Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2019 Issue

Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach, A keen reader of travel books?

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Blackbeard and his book fragment.

Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach is one of the most iconic pirates ever. Knowing that fear was his best ally, he fed his own legend with many tricks like tying lit matches to his hat in order to frighten his enemies. A wicked man, for sure—but the perfect romantic character! He was eventually killed in North Carolina in 1718, and his life has inspired many historians and novelists. A recent discovery on the wreck of his legendary ship, the Queen Ann’s Revenge, seems to indicate that Blackbeard was not only living adventures at sea, but was also reading about others on board!

 

Edward Teach was a Bristol man born, but had sailed some time out of Jamaica, in privateers, in the late French war,” Daniel Defoe writes in A General History of the Pyrates (London, 1726). “Yet, tho’ he had often distinguished himself for his uncommon boldness and personal courage, he was never raised to any command till he went pyrating, which I think was at the later end of the year 1716 (...). After cleaning on the coast of Virginia, (he) returned to the West Indies, and (...) made prize of a large French Guiney Man. (...) Aboard this Guiney Man, Teach mounted 40 guns, and named her the Queen’s Ann Revenge.” This is the ship he blocked the port of Charles Town, S.C, with; but he was soon forced to run her aground near the city of Beaufort, N.C, a few years before the matches of his hat were snuffed during his last battle on November 22, 1718. The ship remained there for 278 years, before she was finally spotted by a group of independent searchers. It took years before she was officially recognized as being the actual Queen Ann’s Revenge. In 2018, the Queen Ann’s Revenge Conversation Lab retrieved some pieces of paper from the mouth of one of the original 40 guns—probably placed there as a protection. The searchers first deciphered two words on the very small fragments (two-centimetre large), “south” and “phantom”. Then, they read “Hilo”, the name of a city in Peru that led them to the first edition of Cooke’s Voyage To the South Sea and Round the World performed in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711 (London, 1712)! This is a very rare and valuable book, richly illustrated, about a famous travel performed under command of another iconic sailor, Woodes Rogers. It tells of a tedious circumnavigation during which they found Alexander Selkirk, who had been marooned (or abandoned) on the island of Juan Fernandez, off the coast of Chili, for four years. His incredible story inspired the novel Robinson Crusoe to Daniel Defoe—Defoe and Rogers were friends.

 

Relating the discovery of the pieces of paper on the Queen Ann’s Revenge last year, the French website of National Geographic states: “the famous Blackbeard was a keen reader of entertaining stories.” Of course, he wasn’t. Obviously, most members of the crew were illiterate—but ‘officers’ like Blackbeard had to be able to read maps, and we know Blackbeard was writing a journal while at sea. Nonetheless, he probably didn’t read Cooke’s relation to enjoy himself, but rather to get useful information about navigation around America. The pirates and privateers were very interested in these books—and not only to obstruct the mouths of their guns. In the fascinating preface of his Tour du Monde (Amsterdam, 1716 for the French edition), which relates the same Cooke’s travel, Woodes Rogers makes it clear: politics and commerce were at the heart of these expeditions. War was raging—France and England fought each other to get the better of the Spanish kingdom in America. Thus, knowledge meant power. Maps were not a mere matter of having a ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete’ copy of a book, but of accessing to information that could save your life, or make you rich. Thus, the 16 pieces of paper recovered from the mouth of the Queen Ann’s Revenge’s gun are the vestiges of a book that was already valuable at the time. Of course, the condition of this ‘copy’ is not very satisfying: binding gone, title page, plates and all pages missing except a 2-centimetre piece of paper. These defects deeply affect the text, indeed—but could you dream of a more exciting and ‘prestigious’ provenance? From the personal collection of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Found on board of the Queen Ann’s Revenge. What would a bookseller add? Oh, yeah—very rare!

 

What makes this discovery extraordinary is the fact that it completes a terrible puzzle. Blackbeard reading the relation of a privateer is already quite pleasing. But the author of this book rescued the man who inspired Robinson Crusoe, a novel written by the same author who later wrote Blackbeard’s life! Furthermore, Cooke was then sailing alongside Woodes Rogers, sent to the West Indies after the Queen Ann’s, not revenge, but war (1702-1713), to eradicate piracy—which he did. Blackbeard probably read Cooke’s relation before he stuffed one of his guns with it, indeed—but it was rather to kill some Spaniards than to merely kill time.

 

 

Thibault Ehrengardt

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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