In April 2016, Blackbeard’s Lost Treasure, published by Black Rose Writing, was released. (Order your copy in paperback or on Kindle here)
After nearly two and a half years of writing, planning and researching, the final product (at least until their editors sink their collective teeth into it) is complete. Before I sent the book out to a few readers and agents (guinea pigs?) for their critiques, the rough draft stood at nearly 93,000 words.
After receiving feedback, several chapters and sections were either removed, abbreviated or made to fit within other parts of the novel. The final draft I sent in was just north of 87,000 words. Six thousand or so were removed, but none bigger than the following deleted scene.
What follows was my original opening chapter of the novel. It was lifted from the second draft, so it does lack some polish. In it, I tell readers what event kicked off the Golden Age of Piracy. This is where the vast amount of treasure (gold, silver, jewels) that drove piracy during the early 1700’s. In my book, the events described in this scene is what leads to Blackbeard receiving his Lost Treasure.
The novel is an action/adventure set in modern times. Two friends discover a treasure map buried away in a museum that leads them on a journey that could change their lives . . . or lead to their deaths. Read the book’s full description here.
Here now is the deleted scene. Enjoy!
July 24, 1715 – Havana Harbor, Cuba
Captain-General Don Antonio De Escheverz y Zubziza took a step forward on the deck of the flagship of the Squadron of Tierra Firma and New Spain Flotas, the Capitana, and squinted into the midday sun on a perfect summer day. He brushed a lock of hair aside on his forehead blown astray by the gentle tropical breeze that smelled both salty and sweet.
Scattered, puffy, white cumulus clouds drifted by overhead, letting the sun’s rays dance gracefully across the sea’s surface. The temperature and humidity that normally stifled the crew this time of summer felt cooler to the skin. The breeze would be just enough to propel their sails forward at an acceptable pace without making the waters choppy.
They could not have asked for a better day to set sail.
For two-hundred and fifty years, the Spanish Treasure Fleet took rich cargoes of silver, gold, jewels and other valuable relics to the monarchs presiding over the people of Spain.
Although Columbus failed to complete his initial quest, the commission from Ferdinand and Isabella to aid Columbus on his mission to discover a shorter route to the Indies paid tremendous dividends and then some for two and a half centuries for Spain. That is, until war broke out with England, bringing the treasure fleet movements to a halt.
The war and super-inflation in Europe brought forth by the wealth flowing in, not only from the Americas, but Southeast Asia as well, lessened the grip Spain held as the wealthiest nation in the world at the time. The wealth accumulated by Spain over the last two-hundred years dwindled away without the regular shipments from the treasure fleets. With a series of treaties known as the Peace of Utrecht signed, Ubilla did not have to fear attack by British ships. He and his crews still needed to be watchful for pirates, who had become more prevalent across the globe in recent years.
The fleets crossed the oceans twice a year since 1566, less than one-hundred years after Columbus first set foot in the Caribbean. The amount of treasure loaded aboard each of the twelve ships today were among the most ever in any trip, including over seven million silver coins alone. King Philip V would be most pleased, and relieved.
The eleven ships that made up the two arms of the Spanish Treasure Fleet sat in Havana Harbor for almost two years while Spain and England skirmished in the War of Succession. During peaceful times, one of the fleets would be in transit from South America to Spain to deliver treasure captured or mined in the New World throughout the year. During war, Spain found it too risky to dispatch either fleet.
It was vital that Zubziza lead this fleet back to the homeland safely. The eleven ships were accompanied by one fifth-rate French ship, making a total of twelve who were about to embark on this voyage.
The costs of war wore heavily on Spain, and the twelve pregnant treasure ships were loaded primarily with twenty pound silver ingots minted in Peru and, to a lesser extent, Mexico. While silver was the main cargo, an abundance of gold and jewels made up the rest of the bounty.
Zubziza normally headed the Squadron of Tierra Firma, while Captain-General Don Juan Esteban de Ubilla commanded the New Spain Fleet. For the purposes of this voyage, Zubziza would be the man responsible, using the Capitana as the flagship. At other times, this ship was the flagship of the New Spain Fleet under Ubilla.
Zubziza looked over at Ubilla standing loyally to his left. When the king had sent word that Zubziza was to have the ultimate command of the two flotillas for this journey, Ubilla did not question the orders, and did not utter a contentious word about someone else commanding his own vessel. Zubziza respected the man for that. He did not know if he could have held the same demeanor if the roles were reversed.
He took a deep breath before giving an order he had not given in almost two years. “You may cast off Capitan Ubilla.”
Zubziza smiled as Ubilla acknowledged and then departed his side to carry out his orders.
The fleet began moving, cutting through the calm waters, past Morro Castle, which stood like a silent sentinel to their right, overlooking the port of Havana. Once past, the fleet raised their sails, and glided to the northeast, into the Florida Straits.
And into history.
The first five days of the voyage were uneventful. The fleet sailed along the Florida Straits, staying far enough offshore to take advantage of the Gulf Stream flowing north and eventually back to Europe. They strayed far enough away from the coast to avoid the treacherous shoals and reefs fringing the Florida coast and were close to the point where the Gulf Stream would take them away from the shores of Florida and into open waters.
The weather cooperated until the 29th. The crews awoke to perfect clear skies and calm seas. By afternoon, the swells became larger, coming in from the southeast. Ominous purple fingers of clouds slashed across the otherwise azure skies over the cays of the Bahamas. The humidity thickened, making the atmosphere stickier than normal. The breeze increased, and with the combination of the ever increasing swells, the ships began to dip and roll.
Zubziza became concerned. He hoped to have calm seas all the way back to Spain, but was experienced enough to know there would always be a portion of every journey where you feared for the safety of your ship and crew. He knew and had met many ship captains and seamen dimly lit bars and pubs across Europe and this New World who passed harrowing tales of near death encounters at sea. Some were witness to mutiny’s, murders and disease. All had been through a stretch of foul weather and sudden storms that had either put them in danger or capsized their ships.
It came with the job, and Zubziza hoped that this would be a brief squall that would blow over and wreak havoc for a short time before blowing through. His instinct told him a different story. He had been through his fair share of foul weather. Even at this distance, he could see rapid movement in how the clouds moved across the horizon and inching ever closer, that this was no little storm.
His men saw this as well. After belaying Zubziza’s orders to batten down the hatches to the rest of the crew and to spread the message to the rest of the fleet, Ubilla returned to Zubziza’s side on the bridge and they both regarded the coming storm in the distance.
“What do you think?” Zubziza asked his longtime friend. “That doesn’t look like small storm to me.”
Ubilla shook his head and told a story Captain Zubziza had heard many times. “I was aboard a galleon named Hercules on the way to Jamaica to deliver a load of slaves in 1705. We were south of Savannah on a Wednesday afternoon much as this when a hurricane,” he pointed to the storm clouds on the horizon, “that looked much like this hit.”
“The largest swell I had ever seen—it had to have been thirty feet tall—in my twenty years at sea struck us, capsizing our ship.” Ubilla swept his gaze from the ocean to the aged wooden deck as the memory struck him. “Only myself and a couple negroes survived. We latched on to a chunk of the mast floating in nearby and floated for a day at sea before catching sight of the Kingston along the coast. It was a miracle we made it.”
Zubziza placed a consoling hand on his comrade’s shoulder. Ubilla looked his captain in the eye. “This looks worse.”
The normally stoic Zubziza felt a lump form in his throat as he regarded the now choppy surf and ominous skies off to their starboard bow.
The crews of the fleet spent the afternoon preparing for the storm. The sails were taken down from the masts and rolled as tight as the Cuban cigars they left behind. Everything below decks was made as secure as possible with particular attention made to the crates and boxes of treasure.
Ingots of some of the purest silver ever produced, mostly from Peru, emeralds from Columbia, gold from Venezuela and pearls from Ecuador were stored in small, wooden boxes measuring eight inches high by ten inches wide and fifteen inches long and stacked on pallets five high, five wide and five deep or one-hundred and twenty-five boxes per pallet. Each box was weighed, numbered and catalogued so when the fleet reached shore, it would be a simple matter to distribute the treasure to the rightful owners.
While a fifth of the treasure filling every one of the twelve vessels would go to the Spanish crown as a tax, most of the treasure represented private wealth accumulated by people who made their wealth in the New World and now planned to return to Spain.
By noon, the fleet was struck with a howling squall from the east. Before the storm hit, the ships were in a neat, organized formation, making it easy to optimize cruising speeds. It didn’t take long before the fleet was pushed closer to shore . . . and the dangerous shallow reefs.
The crews braced for the conditions to worsen. All of their preparations could not prepare them for the coming tempest. The winds grew to gale force and beyond. By midnight, the hurricane grew to a crescendo, dashing the ships against the rocky shores.
When morning broke over the now calm waters of the Florida coast, the full scale of the disaster was known. Of the twelve ships that left port in Cuba a week earlier, one remained: the French ship named Grifon, which limped back to Cuba to spread word of the catastrophe.
Neither Captain-General Don Antonio De Escheverz y Zubziza nor Captain-General Don Juan Esteban de Ubilla were seen again.
In short order, the Spanish sent out crews to recover what they could of the treasure at the bottom of the sea. When they reached the area of the wrecks, they found, to their absolute surprise, that nearly fifteen hundred sailors survived and had made it to shore. Some made it as far as St. Augustine, one-hundred twenty miles to the north.
Cuban governor Corioles dispatched a massive salvage expedition, complete with native divers, Spanish divers with diving bells and soldiers to guard the recovered riches. By the end of the year, most of the silver had been recovered. But the word was out: silver, gold and jewels were out there, and many privateers turned to piracy to fill their holds.
Like sharks sniffing blood, gold and silver were in the water, and it was fair game.
Thus began the Golden Age of Piracy. Treasure fever swept the Caribbean. For almost two years, as salvage operations were carried out, the Atlantic—from Virginia to the Bahamas—was a dangerous place for anyone who sailed those waters.
In November of 1715 as England began a flurry of operations to recover the sunken treasure, one privateer turned cutthroat pirate, Benjamin Hornigold arrived on New Providence in the Bahamas with about seventy-five men and three vessels at his disposal. As men descended upon the island to cast their lot into the treasure salvage fray, Hornigold’s pirate army swelled with enough bodies to start a full-scale war over any opposers.
The Bahamas became a pirate haven, some twenty pirate captains rose to prominence during the time. Two of the most feared and powerful among the original twenty were Henry Jennings and Hornigold. Others who served under these original captains would make names for themselves after their leader captured other ships and promoted someone to captain that new vessel.
A veritable spider web of famous pirates was woven in this way. Many of these big names worked together for a time before going separate ways. Bartholomew Roberts—known as “Black Bart”—Stede Bonnet, Calico Jack Rackam and Charles Vane all stabbed fear into the hearts of innocent seamen trying to transport silver, gold, sugar, flour and that magical elixir, rum over troubled waters.
In the summer of 1716, an ambitious, experienced and—a rarity at the time—educated man joined Hornigold’s stable of recruits from Bristol, England. The man cast an intimidating figure, even for pirates, He possessed a certain charm that permitted him to rise quickly through the ranks during that fall and winter. His charisma and Machiavellian intelligence allowed him to capture the loyalty of his men. He was broad shouldered and stood a head taller than most men of the period.
His most striking feature, however, was one that would cast him as one of the most intimidating figures in history: a long, flowing black beard.
And Captain Hornigold has just given him command of his first ship…