The Guardian last week reported that archaeological conservators in North Carolina have made a remarkable discovery about pirates’ reading habits.
Blackbeard’s bedtime reading may have been about the exploits of a privateer who grew up in Poole; Captain Woodes Rogers.
Together with other artefacts such as cannons, jewellery and tools the paper fragments were found on the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which ran aground off the north Carolina Coast in 1718. The tiny paper fragments were found in ‘ a mass of wet sludge’ that was removed from the chamber of a breech- loading cannon found on the wreck. The largest of the fragments was around the size of a shilling and it’s exceedingly rare to find underwater remains, from three hundred years ago, that can be deciphered in this way. Apparently the paper fragments found were used as ‘wadding’ that would seal gas behind a projectile.
The archaeologists worked with specialist paper conservators and scientists to conserve the fragile paper fragments and “as the work progressed another discovery was made – that there was still legible printed text on some of the fragments, although only a few words were visible” they explained in a statement.
Months of research revealed that the fragments were from a 1712 first edition of the book ‘ A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 108, 1709, 1710 and 1711,” by Captain Edward Cooke. The book is a ‘voyage narrative’ – a genre very popular in late C17th and early C18th literature. Cooke’s work described his adventures on an expedition made by two ships, Duke and Dutchess, which sailed from Bristol, England in 1708 under the command of Captain Woodes Rogers.
Woodes Rogers, was brought up in Poole and his life features extensively in our project on Poole’s Maritime History. He also published an account of the round the word journey. Both men describe the rescue of Alexander Selkirk from an island where he had been marooned for four years, which is thought to have inspired Daniel Defoe’s famous 1719 novel ‘ Robinson Crusoe’.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge was a French slave ship when it was captured by Blackbeard in 1717 and renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. The pirate, whose real name was Edward Teach, was killed by Royal Navy forces in November 1718, five months after the Queen Anne’s Revenge sank. Ironically Woodes Rogers himself was also in the Caribbean at the time; in July 2018 he sailed into Nassau harbour in the Bahamas from England where he began his two stints of Governorship of the islands between then and 1721 and again in 1729 until his death there in 1732.
His prime reason for being there in 1718 was to deliver the King’s amnesty to pirates wishing to mend their ways and to rid the islands of the scourge of piracy that had plagued them for many years; and that is exactly what he did.
Report on fragments of paper found on Blackbeard’s Ship attributed to Alison Flood, The Guardian 11th January 2018; Commentary on Woodes Rogers by Don Nutt, Project Manager