Philip Masters: True Amateur of History, Dies at 70

Historians in the News

Philip Masters, whose passion was history, which he literally dived into to help find the undersea wreck of the ship of Blackbeard the pirate, died on Aug. 18 in the Bronx. He was 70.

The cause was a metastasized melanoma, his daughter Torrie Lloyd-Masters said.

Mr. Masters, whose jobs ranged from jewelry salesman to lighting executive to cabdriver to stockbroker, was that unusual amateur who succeeds in a professionalized field. He used evenings, weekends and vacations to burrow into 57 archival libraries in the United States and Europe and took an intensive course in Spanish paleography so he could read original documents in the archives in Seville, Spain.

His breakthrough came in 1987 in his favorite haunt, the rare-book room of the New York Public Library. He found a book published in 1719 in London that told of a pirate’s trial in Charleston, S.C., in November 1718. In the book’s appendix was an account of events in Beaufort Inlet off the coast of North Carolina in June 1718, when Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was lost.

Mr. Masters teamed up with archaeologists from North Carolina and other experts to pursue his hunch, and the eventual result was the discovery, in November 1996, of one of the most complete wrecks of a pirate ship ever found. It appeared to be that of Blackbeard, the self-proclaimed “devil’s brother” who was said to have forced a captive to eat his own ears.

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