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New evidence reveals Blackbeard’s taste in reading material

BLACKBEARD
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Remnants of literature discovered on the wreck of 'Queen Anne's Revenge'

In the early 18th century a man named Edward Teach, a British privateer who fought for the English during Queen Anne’s War, became the most feared and recognizable pirate in the new world — “Blackbeard.” Although he was only active as a pirate from 1716-1718, he caused such havoc with his brutal acts of piracy that even 300 years after his death, Blackbeard is remembered as the scourge of the high seas.

Despite our records of his travels and exploits, we know relatively little about the man behind the myth. However, a new discovery aboard the wreck of Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, is shining a bit of light on this mysterious figure — mainly that he may have been able to read.

The Guardian reports archaeologists working to preserve the wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge, found run aground in North Carolina in 1996, discovered 16 tiny fragments of paper “in a mess of wet sludge” pulled from the barrel of one of the 40 cannons rigged to the vessel. After diligent work identifying the faded letters inscribed on the scraps, they were determined to have come from a 1712 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.

The team from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’s QAR lab explained why this find is important:

“This unique find from the wreckage of Queen Anne’s Revenge provides 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,” said the department. “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.”

While it is unclear whether the book in question was part of a private pirate library or simply plunder from one of their exploits, it would not have been uncommon for a captain of a ship, even a pirate, to know how to read. The theory that Blackbeard read this book is also supported by the subject matter; a pirate might find a book about travel and maritime adventure appealing. However, the presence of these pages in the barrel of a cannon suggests that the crew-at-large did not have much interest in reading the pages, preferring to use them to pack their ammunition.

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