Surprising Find in Blackbeard's Cannon: Reading Material

Researchers find scraps of paper, figure out book they came from
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2018 12:28 PM CST
300-Year-Old Reading Material Found in Blackbeard's Cannon
A fragment of printed text, found inside a cannon on Blackbeard's flagship.   (North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)

Pirates of yore plundered, but they also read books, apparently. While cleaning sludge out of a cannon recovered from Blackbeard's flagship, scientists discovered bits of paper and were able to figure out the name of a book kept on board. The 16 fragments, each no bigger than a quarter, were lumped together inside the chamber of one of 27 known cannons aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground off North Carolina in 1718 and was discovered by divers in 1996, per a release. A few printed words on seven of the fragments helped with the sleuthing, reports National Geographic. After months studying the pieces—one of which reads "three or" and "Hilo, to"—researchers at North Carolina's Queen Anne's Revenge Conservation Lab identified the book from which the paper came.

Deciding Hilo likely referred to the Spanish settlement of Ilo in Peru, researchers scoured early accounts of voyages mentioning the place until they came across the right one. It was a first edition of Edward Cooke's A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, which describes a British naval officer's seafaring adventures from 1708 to 1711. Published in 1712, the book would act as inspiration for Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. According to Gizmodo, such "voyage narratives" also inspired real-life expeditions and might've given Blackbeard "fresh ideas about new places to plunder." Whatever its purpose, the book was apparently considered dispensable when pages 177, 178, and 183-188 were applied to the cannon, possibly as a seal for its wooden plug. (Blackbeard's flagship also carried some unusual medical artifacts.)

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