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What do pirates read at bedtime? Paper scraps recovered from Blackbeard's 300-year-old sunken ship may tell us


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What did 18th-century pirates do in their spare time?

Thanks to archaoologists in North Carolina, we may have the answer: The famous pirate known as Blackbeard might have occupied his time between raids by curling up with a good book.

Fragments of paper recently found in the wreckage of Blackbeard’s flagship have been identified as the remains of a 1712 book by Captain Edward Cooke, called A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711.

The 16 tiny scraps of paper were extracted from a pile of ‘sludge’ found in the chamber of a cannon. According to the North Carolina conservators working on the wreck, it’s extremely rare to find bits of paper still intact after so long.

'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 a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’s QAR lab.

The ship, called the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was run aground off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. It was discovered in 1996, and conservators have been working on it ever since.

Blackbeard, whose real name was Edward Teach, was an English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the east coast of North America. He has become one of the most well-known pirate legends, partly because of his luxuriant beard, and partly because of rumours of a great buried treasure which is yet to be found.

Cooke’s  novel is an account of an expedition on two ships which sailed from Bristol in 1708 under the command of Captain Woodes Rogers. It also features the rescue of Alexander Selkirk from a South Pacific island after four years – an epic tale that would inspire Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe.

Historian Angus Konstam, author of a biography of Blackbeard, said that the book would have been ‘pretty good bedtime reading for a pirate’.

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