The elegant script and color illustrations of Edward Barlow's 225,000-word diary documenting the 17th-century sailor's life at sea have been admired for some 300 years. Hidden beneath was his darkest secret: a note providing what the Guardian calls an "excruciatingly frank account" of his rape of Mary Symons, a female servant in a house in which he was staying. He would eventually marry her. "She was asleep but being gotten into the bed I could not easily be persuaded out again, and I confess that I did more than what was lawful or civil, but not in that manner that I ... think that she should prove with child," he wrote. "I take God to witness I did not enter her body, all though I did attempt something in that nature."
The note was uncovered by Paul Cook, a senior paper conservator at London's National Maritime Museum. He has worked to repair the diary over the last nine years and discovered a rewritten account had been carefully pasted over the first. It made no mention of the earlier rape. Barlow—who would go on to describe his wife as "obliging and ready to do any thing that should give me content"—instead wrote that "I had in part promised her at London that I would marry her … having had a little more than ordinary familiarity with her." As Barlow became a husband, father, and captain, per About Manchester, NMM curator Roberth Blyth suspects he grew to regret how forthcoming he had been and appreciate the risk of leaving that account behind for his family to read. Thanks to his handiwork, Barlow's secret was kept long after his ship went down off Mozambique in 1706. (Read more discoveries stories.)