In the 262 years since he last sailed from the King Street docks,
Long gone are any memories of the house he owned on Queen Street near St. John's Church — or his voyages carrying peas, corn and barrel-making supplies to the West Indies to trade for sugar, rum and molasses.
Yet hidden in archives around the Atlantic, Lloyd left a trail of records that not only describe his up-and-down fortunes as a Virginia mariner but also his exploits as a privateer — then as a leader in one of the greatest pirate heists ever recorded.
So sensational was his 1750 escape from Ocracoke with 52 chests of Spanish silver that newspapers and governments in five countries followed his trail. And when Lloyd stopped to bury his loot on a deserted Virgin Islands beach, he planted the seeds of an adventure story that — 133 years later — may have inspired the pioneering pirate novel, "Treasure Island."
"In the beginning, Owen Lloyd was just a name that kept cropping up. But nobody really knew who he was," says North Carolina author, diver and historian John Amrhein Jr., who first took note of the Hampton sailor in 1978 while searching for the wreck of the Spanish ship La Galga on the Eastern Shore.
"But the more I looked into it, the more I found — and the more I wanted to know. This was a guy who pulled off the equivalent of a $10 million to $20 million heist that — financially, at least — outstripped anything
Since then, Amrhein has pieced together a fat file of records ranging from property logs in Hampton and Norfolk to naval and legal archives in England, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands and the West Indies.
His sources include deeds, shipping returns, admiralty papers and official reports as well as expense accounts, newspapers and — in one revealing instance — a plaintive letter written by Lloyd from a Norfolk jail after the loss of his ship to Spanish privateers all but bankrupted his business.
Using hired researchers and translators to help, the former medical insurance auditor turned
"Every place I went I struck gold," Amrhein says.
"But outside of war, there aren't many things as well-documented as crimes like this — and it was notorious."
Amrhein traced Lloyd back to his birth in Wales and his early years as a Royal Navy midshipman.
At age 20, he left the service to work as a merchant sailor, soon becoming master of a 60-ton, 8-gun sloop that traded from St. Kitts in the West Indies to Ocracoke,
Lloyd was sailing off Martinique in 1745 when — during a time of war with
There he joined his older brother John, who became master of the company's ship after Owen agreed to captain a vessel to the West Indies for Norfolk merchant and former mayor John Hutchings. But when the Lloyds removed the guns from their sloop at the insistence of Hampton merchant Alexander MacKenzie — who wanted more room for a cargo of Madeira wine — their rising star ran into trouble.
The elder Lloyd had almost returned from Portugal when he was taken off Cape Henry by a Spanish privateer. That forced his brother to mortgage everything he owned — including 24 slaves — and sail to Havana with the ransom.
The disastrous reversal left Owen hustling even after his move to Hampton, where he roamed the waterfront taverns looking for jobs. But after nearly three years of erratic work — and a run-in off the Capes with another Spaniard — Lloyd left for St. Kitts to start over.
His vessel was nearing the Outer Banks when it began leaking in the aftermath of a violent hurricane. The same storm brought a dismasted Spanish treasure ship into Ocracoke, too, where Lloyd was not only hired to pilot the vessel in but also found a place aboard one of two sloops chartered to transfer its cargo to Norfolk.
Instead, Lloyd led the crew of the Seaflower in catching the Spaniards off guard and sailing scot-free to the West Indies.
"Everybody was trying to find a way to get a piece of this treasure — the customs officers, the North Carolina governor and the Outer Bankers — but it was Lloyd who did it," Amrhein says.
"There were no swords drawn, nobody killed — just a very gutsy and daring move by a guy who saw an opportunity to get even."
What Lloyd and his shipmates did next singles them out just as much as the audacity of their heist and the scale of their haul.
Intent on coming into port without arousing suspicion, they divided and buried their loot, setting the stage for the pirate myth made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson in "Treasure Island."
"Despite what you hear, it's the only case of buried pirate treasure that I've been able to verify," says noted maritime historian Donald G. Shomette, author of numerous histories on pirates and sea raiders.
Just how Stevenson discovered Lloyd's tale some 130 years later isn't known. But there are plenty of circumstances that link it to "Treasure Island."
The author's great-grandfather was a prominent merchant trader on St. Kitts, where Lloyd became a folk hero. His grandfather and father — who were celebrated lighthouse designers — linked him closely to the global sugar and tobacco shipping hub of Glasgow, Scotland, where mariners and newspapers had followed reports of the notorious theft closely.
Still more telling is the 1750 date Stevenson's father provided for the novel's famous map, echoing the year of Lloyd's adventure.
"We know that Stevenson read a lot of early pirate histories," adds Mark G. Hanna, a University of California-San Diego historian who studied colonial piracy at the
"But there's no telling what else he heard."
Sadly for Lloyd, there was no storybook ending.
Treasure hunters from across the islands swarmed to unearth his loot, and he died mysteriously in 1752.
"I don't think it ended well," Amrhein says, "because when Lloyd's money ran out, so did the people he was paying for protection."