Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island, has delighted generations of children (and adults) but like many good yarns, it turns out it could be based on more fact than fiction.
American author and historian, John Amrhein, Jr., has dug about in hoards of documents in European archives that explain the fascinating true story which seems to be the lead up to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island book.
Treasure Island: The Untold Story, by American author and historian, John Amrhein, Jr., answers the question of “where is Treasure Island.” As readers of Stevenson’s classic will recall, the map pulled from Billy Bones’s sea chest pointed to treasure buried on an unnamed Caribbean Island dubbed “Treasure Island” where a treasure was buried by a Captain James Flint on August 1, 1750. In real life, this happened, not in August, but on November 13, 1750, a date that preceded the birth of Robert Louis Stevenson, born November 13, 1850, by exactly one hundred years. In 1980, when Amrhein had first read of this real life Treasure Island and that one of the main characters was named John Lloyd who had a wooden leg, the hook was set.
His new book, Treasure Island: The Untold Story, John Amrhein recounts the dramatic journey of the real treasure from when it boarded ship in Veracruz, Mexico, aboard the Spanish Galleon, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, to its plunder and dispersal in the Caribbean for burial in secret locations.
Realizing the enormous potential of a great story, Amrhein, not only hired researchers in Spain and England, but Denmark and The Netherlands as well. There were great document discoveries made in each country which brought this very dramatic story to life. Many documents had never been seen before. Through his own research in the U.S. he was able to find missing links that tied these sometimes disparate documents together. His research expanded to Wales, where John and Owen and Lloyd, the perpetrators of the treasure heist, were born. In Scotland he pursued the fascinating life story of Robert Louis Stevenson. Caribbean documents shed further light on this forgotten history. The author was determined to leave no stone unturned. By the time he was done, Amrhein had documented a compelling case that Norman Island BVI is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and that the infamous author had borrowed from many sources when he wrote his story of buried treasure in 1881.
So what is the real story the book of Treasure Island seems to be based on?
Several islands are involved in the tale including St. Kitts where, just 24 years later, the Great Grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson died. It seems possible that news of the strange events could have been passed down in the family to inspire the young writer.
In 1750, fifty-five chests of silver pieces of eight were stolen from a Spanish galleon at Ocracoke, North Carolina, and carried to the West Indies where most of it was buried on Norman Island, a deserted key in the British Virgin Islands.
Robert Louis Stevenson published a fictional tale of adventure about an expedition to an unnamed Caribbean island to recover a treasure that had been buried there in 1750. The map that was in Stevenson’s Treasure Island book was drawn by him and his father and is probably the most famous treasure map in the world. In the story, the map was discovered in a dead pirate’s sea chest by a young teenager named Jim Hawkins. Guided by the map, Stevenson’s remarkable cast of characters sails the Hispaniola to the Caribbean in the hopes of recovering the treasure. Who hasn’t heard of Long John Silver? He is more famous than the author himself.
After departing Havana, the hapless galleon encountered the fateful wind of a West Indian hurricane, driving the Guadalupe over five hundred miles from her intended course that would have taken her across the Atlantic to Spain. Instead, in early September 1750, she was delivered to Teach’s Hole at Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, for her historic rendezvous with destiny. Just after the hurricane, Owen and John Lloyd, two respected merchant captains from Hampton Roads, Virginia, had departed for St. Kitts unaware of the detour their lives were about to take.
Their sloop sprung a leak and diverted to the safety of Ocracoke Inlet where they encountered the disabled galleon. By an extraordinary chain of events, the Lloyd brothers found themselves entrusted to the rescue of over eight tons of silver pieces of eight and other riches by the bungling and arrogant galleon captain, Juan Manuel Bonilla. It was at this same location that the notorious Blackbeard had been killed thirty-two years before. But Blackbeard had to take a back seat to what was about to take place: the two brothers, who had been ravaged at the hands of the Spaniards in the recently ended King George’s War, exacted their revenge on the galleon and sailed away with the treasure on a sloop called the Seaflower—a haul that outdid that of the legendary pirate. On October 20, 1750, the Seaflower unmoored and made a dash for the inlet.
On board was a treasure that outdid anything the legendary Blackbeard ever scored. Besides the tons of silver pieces of eight, there was a large quantity of valuable dyes and other cargo. Today this treasure hoard would be worth from twenty-five to thirty million dollars.
So has all the treasure been recovered and spent time and time again over the years? Let’s hope not and some sill remains to be found, dug up and fought over again – probably by crews of lawyers, pirates all.