Treasure Island Day

What is Treasure Island Day?

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is the quintessential pirate adventure story. It has become one of the most dramatized novels in history. November 13 is Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday. He was born on that day in 1850 in Edinburgh, Scotland. A new history has come to light about his Treasure Island. It was real. On November 13, 1750, fifty chests of treasure that had been stolen from a Spanish galleon at Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, were buried on a deserted island in the Caribbean. And because of Stevenson’s family ties to the Caribbean, he had to have known about it.

Billy Bones Treasure Mao

Stevenson’s Treasure Map Dated August 1, 1750

In late August of 1750, the Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, was driven by a hurricane from her intended course of returning to Spain to the desolate shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Shattered and unable to sail, she was towed into Ocracoke Inlet in order to save her million dollar cargo. Owen Lloyd and his one-legged brother, John, two merchant captains from Hampton Roads, Virginia, whose own vessel had been driven to Ocracoke, formed a conspiracy and stole the silver from the galleon. Owen Lloyd sailed away with fifty-five chests of pieces of eight and buried his treasure on Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands on the date that would be later remembered as Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday.

It was a crude treasure map drawn by Robert Louis Stevenson’s stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, which was the initial inspiration for Treasure Island. Stevenson incorporated that map, with his own embellishments, into his story. It was the map of Treasure Island dated August 1, 1750, discovered in a sea chest belonging to a dead pirate named Billy Bones that launched the treasure hunt that became the stories main plot. This map has become the most famous treasure map in the world.

Anyone who has read Treasure Island virtually signed on as crew on the Hispaniola with the memorable characters of Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, and Billy Bones. Millions of people have read this classic tale of adventure since its first printing in 1883. The story has since been made into more than fifty television and movie adaptations, as well as plays.

Why Treasure Island Day?

Treasure Island the movie

Treasure Island 1934 by MGM

It seems that every seaside town that either has a connection with pirates or wishes that it did, holds an annual pirate festival for the amusement of children and adults alike. In our hectic daily lives we have become overwhelmed with the responsibilities and the complexities of modern life. In our dreams, we hearken back to a time when the ultimate free spirit—pirates—lived lives of adventure, irresponsibility and ease.  So for one day a year, wannabe pirates cast off their lines that tie them to the shores of responsibility and set sail for freedom and adventure.

Every generation since Treasure Islandwas published in 1883 has been captivated with this adventure tale. In 1934, the most remembered early film of Treasure Island was made with Wallace Berry and Jackie Cooper. There had been two silent productions prior to that. The first color version was released in 1950 by Walt Disney. This was the first non-animated film for Disney. English actor, Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver, coined the now infamous pirate growl “Arrrgh.” For Disney, this was the beginning of its obsession with the pirate theme. In 1967, Disney launched an amusement park ride called Pirates of the Caribbean, inspired in part by Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

To date, there have been four Pirates of the Caribbeanfilms grossing over a billion dollars each. The fifth installment is now in production.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver owe Robert Louis Stevenson for their existence

The story of the real Treasure Island involves many countries on two continents as well as islands in the Caribbean. Each location has its own role in the story of the real Treasure Island. So, on November 13, all pirate fans, adventurers, and free spirits, should not only remember the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, but also celebrate the day a very real treasure was buried in the Caribbean by a merchant captain named Owen Lloyd. Without whom there might not have been a Long John Silver or a Jack Sparrow that would capture our collective imaginations.