Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
By Cindy Vallar
Treasure and pirates go hand in hand. It is impossible to think of one without the other, after all wasn’t that one reason that sailors gave up their legitimate careers to go on the account? A single Spanish doubloon was the equivalent of seven weeks pay for a sailor. Thanks, in part, to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, we also associate pirates with buried treasure. In reality, few real sea rogues held onto their plunder long enough to secrete it away for a rainy day. Most preferred to spend it on wine, women, and/or cards. Sir Francis Drake, however, did bury some treasure, albeit for a short time. He and his men attacked a mule train at Nombre de Dios. On their arrival back at the coast, they discovered that a flotilla of Spanish ships had forced the pirate vessels to flee. Drake buried the gold and silver, then left a few men behind to guard the treasure, while he and the others set sail on a makeshift raft to locate their ships. Six hours later, those vessels picked up their mates and returned to where Drake had buried the treasure. Once they retrieved it, the ships returned to England.
Captain Kidd was one of the lucky pirates who acquired a tidy sum of treasure after attacking a ship. On 30 January 1698, he seized the Quedah Merchant, whose cargo included silk, calico, sugar, opium, iron, muslins, fifty cannon, eighty pounds of silver, and a bag of gold weighing forty pounds. The value of the haul was estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000 rupees. After Kidd learned the government had declared him a pirate, he sailed to New York aboard the sloop San Antonio with 8,200 pieces of eight and an unknown amount of plundered goods. Fearing arrest, he buried some of the treasure on Gardiners Island and left five bales of cloth and fifty-two pounds of gold in the keeping of John Gardiner.
During Kidd’s imprisonment, Lord Bellomont searched for Kidd’s booty. Four hundred sixty-three ounces of gold and 203 of silver were appropriated from a Boston home. Gardiner sent him eleven bags containing gold and silver. When HMS Advice set sail for England, she carried around £14,000 of retrieved treasure. Bellomont had expected to find almost four times that amount, and it was believed that Kidd’s haul from the Quedah Merchant totaled 400 times what was found. That fact gave rise to hunters who search for Kidd’s treasure even today.
Roche Brasiliano was one pirate who confessed to having buried his treasure. Spanish Inquisitors tortured him until he revealed where he had hidden his hoard. When soldiers went to the Isla de Pinos, near Cuba, they found in excess of 1,000 pieces of eight.
While preying on ships in the Indian Ocean in 1720, Captain England took a Portuguese ship damaged during a storm. It carried diamonds valued at three to four million dollars, and when divided, each pirate in England’s crew received forty-two gemstones as his share. Henry Every captured the Ganj-i-Sawai, which netted a treasure amounting to £200,000 to £350,000. Each man shared roughly £2000, and Avery retired from piracy. Divers recovered 4,131 pieces of eight, seventeen bars and fourteen nuggets of gold, and African jewelry from the wreck of Samuel Bellamy’s Whydah. The pirates who sailed with Thomas Tew, however, acquired one of the greatest treasures in history. When the booty was divided, each man received a share worth £3000 ($3.5 million today). The sadistic buccaneer, Francois L’Ollonais, amassed a fortune worth $113,000 from the ships he captured.
During the last decade of the seventeenth century, the Pennsylvania Surveyor of Customs reported that “They [pirates] walk the streets with their pockets full of gold and are the constant companion of the chief in the Government. They threaten my life and those who were active in apprehending them; carry their prohibited goods publicly in boats from one place to another for a market; and threaten the lives of the King’s collectors and with force and arms rescue the goods….” (Botting, 27) Edward Randolph, Surveyor-General of Customs in New England, sent a letter to London in 1696. In A Discourse About Pirates, with Proper Remedies to Suppress Them, he wrote, “In the 1670s…they brought home great quantities of silver coins and bullion, with rich capes, church plate and other riches, insomuch that the Spanish ambassador complained thereof. But now these pirates have found out a more profitable and less hazardous voyage to the Red Sea, where they take from the Moors all they have….” (Botting, 27)
Contrary to popular opinion, many pirates didn’t acquire gold and silver for their treasure. This was especially true during the Golden Age of Piracy when currency was in short supply in the colonies. The Anstis-Fenn pirates, who preyed on ships off the coast of Newfoundland, acquired “…some Egs, fowles, & abt ten gallons of Wine and two or three Jugs of Brandy.” (see note 1 below) After Blackbeard’s demise, a search of Ocracoke Island and his ships turned up “25 hogsheads of sugar, 11 tierces, and 145 bags of cocoa, a barrel of indigo and a bale of cotton.” (see note 2 below) Ammunition was important since pirates couldn’t purchase powder and shot through ordinary channels. Sometimes pirate treasure included mundane items like wheat, thimbles, scissors, thread, combs, needles, buttons, tobacco, paper, hatchets, and hats. Items pertinent to their survival or relaxation, such as alcohol and food or sails and cordage, were also welcome. During a period of two years, Calico Jack Rackham seized more than twenty vessels, but these were more likely to carry fish or items needed in local trade than fabulous riches. One schooner carried a cargo of “50 Rolls of Tobacco, and Nine Bags of Piemento.” (Botting, 26)
One of the most prized treasures, aside from gold, was medicine. This was what Blackbeard sought when he blockaded the port of Charles Town, South Carolina in 1718. “The government were not long in deliberating upon the message, though ’twas the greatest affront that could have been put upon them; yet for saving so many men’s lives, they complied with the necessity and sent aboard a chest valued at between £300 & £400, & the pirates went back safe to their ships.” (Konstam, Blackbeard, 145) Two years later another victim of piracy reported that “No part of the cargo was so much valued by the robbers as the doctor’s chest, for they were all poxed to a great degree.” (Platt, 37) Also worth stealing was any ship that was better or bigger than the one the pirates currently sailed.
While no one disputed the value of silver and gold, other booty was sometimes determined by the receiver. Finely crafted pistols and daggers were treasured items that fetched handsome prices when sold. Gemstones, while valuable, weren’t as tangible as money. After pirates captured a Portuguese East Indiaman in 1721, they divided the plunder between them. Each man’s share amounted to £4,000 (see note 3 below) plus forty-two diamonds. Rather than receiving that many diamonds, one pirate got a large diamond judged to be equal in value to the smaller stones. He apparently disagreed, for he took a hammer to the large diamond so he had more pieces.
1. Primary source document shared on the Pirates List on 25 January 2004.
2. Cordingly, 191. When the merchandise and sloop were sold, the transaction netted only £2500.
3. Equal to $4.3 million in 1994.
For additional information on pirate treasure, I recommend the following:
Botting, Douglas. The Pirates. Time-Life, 1978.
Cahill, Robert Ellis. New England’s Pirates and Lost Treasures. Chandler-Smith, 1987.
Captain Kidd’s Treasure
Clifford, Barry. The Pirate Prince. Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag. Random House, 1995.
Druett, Joan. “Mair’s Buried Treasure: A Story of Found and Lost,” No Quarter Given.
(VII:6) November 2000, page 11.
Groushko, Mike. Treasure: Lost, Found & Undiscovered. Courage Books, 1990.
Harris, Graham. “The Oak Island Treasure: A New Perspective,” No Quarter Given.
(X:5) September 2003, pages 4-7.
Harris, Graham. The Golden Reef of Sir William Phips. Booksurge, 2006.
Harris, Graham. Treasure & Intrigue: The Legacy of Captain Kidd. Stackpole, 2003.
Harris, Graham. “The Treasure & Treason of William Phips: Part I – The Treasure,”
No Quarter Given. (XI:6) September 2004, pages 7-9.
Harris, Graham. “The Treasure & Treason of William Phips: Part II – The Treason,”
No Quarter Given. (XI:5) November 2004, pages 8-10, 7.
Harris, Graham. “The Treasure & Treason of William Phips: Part III – The Aftermath,”
No Quarter Given. (XII:1) January 2005, pages 10-11, 8.
Jameson, W. C. Buried Treasures of the South. Little Rock, AR: August House, 1992.
Konstam, Angus. Blackbeard: America’s Most Notorious Pirate. Wiley, 2006.
Konstam, Angus. Buccaneers 1620-1700. Osprey, 2000.
Konstam, Angus. Pirates 1660-1730. Osprey, 1998.
Little, Benerson. The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730.
Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005.
Lost Treasure. Time-Life Books, 1991.
Matthews, John. Pirates. Atheneum, 2006.
Money & Prices – Salacious Historian
New Light Shines on Oak Island Treasure Mystery
Oak Island Tourism Society
Oak Island Treasure Mystery Watermark Cipher
O’Connor, D’Arcy. The Big Dig: The $10 Million Search for Oak Island’s Legendary
Treasure. Pirate’s Paradise Collectibles.
Of Pirates and Treasure
Parry, Dan. Blackbeard: The Real Pirate of the Caribbean. New York: Thunder’s Mouth
Pickford, Nigel. The Atlas of Ship Wrecks & Treasure. Dorling Kindersley, 1994.
“Pirate’s Hoard of Treasure Found in London,” The Independent. 11 December 2000.
Pirates: Terror on the High Seas from the Caribbean to the South China Sea. Atlanta:
Pirates of the Whydah
Platt, Richard. Pirate. Knopf, 1994.
Plunder – Pirate Soul
Port Royal Artifacts
Swanson, Gail. “Quest for Treasures: Part I – The Ordeal of the Keys Indians,” No Quarter
Given. (IX: 6) November 2002, pages 4-5, 15
Swanson, Gail. “Quest for Treasure: Part II – The Pirate Confabs at Key West,” No Quarter
Given. (X:1) January 2003, pages 4-5.
Vogel, Robert C. “Fantasy Archaeology: The Search for Laffite’s Treasure,” The Laffite
Society Chronicles. (XII:2) October 2006, pages 1-11.
Zacks, Richard. The Pirate Hunter: the True Story of Captain Kidd. Hyperion, 2002.
© 2007 Cindy Vallar
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