It is well known that pirates are an integral part of Charleston, South Carolina’s colonial history. While Governor Robert Johnston was governor, the now infamous Blackbeard blockaded the city and demanded ransom. That same year Governor Johnson is also credited for capturing the “gentleman pirate,” Stede Bonnet, who was hung in Charleston along with other pirates in 1718.
A new pirate history found in Treasure Island: The Untold Story documents that while Governor Johnson was again governor between 1728 and 1735 he was entertaining Captain James Lloyd of the British Navy whose ship, HMS Happy, was stationed in Charleston. This is of little consequence but also serving on the Happy while in Charleston were his two nephews, Owen and John Lloyd who in 1750 would rob a Spanish galleon of a huge treasure in silver pieces of eight.
The galleon, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, had been driven to Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, in a hurricane and was unable to continue to Spain. Owen Lloyd actually assisted the galleon captain by towing his ship to the safety of the inlet and brought her to anchor in Teach’s Hole. It was in this same spot that Blackbeard was killed in 1718 by Lt. Maynard of the Royal Navy. Maynard had severed Blackbeard’s grisly head and took it to Hampton, Virginia, where it was hung on a pole. Hampton was the home of Owen Lloyd in 1750.
Timing is everything in history. Owen Lloyd knew he was going to steal the treasure before somebody else did. The biggest threat to his plans was that HMS Scorpion which was stationed at Charleston was ordered by the North Carolina Governor to proceed with haste to Ocracoke Inlet to secure the treasure. At Ocracoke, her arrival was anticipated but unfortunately the Scorpion’s captain received his orders too late. He had already departed for Cape Fear to celebrate the King’s Birthday.
At 2 pm on October 20, 1750, Owen Lloyd made his move. With an outgoing tide and a favorable wind he fled Ocracoke in his treasure laden sloop. The Spaniards were caught totally off guard. Lloyd then made it to Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands where most of the treasure was buried on November 13, 1750. One hundred years later, on this day, Robert Louis Stevenson was born.
It is believed that Owen Lloyd had some help at Ocracoke. Charleston merchant, Thomas Wright, was a prisoner on board the galleon when she sailed from Havana on August 18, 1750. It just so happened he was fluent in Spanish and offered to assist his Spanish captors in saving the galleon and her treasure when she came to anchor after the storm. Captain Wright was carried ashore on the Core Banks south of Ocracoke Inlet where he walked fifteen miles to the inlet and obtained the help of the harbor pilot.
Captain Wright had been accused by the Spanish captain of assisting Owen Lloyd in the theft of the treasure. It is not known if this is true but he did remain at Ocracoke for over six weeks until the after the treasure was stolen. His fluency in Spanish would have been very helpful to Owen Lloyd in the in his planning of the theft. When he returned to Charleston, Wright reported the dramatic events to the Charleston newspaper, The South Carolina Gazette. In February 1751, Thomas Wright married Polly Moncrief of Charleston, “an agreeable young lady of extraordinary merit.”