Masters spoke of his interest in the 1750 fleet to his mentor at the University of Florida, historical archivist Bruce Chappell.  Mr. Chappell teaches Spanish paleography – the art of reading archive documents – to graduate students preparing to do research at the Archivo General de Indias (“AGI”) in Seville, Spain.  Mr. Chappell introduced Mr. Masters to a student who was about to leave for Seville, and arrangements were made for a part-time effort to research the losses of La Soledadand El Salvador.  To pay for the AGI research, Mr. Masters enlisted the aid of his long-time friend, Dr. Allan Fields, a surgeon in Hollywood, Florida.  The researcher was instructed to concentrate on: 1) the breakdown of cargos aboard both vessels; 2) the location of each wreck; and 3) evidence of any immediate salvage efforts.

In October 1986, Mr. Masters received a report from Seville indicating that La Soledad’s crew had recovered virtually all of her treasure, but that nothing had been recovered from El Salvador.  Two weeks later, the Company’s researcher reported finding a document saying that El Salvador’s consignment of crown treasure consisted of sixteen chests of silver and four chests of gold.  Two other AGI documents said she was stranded and torn apart on an offshore sandbar fifteen leagues (forty-five miles) down the coast from Ocracoke Inlet.  As a follow-up, the researcher also visited archives in Simancas, Spain, uncovering some of the diplomatic correspondence that flowed between Madrid and London following the 1750 fleet disaster.

In November 1986, Mr. Masters met with Richard Lawrence, head of the Underwater Archaeology Unit of the Division of Archives and History of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources (DCR.)  At that initial meeting, Mr. Lawrence told Mr. Masters that a shipwreck of great historical significance, Blackbeard’s 1718 flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) may have also been lost at Beaufort Inlet; and advised him of research on QAR’s sinking conducted by NC Maritime Museum Historian David Moore.

In January 1987, the DCR issued a permit to search for El Salvador along six miles of coast line, with Beaufort Inlet at the center.  At the same time, Mr. Masters had begun researching the loss of QAR, following up on David Moore’s existing research.  He essentially re-visited the same libraries and archives visited in the original 1750 fleet inquiry.  In the process, Mr. Masters also double-checked all his previous research on El Salvador, and began acquiring a collection of copies of early charts of the Beaufort Inlet-Cape Lookout area.  During 1987, he also visited the state archives and numerous smaller repositories in the Carolinas and Virginia.

In the late spring of 1987, in the Rare Book Room at the New York Public Library, Mr. Masters located the deposition of pirate David Harriott in the appendix of a book published in London in 1719.  Harriott gave an eyewitness account of the loss of QAR and Adventure that confirmed that the two pirate ships had been lost “off of the Outer Bar” at Beaufort Inlet.

From January 2nd to April 18th, 1989, Mr. Masters studied at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He took a course in intensive Spanish, and on nights and weekends his friend Professor Bruce Chappell trained him in Spanish paleography.  On April 20th, Mr. Masters flew to Europe, where he researched the 1750 fleet and El Salvador at the AGI in Seville for four weeks.  From there, Mr. Masters flew to London, where he worked for another three weeks on the losses of QAR, Adventure, and El Salvador, at the British Public Record Office (PRO) and other major repositories.  Mr. Masters returned from Europe in early June 1989 satisfied that the bulk of the Company’s research effort had been completed.  Since then, he has visited numerous smaller repositories in these ongoing investigations.

Based on Mr. Masters’ research, Intersal working at Beaufort inlet in 1996 discovered Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) the 1718 flagship of Blackbeard the Pirate. The Company in 1998 reached an agreement with DCR (revised in 2013) by which Intersal holds rights to all commercial narrative accounts (film, video, etc.) of the QAR Project, including excavation, conservation and exhibition activities. Intersal also holds the right to produce replicas of all QAR artifacts.

In 1999, Mr. Masters returned to Europe and visited the AGI in Seville, the AHP in Cadiz, and the PRO, just outside London.  This follow-up effort confirmed all previous conclusions.

In 2001, Intersal Director of Operations John Masters traveled to Havana, Cuba to conduct research connected with QAR; and to arrange for additional research concerning El Salvador, to be performed in the Cuban archives. These efforts were suspended after 9/11/2001. 

The Company believes the body of evidence found in Intersal’s compiled research indicates that El Salvador’s treasure lies within the search area at Beaufort Inlet.

Interval research on QAR, Adventure, and El Salvador (from 1996 to the Present) has been conducted in the following principal libraries and archives:

Archivo General de Indias (AGI) (Seville, Spain)

Archivo General de Simancas (AGS)(Simancas, Spain)

Archivo Historical de Provincial (AHP) (Cadiz, Spain)

Bibliotheca Havana (Havana, Cuba) 

Bermuda National Archives (Hamilton, Bermuda)

Bristol Public Library (Bristol, England)

British Museum and Library (London, England)

British National Maritime Museum Library (Greenwich, England)

Carteret County Public Library (Beaufort, NC)

Charleston Historical Society Library (Charleston, SC)

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library (Williamsburg, VA)

Craven County Public Library (New Bern, NC)

Duke University Library (Durham, NC)

Hispanic Society of America (New York City)

Library of Congress (Washington, DC)

National Maritime Museum Library (Newport News, VA)

New Hanover County Public Library (Wilmington, NC)

New York Historical Society (New York City)

New York Public Library (42nd Street and Annexes, New York City)

North Carolina State Library and Archives (Raleigh, NC)

North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Unit files (Fort Fisher, NC)

Public Record Office of Great Britain (PRO) (Kew and London, England)

South Carolina State Archives (Columbia, SC)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers files (Wilmington, NC)

U.S. National Archives Map Division (Alexandria, VA)

University of Florida Libraries (Gainesville, FL)

University of North Carolina Libraries (Chapel Hill, NC)

Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond, VA)

Yale University Library (New Haven, CT)

Additional research was conducted in dozens of smaller libraries along the U.S. East Coast.

Philip Masters passed away in 2007. His son John Masters continues as Intersal’s Chairman of the Board of Directors. In 2008 David Reeder became President and CEO of Intersal.    

El Salvador

The Company’s research indicates that in the late spring of 1750, the Spanish merchant vessel El Salvador sailed from Cartagena, Colombia for Cadiz, Spain loaded with a significant registered consignment of gold and silver.  After replenishing in Havana, the richly laden El Salvador sailed for Cadiz with six other Spanish ships on August 7, 1750 (old calendar.)  Within a week, the seven vessels were caught in a hurricane that eventually drove the entire fleet onto the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Virginia.  

Archive documents confirm that essentially all the treasure aboard the other six Spanish ships was saved, but that El Salvador’s consignment of gold and silver was never recovered.  Management believes that El Salvador was driven into the waves breaking over the sandbars then extending out from what is now Beaufort Inlet.  Pieces of the upper deck and rigging washed ashore, but the hull and its contents disappeared under the surf.  Contemporary reports suggest that the ship was quickly covered over with “7 or 8 feet” of sand.  El Salvador vanished, and there is no definitive proof that any portion of her has ever surfaced.

Reports found in the Spanish archives indicate that El Salvador was carrying 240,000 pesos in registered Spanish Treasury funds, made up of four chests of gold coins and sixteen chests of silver coins of varying denominations, plus 50,000 pesos in commercial funds. Based on numerous accounts of other Spanish ships during the time period, Intersal believes that a significant amount of unregistered contraband and valuable personal and religious items may be found with the wreck site.  The Company believes that El Salvador has the potential to be the richest colonial era shipwreck ever found in American waters.

Queen Anne’s Revenge Discovery

In November 1996 Intersal’s salvage vessel, Pelican III.  began Magnetometer survey and follow-up diving operations at Beaufort Inlet.  Ten days later, on November 21, 1996 the Intersal crew discovered the QAR site just over a mile off Bogue Banks, at a depth of twenty-two feet.  The site lies almost due south of Ft. Macon, well within Intersal’s permit area.  The identity of the site was confirmed by the number and size of the cannon and anchors exposed on the sand bottom, and by examination and dating of the various artifacts recovered.

The initial collection included a bronze bell inscribed with the date of 1705, the brass barrel of a blunderbuss (circa 1690-1710), a lead cannon apron, a lead sounding weight, and two iron cannonballs.   Subsequent excavations have resulted in the recovery of thousands of artifacts, all supporting the conclusion that the wreck is QAR.  They include: at least 24 iron cannon (one dated 1713) and some cannonballs; a small “signal” cannon (very likely fired at some point by Blackbeard himself); a coin weight with the likeness of Queen Anne on it; numerous pewter platters and plates, and one pewter medical syringe (which still contained traces of Mercury); some of the brass parts and accessories of a then-sophisticated surveying instrument; three intact onion-shaped wine bottles; tens of thousands lead musket-balls and mini-balls; a number of ceramic shards; hundreds of  so-far unidentified conglomerations of material known as “encrusted objects” (“EOs”) or “concretions”; several surviving sections of the ship’s hull including its massive sternpost; trade beads, and a small quantity of gold fragments.   

The Company’s research indicates that when QAR and Adventure became stranded in June 1718, the pirates had sufficient opportunity to unload most, if not all, of the valuables aboard before abandoning the two vessels.

On March 3, 1997 the Company and the DCR held a joint news conference in Raleigh at which then Governor Jim Hunt made the announcement of QAR’s discovery.  The response was remarkable. Company representatives were interviewed by electronic and print media from across America, and from Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, South America and Australia.  Pieces were seen and/or heard on Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Discovery, NPR, the BBC and many others.  Stories were featured in People Magazine and in hundreds of newspapers across America, most prompted by articles appearing on the AP wire, in the New York Times, and in USA Today.  There was considerable coverage in Great Britain, prompted by an article in the London Times.

In August 1998, 20 months after the initial discovery of QAR, the Company signed a Memorandum of Agreement (“MOA”) with the DCR. In 2013 Intersal, Nautilus Productions and DCR signed the QAR Settlement Agreement. Intersal retains the rights to all commercial narrative accounts of the QAR Project, and the right to make both limited edition and collectable replicas of QAR Artifacts.