Artifacts Show Blackbeard's Pirates Liked Reading Pirate Stories

A depiction of Blackbeard the Pirate published in the 18th-century book  'General History of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers.' Public Domain

Eighteenth-century pirates were undoubtedly a smelly and unsavory mob, but on top of their rum-swilling and looting, they also enjoyed reading pirates stories. 

Archaeologists have come across evidence onboard the wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship infamously captured and commanded by Blackbeard in 1717, that suggests the crew read books about other voyages on the sea.

The evidence comes in the form of 16 tiny paper fragments. These shreds of paper are barely legible and minuscule, no bigger than a button, but a team of researchers from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources have actually managed to figure out which book they came from.

Months and months of painstaking research revealed the fragments were 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.  

Paper fragment after removal and drying, revealing text. Courtesy of N.C. Department of Natural & Cultural Resources

This type of literature, containing bold tales of adventure and explorers, was popular during the 18th century. The team hopes this new find will shine further light on this culture, and perhaps even on the relatively undocumented life of a pirate.

Not only is it bizarrely cute that these seafaring hijackers were into bedtime stories, it also indicates that pirates from the 1700s were most likely literate and educated. You could expect captains to be literate since they had to read maps and understand the navigational equipment, however, it’s often assumed that the crew was poorly educated.

It’s fairly rare for such artifacts to be found intact, especially at sea because the water quickly disintegrates paper. The team stumbled across the papers while carrying out conservation work on the cannon chamber of the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in 2016, originally discovered on the seabed near Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, in 1996.

Queen Anne's Revenge was built in the UK in 1710, but she was captured by Blackbeard and his pirates on November 28, 1717, near the island of Martinique in the Caribbean. Although he’s surrounded by legend and fascination, very few facts are known about Blackbeard.

Remaining so unknown is an impressive feat considering the number of artifacts discovered among the wreck, including four large anchors, glass beads, ceramics, nails, tools, and personal items of the crew.

We now know that Blackbeard and his hearty crew were keen readers, but the rest remains lost at sea.

The researchers, somehow, managed to find the book from which the scraps came. Courtesy of N.C. Department of Natural & Cultural Resources



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