Papers from Blackbeard wreckage lead to 18th-century voyage thriller

Famed English pirate Blackbeard and his crew of seafaring thieves apparently weren’t busy pillaging all the time — sometimes they evidently kicked back to read 18th-century ocean potboilers, scientists have discovered.

Archeological conservators from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources announced last week they’d recovered tiny scraps of paper from the wreckage of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Scientists carefully teased apart the 300-year-old paper, found in a mass of “sludge” in a cannon recovered from the ship, and discovered writing that led them to a popular tale of the era. Researchers told National Geographic they were able to parse certain words, including “fathom,” “south” and “Hilo,” which suggested a place name.

By comparing the words on the recovered paper with texts that would have been available at the time Blackbeard’s ship sank, researchers linked the papers to A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711, a 1712 first-edition book by Edward Cooke of the Royal Navy.

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Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge

A one-ton cannon which was recovered from the Queen Anne's Revenge shipwreck site, is offloaded from the recovery ship to be taken for a public viewing at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, North Carolina October 26, 2011. Archeologists raised another cannon from the sunken wreck of pirate Blackbeard's legendary ship off the coast of North Carolina. The eight-foot cannon, which had rested at the bottom of Beaufort Inlet since the ship Queen Anne's Revenge sank in 1718, was covered in a cement-like shell of sand, salt and sea life.

(REUTERS/Karen Browning/N.C. Department of Cultural Resources)

A one-ton cannon which was recovered from the Queen Anne's Revenge shipwreck site, is pulled from the water with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries research vessel RV Shell Point looking on, near Beaufort, North Carolina, October 26, 2011. Archeologists raised another cannon from the sunken wreck of pirate Blackbeard's legendary ship off the coast of North Carolina. The eight-foot cannon, which had rested at the bottom of Beaufort Inlet since the ship Queen Anne's Revenge sank in 1718, was covered in a cement-like shell of sand, salt and sea life. 

(REUTERS/Karen Browning/N.C. Department of Cultural Resources)

Mike Davis, president of the Maritime Research Institute, hoists a bronze bell recovered in November, 1996 at the site of what experts believe is the wreckage of Blackbeard's pirate ship "Queen Anne's Revenge," during a press conference October 29 at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. The excavation of the 18th century shipwreck off the North Carolina coast drew near a close and researchers remained confident it was the flagship of the notorious English pirate Blackbeard. 

Dr. John Costlow, (R) retired head of the Duke Maritime Laboratory, and NC Maritime Museum employee David Moore inspect a 2,250 pound cannon barrel, that experts believe was part of Blackbeard's pirate ship "Queen Anne's Revenge," October 29 at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. The excavation of the 18th century shipwreck off the North Carolina coast drew near a close on and researchers remained confident it was the flagship of the notorious English pirate Blackbeard.

(Str Old / Reuters)

Divers maneuver a 3,000 pound anchor, recovered from the shipwreck of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, closer to the Research Vessel Dan Moore which lifted it from the ocean, about a mile from the North Carolina coast, Friday, May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

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, Friday, May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

Bea Baker stops to catch a glimpse of the anchor that was recovered from Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge at the Crystal Coast Visitors Center in Morehead City, North Carolina, Friday, May 27, 2011. More than 100 people gathered for the first public viewing on Friday afternoon, just hours after it was recovered from the ocean at Beaufort Inlet. North Carolina.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

Captain Stephen J. Beuth, pilots the R/V Dan Moore through the Beaufort Inlet off North Carolina to recover a 3,000 pound anchor from the shipwreck of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, Friday, May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

A sponge grows on an anchor from Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, which was recovered off the North Carolina coast on Friday May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

Lauren Hermley of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources explains the history of the anchor recovered only hours earlier from the shipwreck of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, during the first public viewing of the historic artifact at the Crystal Coast Visitors Center in Morehead City, North Carolina, Friday May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

More than 100 people gathered at the Crystal Coast Visitors Center in Morehead City, North Carolina, for the first public viewing of the anchor that was recovered from Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge on Friday May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

The 3,000 pound anchor recovered from the shipwreck of Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge is brought to rest on the deck of the Research Vessel Dan Moore off the coast of North Carolina, Friday May 27, 2011.

(Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

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The book described Cooke’s adventures on an expedition by two ships, Duke and Dutchess, which sailed from England in 1708.

Such “voyage narratives” were all the rage back in the 17th and 18th centuries, according to researchers. Cooke and another author, expedition leader Captain Woodes Rogers, told the story of sailor Alexander Selkirk, who had been marooned for four years on an island before his rescue. Selkirk became the model for Daniel Dafoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

Perhaps Blackbeard was responsible for introducing a taste for literature among his men. Blackbeard, née Edward Teach, was one of the most infamous pirates of the time with a reputation for violence.

He plied the waters off the West Indies and America’s eastern seaboard, once blockading Charleston while looting ships. He finally released hostages he had taken in exchange for a chest of medicine.

But Blackbeard may have been more genteel than his infamous tales make him seem. The Daily Mail reported in 2015 that Blackbeard was a war veteran, and a loving family man who used his fortune to help out his siblings.

Queen Anne’s Revenge sank after it ran aground on the North Carolina coast in 1718. Blackbeard was killed six months later in a confrontation with a crew sent by the Virginia governor and led by a Royal Navy lieutenant.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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