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Offline BackAtchaTopic starter
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Avast, ye pirates!
Join Date: Sep, 2009
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Cobra Beach Magnet, Automax Precision V4 Pinpointer
« on: September 30, 2009, 03:42:20 pm »
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From Stonington (Lambert's Cove) to Milford (Charles Island) -- and a score of shoreline sites between -- they have searched with spade and pick, following the dream. Along the Connecticut River, too, they have gouged and plumbed the storied spots from Old Lyme (Lion's Rock) to Windsor (Clark's Island), caught in the spell of the old stories handed down from generation to generation. What force has sent so many forth with tools in hand and spines atingle to probe the margins of Connecticut's tidal waters? What else but the lure of buried treasure, the legacy of the legend of Capt. William Kidd and his fabulous pirate hoard.

Never mind that their labors have not been in tune with history, for tradition ever scoffs at historical fact and often transcends the limits of common sense. For the record has proved time and again that despite his reputation, the redoubtable Kidd accumulated little booty from the time he began his buccaneering in New York harbor around 1698 until he was captured and permanently put out of business in the summer of 1699. Moreover, such treasure as Kidd did have -- twenty four chests full of it -- was all brought ashore on Gardiner's Island, off eastern Long Island, carefully inventoried and, with the permission of John Gardiner, feudal lord of the island, buried in a swamp there. Gardiner's itemized receipt to Kidd, dated July 17, 1699, listed precisely 1371.625 ounces (85.73 pounds) of gold, silver and precious stones.

Before he sailed off, never to be seen again, Kidd warned Gardiner that if he ever revealed the burial site, he would "answer with his head." However, that proved an idle threat, for Capt. Kidd was captured soon after leaving Gardiner's Island; and from the time of his arrest until he was hanged in London in 1701, he was always in safe custody. Meanwhile, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony sent messengers to Lord Gardiner, claiming Kidd's treasure for the state. Once Gardiner was convinced that Kidd was secure in a Boston prison and could not come for his head, he reluctantly showed the colony's officials the spot where the chests were buried. All of the treasure was then dug up and returned to Boston. Wrote John G. Gardiner, over a hundred years later, "There has been much digging here upon this island for Kidd's money, even within half a dozen years, all along the coast. But I think it doubtful whether there was ever any buried except that which was buried here [i.e., on Gardiner's Island]."

Despite the testimony of the Gardiner family and the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the dream of pirate gold has never died along the Connecticut shore. And in a way, there is more reason to believe the old tales of buried treasure here than in the rest of New England, for Capt. Kidd and other less noted buccaneers did, in fact, cruise Long Island Sound. And if they chose to secrete any ill-gotten goods, what better places could be found than the coves or islands of Nutmegian waters? And so the old legends persist at Milford, where town records say Capt. Kidd visited on at least two occasions, once striding boldly through the coastal town, tipping his hat in courtly fashion to the ladies who came to gape. Some say that he later wrote a letter to one lovely Milford maiden, while others claim that he made the mistake of leaving part of a treasure map with a local woman named Ann Smith, who betrayed him to the authorities.

Most of the Kidd-talk in Milford, though, has insisted for years that the fabled pirate buried treasure on Charles Island, perhaps under a huge boulder called Hog Rock. So many have searched in vain for the storied swag on Charles Island that its surface has been turned into a many-pitted wasteland, where no vegetation grows. Still, the dreamers dig on, paying no heed to the well-known story of the two treasure hunters who once uncovered an ironclad chest on Charles, only to abandon it in terror when they saw a shrilly whistling, headless body, wrapped in a flaming sheet, plunge toward them from the heavens as they lifted the box from its hiding place. Feeling the next day that they must have been out in the sun too long, the treasure-seekers returned to the site of the discovery, only to find no sign of the chest, the burial hole or the shovels they had abandoned in their flight. Some legends maintain that the spirits of Paugasset Indians, who once used Charles Island as a summer resort, beheaded the pirates for desecrating their land and made invisible any treasure buried there.

Way up-river in Windsor, too, the traditions live, swirling about Clark's Island, where once Kidd's sloop San Antonio was anchored, while her skipper and crew came ashore with a huge chest, bulging with gold. Those who tell the story say that the moon was dark and fog hung low over the Connecticut River as the shadowy figures went to work preparing a hole for their precious hoard. Once the treasure was safely deposited, the pirates were seen gathering around their captain, to draw lots to determine which of their number would stay behind permanently to guard the site. The man who drew the short straw was promptly shot and killed, his body was lowered onto the sunken chest and both were covered with six feet of earth. Tradition says that the murdered pirate's protective shade guards Kidd's treasure yet. No one has ever found it, anyway.

Over the years, reports have circulated among those who live along the Connecticut River -- and near the mid-section of the Connecticut shore -- that on dark and foggy nights they have seen a great ship pass by, flying the pirates' skull-and-crossbones emblem. Since popular belief holds that ghosts of those who have stolen money during their lifetimes but have not returned it must forever wander the earth at night, they say the phantom ship is the San Antonio, with Capt. Kidd at the helm, searching for lost and nearly forgotten treasure troves. Find the booty, the believers say, and Kidd can "pass over" in peace.

If such be the case, his ghost will surely stop at old Wethersfield landing, where searchers after his casks of gold have been frustrated for years by horrible noises and once, according to a terrified digger, by the ghost of a sailor killed with a water bucket wielded by Kidd in a fit of anger. He may also drop a spectral anchor at Haddam Neck, where legend says that his men buried two chests in a hill, under an overhanging ledge, west of Clarkhurst Road. And while he is in the neighborhood, perhaps Kidd's shade will visit Haddam and Lord's Islands, where, according to the old tales, rich chests were buried long ago.

Then, on to Branford's Thimble Islands the spectral ship will sail; Kidd's ghost will find on Money Island that his precious gold is still there. And so it remains, too, under the great rocks on Coburn's Island in Clinton, near Hammonassett Beach. But when he reaches Pilot Island off Norwalk, the old pirate's ghost may be disappointed. For after the Civil War, it is said, Captain Joseph Merrill dug up a hoard of Spanish coins, after he had three dreams revealing the exact location of the treasure. As recently as the 1930s, a few old-timers in Norwalk could still recall childhood memories of Merrill, telling the story of his find and even showing them some gold doubloons.
If the Norwalk cache was really Kidd's -- who knows who hid it there? -- it would be, in fact, the only one ever found since old John Gardiner gave over those twenty-four casks to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thus, the ghostly pirate ship must sail on in its endless guest, while along the shores of Connecticut waters the legends still whisper to the adventurous to take up their shovels and follow the gleaming lure.
from Legendary Connecticut by David E. Philips


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