The pirates prepare the Black Spot; N. C. Wyeth, 1911
The pirates prepare the Black Spot; N. C. Wyeth, 1911

The Black Spot is a literary device invented by Robert Louis Stevenson for his novel Treasure Island (serialized 1881–82, published as a book in 1883). In the book, pirates are presented with a "black spot" to officially pronounce a verdict of guilt or judgement. It consists of a circular piece of paper or card, with one side blackened while the other side bears a message and is placed in the hand of the accused.[a] It was a source of much fear because it meant the pirate was to be deposed as leader, by force if necessary—or else killed outright. In Treasure Island, Billy Bones is much frightened by it, yet remains determined to outwit his enemies; however, he suffers a stroke caused by the overconsumption of liquor and is killed by the blind beggar (Blind Pew).[1] Later Long John Silver receives the spot, but is calm enough to notice that the paper bearing the spot has been torn out from a Bible, and warns his associates of the bad luck this will bring upon them.[2]

The words on the back of that black spot were taken from the Biblical Book of Revelation, like an allusion to the mark of the beast and the last judgement, i.e. Chapter 29:

It was around about the size of a crown piece. One side was blank, for it had been the last leaf; the other contained a verse or two of Revelation—these words among the rest, which struck sharply home upon my mind: "Without are dogs and murderers." The printed side had been blackened with wood ash, which already began to come off and soil my fingers; on the blank side had been written with the same material the one word "Depposed".[3][4]


The origin of Stevenson's Black Spot might be in the historical tradition of Caribbean pirates of showing an Ace of Spades to a person condemned as traitor or informer. The card was putting the person dangerously "on the spot", as the ace bears a single pip.[5][6][7][unreliable source?]

Appearances in other works

The Black Spot has since been used in other works of popular culture:

Listed chronologically:


  1. ^ The fullest description is in chapter 29 of the book, where the narrator describes still having Silver's Black Spot in his possession.


  1. ^ Robert Louis Stevenson. "3-4". Treasure Island. Billy Bones receives the spot - chapter 3
  2. ^ Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. Long John Silver receives the spot from Morgan - chapter 29
  3. ^ SparkNotes. SparkNotes: Treasure Island.SparkNotes on Treasure Island - [1]
  4. ^ Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. Words on the black spot - chapter 29
  5. ^ Doug Lennox (2003). Now You Know: The Book of Answers. Hounslow Press. p. 87. ISBN 9781550024616.
  6. ^ "Brian H. Scoott, "All kinds of Trivia"". Archived from the original on 30 May 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  7. ^ "Origins of Ace of Spades being the "death card" allotted to pirates". Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  8. ^ The Bill (series 6)
  9. ^ JT Music (2018). Booty Bound. Rooster Teeth.