Ocracoke’s Role in Treasure Island Tale Remembered on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Birthday

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has its roots in real-life events that transpired at Ocracoke, North Carolina, centuries ago. His birthday marks the anniversary of that event.
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Ocracoke Inlet North Carolina
Ocracoke Inlet North Carolina
Nov. 11, 2011 - PRLog -- Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Scotland on November 13, 1850. He had no success until he wrote Treasure Island. Recent research published by American author and maritime historian suggests that Stevenson’s book was merely a fictional sequel to a real-life tale of buried treasure and adventure which culminated in a huge treasure being buried on a deserted island in the Caribbean on November 13, 1750, one hundred years to the day preceding Stevenson’s birth.

As fate would have it, a Spanish fleet left Havana, Cuba, on August 18, 1750, destined for Spain with treasure and valuable New World commodities. The ships had encountered numerous delays in preparing for their voyage home. The captains were ever mindful that with every hour of delay they were placed in increased danger as the height of hurricane season approached.  On August 25, the fleet met head on with a hurricane that blocked their path for their journey home. The ships became dismasted, losing control, and were propelled by winds and the Gulf Stream currents up the American coast . Several ships were wrecked on the coast of North Carolina and Virginia. There was one lucky galleon, the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, that survived and came to anchor south of Ocracoke Inlet. For the moment her million dollar cargo, which included over one hundred chests of silver pieces of eight, was safe.

The galleon captain, Juan Manuel Bonilla, was desperate for help and the English were not inclined to render any assistance. They had fresh memories of the Spanish depredations that had occurred during the war that had just ended.

They say timing is everything. While Bonilla was ferrying his treasure ashore to safety, a sloop departed Hampton Roads for St. Kitts. On board were Owen Lloyd and his peg-legged brother, John. Owen was going to St. Kitts to reunite with his wife but their sloop sprung a leak forcing them to Ocracoke where the sloop sank. Owen Lloyd was very familiar with Ocracoke as he had traded routinely between there and other ports. Captain Bonilla hired the Lloyd brothers to tow the galleon to safety inside the inlet. He did not know that John Lloyd had lost his leg during an engagement with the Spanish and Owen had lost his sloop to a Spanish privateer.

Bonilla hired two sloops to ferry his treasure to Norfolk, Virginia, to find shipment to Spain. While he was away in New Bern meeting with the governor of North Carolina, the two brothers exacted their revenge on the Spaniards and sailed away with the treasure. Not a shot was fired. No pistols, no swords, no bloodshed, yet Lloyd pulled off an act of piracy that exceeded any haul that Blackbeard had ever scored. Unfortunately, John Lloyd was captured but luckily he later escaped. Owen and his crew sailed to the Virgin Islands where they divided up the treasure and most of it was buried on Norman Island in the BVI.

Owen Lloyd returned to his wife at St. Kitts and found that he was a wanted man. He fled to neighboring St. Eustatius thinking he would be safe but was captured and sentenced to hang. Once again using his wit and a little cash from his brother-in-law, he bribed his captors and fled to St. Thomas. Two years later he was dead at thirty eight years old.

The legend of his deeds lived on. The great grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson arrived at St. Kitts twenty two years later to find a number of Lloyd’s family and other inhabitants still around who were witnesses to the event. In 1883, after finishing Treasure Island for publication, the treasure map that would accompany the story was dated, August 1, 1750 by Stevenson and his father. Now the most famous treasure map in the world takes us back to a real island and a where very real treasure was buried.

Close behind Ocracoke on bragging rights for Treasure Island is Hampton Roads, Virginia. Owen Lloyd lived on the north side of Queen Street within a hundred yards if the Episcopal church. His brother John lived in a tenement house on the west side of Church St. now St. Paul’s Blvd. At Suffolk, the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was repaired and returned to Spain in January of 1753. She was the only ship of the seven that left Havana to make it back to Spain.

American author and maritime historian, John Amrhein, Jr. has recently published Treasure Island: The Untold Story which gives full and dramatic account to this story which has taken him and an international team of researchers nearly ten years to document. “If it had not been for the acts of Owen Lloyd there would have been no Treasure Island” contends Amrhein. “And we owe Treasure Island for the genesis of Pirates of the Caribbean.” Disney, the producer of the of this multi-billion dollar franchise, produced the first color version of Treasure Island in 1950. It was Disney’s first venture into non-animated cinema. It was in this movie that Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver, coined the now famous pirate growl, “ARRR!”

Happy birthday, Mr. Stevenson, and thank you.

The author lives on the Outer Banks of North Carolina eighty miles from Ocracoke where this historic event occurred.  He can be reached at author@treasureislandtheuntoldstory.com or visit him at www.treasureislandtheuntoldstory.com

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New Maritima Press is a publisher on non-fiction maritime history and reproduction nautical charts. www.newmaritimapress.com


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