March 17, 1997 12:00 PM

THE FIERCEST PIRATE EVER TO SAIL the main did not surrender his treasure without a fight. For 278 years, the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, sat undetected in a murky grave a mere two miles off the coast of Beaufort, N.C. But on Nov. 21, 1996, one day before the anniversary of Blackbeard’s death in 1718, Mike Daniel found a pile of cannons in just 20 feet of water. “Blackbeard,” says Daniel of the ship, “finally decided to give it up.”

Or so it seemed last week when marine archaeologists from the state of North Carolina and Intersal, a private Florida-based company that hunts for historic shipwrecks, announced the discovery and showed off artifacts—including a bronze bell dated 1709—that they claimed came from Blackbeard’s 103-foot, 40-cannon vessel. “When Mike found the 10 to 15 cannons, we were 90 percent sure it was the one,” says Philip Masters, 59, president of Intersal. “Because no other wreck had that many.”

Nor did any ship have a captain quite as notorious. A native of Bristol, England, whose real name was Edward Teach, Blackbeard staged a two-year reign of terror in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast, seizing at least 20 British ships and, some historians say, torturing his victims (he allegedly forced a captive to eat his own ears). Often the pirate’s ogrelike appearance—he stuck lit cannon wicks into his beard for demonic effect—was enough to win surrender. He survived when his ship hit a sandbar and sank in 1718, but he was killed and beheaded by English troops later that year on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island.

Masters, a nautical buff who lives in Queens, N.Y., began his search for the vessel in 1986, teaming up with marine archaeologists from North Carolina. “I thought of giving up 100 times,” he says, before his crew discovered the ship, devoid of treasure but loaded with artifacts. For Masters, however, the real reward was in finding new clues about the buccaneer who called himself the “devil’s brother.” Blackbeard was not only “a brilliant actor,” notes Masters. “He was the first international terrorist.”

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