Norfolk, Hampton, and Suffolk, Virginia, rim the historic harbor of Hampton Roads. Each of these modern cities played a major role in the eighteen century story of Treasure Island. Owen and John Lloyd, residents of Hampton Roads, were the perpetrators of one of the greatest crimes in the eighteenth century. They were not pirates, at least not until they committed a major act of piracy. The misfortunes that had been heaped upon them at the hands of the Spanish in a war between England and Spain drove them to commit an act that, had the war have not ended, they would have been celebrated as heroes in the port of Hampton Roads.
Hampton is the oldest continuous English settlement in the New World. It has its unique place in history. It can now lay claim to something else. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island might not have been written except for the actions of one of its forgotten citizens, a merchant captain named Owen Lloyd who lived on the north side of Queen St. in Hampton. He and his wife, Christian, hoped to raise their children here while Owen ferried cargos of barrel staves and farm produce to St. Kitts where his brother-in-law, Charles Caines, ran a sugar plantation. He would return with cargoes of rum, molasses, and sugar which were sold in part to the taverns in Hampton and Norfolk.
Owen had gotten into financial hardship by 1750 because of his losses in the war which had just ended the year before. His wife, Christian, had returned to St. Kitts in the summer of 1750 because of all of his setbacks. On September 8th, Owen and John sailed from Hampton for St. Kitts, but unfortunately their sloop sprung a leak and they were forced to divert to Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, where the sloop sank. Fortunately, they made it safely to shore.
Here, they discovered that a richly laden and disabled Spanish galleon,the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe anchored fifteen miles south of the inlet. Owen was hired to tow the galleon to safety. Weeks later, the treasure was offloaded onto two English sloops that were to take the treasure to Norfolk. Owen and his brother, John, developed a plan with the sloop captains to sail away with the treasure. On October 20, 1750, the sloops raised their sails and made for the Atlantic Ocean. John was caught after grounding on a sand bar but later escaped. Owen and his crew sailed to Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands where they divided up fifty-two chests of Spanish treasure on November 13, 1750. Exactly one hundred years later, a man was born who would write about returning to this island. His name was Robert Louis Stevenson.
Owen had a one-legged brother named John who lived with his wife, Elizabeth, in a wood frame tenement on the west side of Church Street, now St. Paul’s, in Norfolk. He was a familiar character around the taverns and docks of Hampton Roads as he hobbled about on his wooden leg, a cheap replacement for the one he had lost in the late King George’s War with Spain.
Records discovered in the National Archives in The Netherlands gave the first clue to where the enigmatic Owen Lloyd was from. Up until then, all that history could say was that a man named Owen Lloyd had pulled a major heist of Spanish treasure at Ocracoke, North Carolina, which was then buried on Norman Island in the British Virgin Islands. This clue led maritime historian John Amrhein, Jr. to courthouse records in Norfolk that revealed a remarkable human story which not only gave the motive for Owen Lloyd to turn pirate but these same records opened the door to knowing his accomplice, his one-legged brother John.
Both Owen and John were married at the Burrough Church that is now known as St. Paul’s. Owen most likely lived with John until Owen married and then moved to Hampton.
Founded in 1742, Suffolk was first called Constant’s Wharf. This tiny village became the host to the Spanish galleon, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, which had carried the treasure that would inspire Treasure Island. After the Lloyd brothers stole the treasure at Ocracoke, the Guadalupe remained in North Carolina until July of 1751 when she was brought to the wharf at the end of what is now Main St. in Suffolk. She was placed in the care of David Meade, a prosperous Suffolk merchant.
After Captain Juan Manuel Bonilla arrived in Suffolk in March of 1751, he hired another merchant named John Watson to travel to the Caribbean to recover his treasure that had been dug up at “Treasure Island” and scattered among the Caribbean Islands. It was also hoped he would arrest Owen Lloyd who was being protected by the governor at St. Thomas. Watson took Thomas Gibson, the son of Suffolk merchant, James Gibson, with him.
On December 1752, the Guadalupe returned to Cadiz, Spain, under escort of HMS Triton which was stationed in Hampton Roads. The Guadalupe was the only ship of the fleet that left Havana on August 18, 1750, to return to Spain.