A lump of paper wadding found in a cannon from the pirate Blackbeard‘s ship Queen Anne’s Revenge has been identified as containing scraps of paper from a book by Captain Edward Cooke written in 1712. Researchers were able to identify the tiny paper scraps as coming from A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711. They were able to identify specific words on the paper scraps which corresponded to the text of the book.
The discovery raises several questions. Who was Captain Edward Cooke and why was Blackbeard reading his book? Or, on the other hand, why did the pirate think the pages were suitable as wadding for one the guns on his ship? Was this out of necessity or a dislike for the book? If Blackbeard did indeed read the book, was it for pleasure as a diversion, or was it a practical desire to learn more about a potential foe? Was the book already on the ship when Blackbeard captured it in 1717? Did the book remain unread by the pirates with its pages used only for wadding for the guns?
A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World is an account of a voyage around the world in two ships, under the command of Woodes Rogers. It also includes a firsthand account of castaway Alexander Selkirk, whose tale inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe. What does this have to do with Blackbeard? Perhaps nothing, but Woodes Rogers was the great vanquisher of pirates who arrived in New Providence as Governor, a year after Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, departed.
Woodes Rogers brought with him a King’s Pardon for any pirate who laid down his arms and gave up piracy. At the time, the Bahamas were effectively lawless and the village of Nassau on the island of New Providence was the epicenter of piracy in the Caribbean. Many pirates accepted the pardon and joined Rodgers. One who notably didn’t was Charles Vane, who attacked Rogers and fought his way out of Nassau and escaped from New Providence with a handful of men in a small boat.
About a month later Vane wrote to Rogers, threatening to join with Blackbeard, who commanded a small flotilla of pirate ships, to retake the island. Nothing ever came of the threat, although aVane and Blackbeard later rendezvoused on Ocracoke Island, which was Blackbeard’s new base of operations.
Woodes Roger’s arrival in the Bahamas corresponded roughly with the blockade of the port of Charles Town, South Carolina, by a pirate fleet led by Blackbeard. During the blockade, Blackbeard ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground while entering Beaufort Inlet. The ship was abandoned, including at least one gun loaded with paper wadding of Captain Cooke’s account of Woodes Roger’s voyage around the world.
Blackbeard briefly accepted the King’s Pardon before once again returning to piracy. In 1718, Blackbeard was tracked down by the Royal Navy’s Lieutenant Robert Maynard, in command of two sloops. In a pitched battle, the pirate Blackbeard was killed and Maynard returned to the colony of Virginia with Blackbeard’s head hanging from the bowsprit of the sloop Jane.
Like most famous pirates, Blackbeard’s career was short, lasting less than three years.
Thanks to Seymour Hamilton for contributing to this post.