Archaeologists Uncover Book from Blackbeard's Ship


Published Jan 17, 2018 1:53 AM by The Maritime Executive

Archaeologists with North Carolina's Department of Natural and Cultural Resources have been examining artifacts from the famed pirate ship Queen Anne's Revenge for many years, and this month they announced an unusual discovery. Scraps of a 300-year-old book were stuffed in amongst the wadding in one of the vessel's cannon, sealed in and preserved against degradation. The find is extraordinarily rare, as paper decomposes rapidly in the marine environment. 

Some of the scraps are still legible, and the researchers had the opportunity to determine what her crew may have read on her final voyage. After many months of research, the fragments were determined to be from a 1712 first edition of a book by Captain Edward Cooke, “A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711.”  The discovery raises interesting questions about her operator, pirate Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard) and his notorious crew: Were they literate, or did they tear up captured books for wadding without reading? And if they did read Capt. Cooke's volume, why that book in particular?

The book may have been of interest for its narrative, including the rescue of marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, later adapted and immortalized in Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel “Robinson Crusoe.” It is likely that voyage tales like these would have been common on ships of the early 18th century, DNCR said, but archaeological evidence for them is exceedingly rare.

It may have been on board for a different purpose - intelligence. In the same year as the Revenge's grounding, author Captain Cooke was sent to the Bahamas as Royal Governor, with a mandate to eliminate pirates like Blackbeard and his crew. 

The Revenge's career in piracy was remarkably short, like Blackbeard's. She began life as a merchant ship, but the infamous pirate captured her in November 1717 off Martinique. He made the Revenge his flagship, and after a transatlantic raiding campaign, he returned to the Americas and began a blockade of Charleston in May 1718. He intended to ransom the port's inhabitants, but for reasons unknown, he soon ran the Revenge aground near the town of Beaufort, North Carolina. He settled down on shore for several months at the town of Bath and accepted a royal pardon, but he quickly returned to piracy, and in November 1718 he was killed by Royal Navy forces in a pitched battle off Ocracoke Inlet. 

The Revenge's wreck was rediscovered in 1996 by a private salvage firm, and after protracted negotiations over property rights, state officials began archeological excavation in 2011. The work on site halted again in 2015, but the study of artifacts from the ship continues. Many are now available for viewing at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort.