Up until now, you may have thought that a life of piracy on the high seas and the life of a bookworm were two mutually exclusive forms of existence. You’ve probably spent many a long night reassuring yourself that the bookworm life was the life for you, even though you would have also loved to pursue a lucrative career in piracy. The doubt has plagued you. Well, you need not agonize any longer, as I am here to tell you that one of the most famous pirates of all time, Blackbeard, was also a bookworm.
Sixteen tiny paper fragments were discovered in the chamber of a cannon aboard the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, by archaeological conservators in North Carolina. The wreck was discovered in 1996, and has been being worked since. After months of work on the fragments, it was discovered that they belonged to a 1712 book by Captain Edward Cooke, entitled A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711. Blackbeard’s real name was Edward Teach, and he ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground off the coast of North Carolina in 1718.
Image Via The Guardian
According to the conservators, who work for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’s QAR lab, paper hardly ever survives a shipwreck, it being paper.
Archaeological evidence for books carried on ships in the early 18th century, and adds to our knowledge of the history of Blackbeard’s flagship and those who sailed her. The historical record has several references to books aboard vessels in Blackbeard’s fleet, but provides no specific titles; this find is the first archaeological evidence for their presence on QAR.
Historian and author of Blackbeard’s biography Angus Konstam said:
It’s so unusual to get any organic material like paper surviving. The worrying thing is that one option to keep the powder charge in place in a cannon was to wedge it with paper. The book lover in me hates the fact that the pirates might have torn out a page from a book in order to fire their gun.
Konstam noted that the book, which follows Cooke’s adventures around the coast of South America, would have been “pretty good bedtime reading for a pirate”.
Historian Simon Layton told The Guardian that a lot of pirates of the era were literate.
That said, finding these pages down the shaft of a cannon doesn’t necessarily imply that Blackbeard’s crew were absorbed in such literature! One could argue conversely, that it reveals a certain irreverence towards books in general. But pirates were, after all, a motley crew; undoubtedly some were better read than others.
So there you go, there’s nothing holding you back and you can finally follow in the footsteps of your idol Edward Teach while remaining loyal to your bookworm tendencies.
Featured Image Via NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources