Scraps from Blackbeard’s ship reveal he loved reading

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He may have a fearsome reputation for savagery and ruthlessness but new research suggests Blackbeard might also have been an avid reader.

The infamous pirate and his fellow buccaneers on the 300-year-old flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge may have enjoyed reading adventure stories, an unlikely discovery in a cannon chamber suggests.

Paper scraps recovered from the wreck of the 18th century pirate ship have been identified as a 1712 book about a voyage to the South Sea by Captain Edward Cooke.

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A paper scrap (pictured) recovered from the wreck of the 18th century pirate ship has been identified as a 1712 book about a voyage to the South Sea by Captain Edward Cooke

A paper scrap (pictured) recovered from the wreck of the 18th century pirate ship has been identified as a 1712 book about a voyage to the South Sea by Captain Edward Cooke

DISCOVERIES FROM QUEEN ANNE’S REVENGE

Experts have found an array of fascinating artefacts from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge wreckage since 1996.

Archaeologists have recovered onion bottles, two bells of Spanish or Portuguese origin a coin weight with Queen Anne’s likeness stamped on it, buckles, glass beads, buttons, cuff links, pieces of wine glasses, a syringe, gold flakes, among others.

The same team are said to have also found 11 cannons from the pirate ship, including one in 2005 and another in 2007.

Another rare find was a partly gilded hilt thought to have held the sword of Blackbeard himself.

The wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered in 1996 on a sandbar in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, where Blackbeard ran it aground in 1718.

Since then archaeologists have recovered cannons, glass beads, coins, pottery and gold dust from the remains of the vessel that have provided a glimpse of the pirates’ lifestyle.

Their latest find suggests Blackbeard, who had a reputation for enforcing strict discipline on board his ships, might have had a literary side. 

The fragments of the book were found in a bundle of wet textiles removed from a canon chamber when it was cleaned back in 2016, according to conservator Erik Farrell from Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR) Conservation Lab.

The discovery was announced during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society of Historical Archaeology held in New Orleans. 

The blackened wad of paper could have been a plug that protected the cannon muzzle from the elements, writes National Geographic.  

The full title of the book found on the wreck was A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711 by Captain Edward Cooke. 

The fragments of the book were found in a bundle of wet textiles removed from a canon chamber when it was cleaned back in 2016

The fragments of the book were found in a bundle of wet textiles removed from a canon chamber when it was cleaned back in 2016

The fragments of the book were found in a bundle of wet textiles removed from a canon chamber when it was cleaned back in 2016

The English pirate had a fearsome appearance, tying his thick black beard into pigtails, stringing weapons from slings around his shoulders and sticking lighted matches under his hat when he went into battle. He is depicted here by Hugh Jackman 

The English pirate had a fearsome appearance, tying his thick black beard into pigtails, stringing weapons from slings around his shoulders and sticking lighted matches under his hat when he went into battle. He is depicted here by Hugh Jackman 

The English pirate had a fearsome appearance, tying his thick black beard into pigtails, stringing weapons from slings around his shoulders and sticking lighted matches under his hat when he went into battle. He is depicted here by Hugh Jackman 

The book describes Cooke’s experiences on two ships – Duke and Dutchess. 

It also mentions the rescue of Alexander Selkirk from an island where he had been marooned for four years. 

The incident was later inspiration from Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe.

In total sixteen paper fragments were identified, only seven of which were legible. The first words they noticed were ‘south’ and ‘fathom’.

Blackbeard had a reputation for marooning members of his crew and enforcing strict discipline on board his ships. His capture is pictured here in a painting by J. L. G. Ferris

Blackbeard had a reputation for marooning members of his crew and enforcing strict discipline on board his ships. His capture is pictured here in a painting by J. L. G. Ferris

Blackbeard had a reputation for marooning members of his crew and enforcing strict discipline on board his ships. His capture is pictured here in a painting by J. L. G. Ferris

A 3,000 pound anchor from Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge is recovered from the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, where it has been since 1718

A 3,000 pound anchor from Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge is recovered from the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, where it has been since 1718

A 3,000 pound anchor from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge is recovered from the ocean off the coast of North Carolina, where it has been since 1718

The wreckage of Queen Anne's Revenge was discovered in 1996 on a sandbar in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, where Blackbeard ran it aground in 1718

The wreckage of Queen Anne's Revenge was discovered in 1996 on a sandbar in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, where Blackbeard ran it aground in 1718

The wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge was discovered in 1996 on a sandbar in Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina, where Blackbeard ran it aground in 1718

‘There was one really key word that stood out: ‘Hilo.’ It was very distinctive and italicised, which might indicate a place name,’ Dr Kenyon said. 

Experts then found the word in Cooke’s book about the plunder of a Pacific island called Ilo.

‘It really was luck’, Dr Kenyon added.

Historical accounts suggest pirate crew were often literate as they needed to read navigational charts.

Researchers are hoping to conserve the fragile paper fragments this year to celebrate Blackbeard’s 300th anniversary. 

WHO WAS BLACKBEARD?

Many of the pirates in the Caribbean began their careers as privateers in the employment of the British crown to plunder Spanish ships during Queen Anne’s war against the country.

However, when the Hanovian king George was placed upon the throne on Queen Anne’s death, the authorities sought to stamp out the privateers, effectively outlawing them. 

It is thought Edward Thache – believed to be Blackbeard – was one such privateer who had been working the wrecks of Spanish galleons on the coast of Florida when his commission was withdrawn by the crown. 

It is thought Edward Thache - believed to be Blackbeard - was one such privateer who had been working the wrecks of Spanish galleons on the coast of Florida when his commission was withdrawn by the crown

It is thought Edward Thache - believed to be Blackbeard - was one such privateer who had been working the wrecks of Spanish galleons on the coast of Florida when his commission was withdrawn by the crown

It is thought Edward Thache – believed to be Blackbeard – was one such privateer who had been working the wrecks of Spanish galleons on the coast of Florida when his commission was withdrawn by the crown

He was eventually given command of his own ship by fellow privateer Captain Benjamin Hornigold. 

Much of the legend surrounding Blackbeard stems from accounts written in a book called A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates. 

It was published in 1724, some six years after Blackbeard’s death in Ocracoke in 1718, by Captain Charles Johnson. 

Captain Johnson is said to be a pseudonym for a Jacobite called Nathaniel Mist.

Mist’s book presents the notorious pirate as a vicious killer who marooned men on desert islands and reportedly prostituted his own wife in his pursuit of wealth. 

 

 





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