When you hear the word “pirate” the famous Blackbeard may be the name that comes to mind as many movies and books depict Blackbeard the pirate’s life on the high seas. Life on board a pirate ship is often portrayed in movies with scenes of grungy-looking men with a drink of ale in one hand and their swords in the other. To top this off there are always plenty of beards, eye patches, and pirate hats sitting haphazardly on their heads with that dreaded pirate’s plank sitting off to the side.
It might fog up that vision a bit if they tossed in the latest find by today’s scientists who would tell you that a few good books from historic literature should also be painted into a realistic scene of a pirate ship. Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, ran aground in 1718 off the coast of North Carolina. While those ruins were discovered a few decades back they are still giving up surprises that were long buried under the sea.
Previously the 18th-century pirate ship has given up amazing artifacts from that era, but this latest find offers a window into what Blackbeard and his men might have also done to pass the time in between their drinking and swashbuckling antics. During their days of pillaging those who were unlucky enough to cross paths with these men on the high seas, they may have taken some time off for reading. It has taken some time for scientist to assemble what they have found, but they have done it after months and months of painstaking and tedious work, pieces of pages from a book have emerged.
This involved a team of specialists which included scientists from the NCDNCR’ Queen Anne’s Revenge lab and the department’s Division of Archives and Records. They worked along with the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and specialist paper conservators to conserve the fragile paper fragments. Those fragments came from the wet and discolored wads, like the one seen below in the tweeted image.
According to Fox News, much of the loot that was on board Blackbeard’s ship had been previously brought to the surface but those historic ruins have offered up a recent surprise. Wet wads of material were found in the chamber of a cannon and once they were dried out and studied, they appeared to be pieces of paper.
With a little scientific magic, it was soon realized that those pieces of paper held words. This made for a puzzle-like assembly with small pieces, in which none of them were any bigger than the size of a quarter. Once they were pieced together and some of the words were deciphered, they discovered “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 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711,” by Captain Edward Cooke,” according to Fox News.
This was a book extremely popular in the 17th and early 18th centuries. The NCDNCR said the following in its statement.
“[A]rchaeological evidence for them is exceedingly rare, and this find represents a glimpse into the reading habits of a pirate crew.”
While historical references make several references to these books being on board Blackbeard’s fleet, there is now evidence.
So why were the pages in the book wadded up and stuck inside the cannon’s chamber? If you thought for safe keeping, you would be wrong. The paper was wadded up and used in the cannon’s chamber to seal the gases behind a projectile, like a cannonball.
National Geographic reports that the ship was discovered in 1996 off the North Carolina coast where it went ground back in 1718. Soon after its discovery divers from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources went to work excavating the site. It wasn’t officially verified as the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s ship until 2011.
From the day that it was discovered up until the time the comprehensive review of the evidence was complete, 15 years had gone by with the ship being referred to as the vessel “believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge.” Since 2011, it has been official.