Ask Your Piratologist

LASFS member and pirate historian Gail Selinger is interviewed by a reporter from her old hometown in “Pirates In The Rockaways? Yes! Says Pirate Historian Gail Selinger” —

10. Believe it or not, the questions my readers most overwhelmingly wanted me to ask was “Where’s the buried treasure?” It’s been all dug up except for perhaps one. Generally pirates didn’t bury their treasure, they spent it in towns. Crews wouldn’t let their captain take all the treasure to bury, so it had to be an individual’s private stash. Treasure maps are from the vivid imagination of Robert Lewis Stevenson. No one would write down where they buried their gold. There are two known instances of buried treasure. We know of Rock Brasilliano in the late 1660’s who bragged about his treasure when drunk. The Spanish captured him at the town of Campeche. The Inquisition tortured him until he told them where he hid his gold. It was on the Isle of Pines off Cuba. The second was Captain William Kidd, who buried his on Gardiner Island near Long Island before he sailed into New York proper. His mistake was he told John Gardiner were he buried the treasure. Supposedly there is treasure (we don’t know if it is pirate treasure but many like to say it is Blackbeard’s. No evidence that is so) on Oak Island in Nova Scotia. However, the pit has proven impossible to conquer and treasure hunters have been trying for over 200 years to get to it. That is an interesting story and worth reading about.

2 thoughts on “Ask Your Piratologist

  1. I read a fascinating book about the Oak Island treasure, or The Money Pit. A series of obstacles have prevented the supposed treasure from being exhumed. They include unstable soil, a high water table that floods the mines as they are dug, numerous limestone caverns or hollows in the rock which confuse the issue mightily, and a purported network of coconut fibre laid down under the soil to siphon nearby seawater into the mines. The problem is that so many mines have have been dug where the money pit is supposed to be that there is no trace of the original pit left — for that matter, its a matter of conjecture just where it was. Historical records are confused as well. However, it seems doubtless that there had been some sort of a pit once, and that it had been covered up with alternating layers of logs and rock, for what purpose nobody knows. There are numerous signs of fleeting human occupation all over the island, such as rocks drilled with holes, old scissors and impromptu slip-ways for ships. However, other evidence, such as the network of fibres under the sand, are more likely natural and not man-made. Gold links and bits of other metal brought up by one drilling expedition were likely “salted” since no other such traces have every been found. There was also some mysterious writing on a stone, but as the original has equally mysteriously disappeared, it was probably bogus. One of the last attempts to reach the supposed treasure involved fibre optics and cameras. The photos showed nothing but murky hollows, deep in the salt-water saturated limestone beneath the island. One photo caption suggested a shape that might have been a skeletal hand. It didn’t look like anything to me, and what would it be doing in a space about the size the inside of phone booth 100 feet below sea level? How would any pirate have kept a mine that deep beneath the island dry while carting his treasure into it? Odds are that the whole business was just a started off with the discovery of some sort of digging on Oak Island in the early 19th century that grew in the telling, like the fish that got away. As the site grew progressively more contaminated and the truth more difficult to assess, the story grew. The book is “The Big Dig” by D’Arcy O’Connor, and was a Ballantine Book in 1988 — look it up. Or search for the story on Wikipedia.

  2. Oh … and theories about the treasure abounded. One theory had the Money Pit as the Grand Central Station of International Piracy, with a deep central shaft and individual horizontal shafts for each pirate slanting off from it. Another theory said it was the Templar’s treasure, hidden in the New World to save it from Philip IV of France, a couple of hundred years before Columbus discovered it. The most ridiculous theory of all was that the Money Pit contained all the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays … with Roger Bacon’s signature, of course.

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