Captain Kidd's Treasure

One of the few recorded instances of a pirate who actually did bury some treasure is William ‘Captain’Kidd, a privateer turned pirate of the late 17th century. Kidd’s story has inspired over 300 years of treasure hunting and given birth to a rash of local legends that would see caches of gold squirrelled away in almost every nook and cranny of the coastline of New York State and surrounding areas, not to mention much further afield. Have these treasure hunters simply fallen for a romantic fiction, or is there really a stash of pirate gold waiting to be discovered? Kidd was born (probably in Greenock, Scotland) in about 1645. We know little of the first forty-five years of his life, but by the early 1690s he was a wealthy and respected merchant sea captain living in New York, with an elegant brick house on the corner of Pearl and Hanover Streets in Manhattan and other properties elsewhere. He had married and was known to be devoted to his wife and children.

In 1695 he set sail for England, hoping to obtain a royal commission as a privateer. When piracy in the Eastern Seas (Indian Ocean) was rampant, and preying on the great Mogul’s fleets to India had reached unendurable proportions, the governor of New York and New England, Lord Bellomont, at the urging of Colonel Robert Livingston, a prominent New Yorker, offered Kidd a privateering commission to wipe out these pirates and thereby participate in a share of captured booty. He took part in a plan to capture some pirates who had sailed to the Red Sea and to bring their loot to England where the investors (who included King William) would divide it among themselves.

Kidd sailed aboard the Adventure Galley, leaving London in April, 1696, bound for New York City and then on to the Red Sea in August. The hunt was on and any ship belonging to a country at war with England was fair game. Sailing with the prevailing winds, Kidd headed south and west until he could pick up the southeast trade winds near the equator. By mid December, the Adventure Galley was in the South Atlantic, wallowing in a dense fog. Suddenly the mist cleared and Kidd found himself in the middle of a Royal Navy Squadron out of England and in desperate need of new sailors to replace those lost to scurvy during their voyage. By law, the Royal Navy had the right to take half the men from any ship flying an English flag. Captain Kidd knew that his voyage could not continue if this happened so in the still of a windless night, he had his ship rowed away from the squadron.

Because Kidd left in such a stealthy manner, the captains of the Navy ships were convinced he was up to no good. They spread the word that he was a pirate when they landed in Africa. Now fighting scurvy on his own ship and desperately in need of fresh food and water, Kidd rounded the Cape of Good Hope, unable to land because the Royal Navy Squadron was bound there. Instead he headed for Madagascar, the haven for pirates in the Indian Ocean which lay another 2,000 miles to the northeast, and landed there in late January, 1697.

All the ships of commerce in the East Indies were available to Kidd and his crew. The race was on: could they capture enough ships to make the voyage worthwhile before succumbing to the ever present dangers of disease and a rotting ship. So William Kidd made the decision to go to the Red Sea to capture one of the ships bearing rich pilgrims going to Mecca. From there he continued his unsuccessful quest down the coast of India - always looking for the elusive treasure that would turn his voyage into a success. By this time all thought of legal methods was gone; success was all that counted because treasure was necessary to pay off the restive crew.

Finally in late January, 1698, the Quedah Merchant was sighted rounding the tip of India. Flying French colors in order to trick the quarry, Kidd and his crew attacked that cargo ship: the prize yielded money plus a cargo of silk, muslins, calico, sugar, opium, iron and saltpeter which could be sold at the nearest port for a rumored 7,000 pounds. The Quedah Merchant, renamed the Adventure Prize, was kept by Kidd as he made plans to leave the area in his by now leaking ship.

The date was March, 1698, nearly two years after leaving London. Unfortunately for Kidd, those two years had brought a change of attitude in England toward piracy. Officialdom now wanted to stamp out piracy in favor of legal trading procedures. And to make matters worse, the Quedah Merchant was not just any cargo ship. It belonged to Muklis Khan, an influential and highly placed member in one of the eastern kingdoms, and he demanded that the East India Company, the English trading company in the East Indies, make restitution. Not only had William Kidd committed an act of piracy he had made an enemy of the commercial establishment in England! He would be made to pay. After an encounter with a pirate, during which most of his crew mutinied and defected, Kidd abandoned his now decrepit galley and sailed back across the Atlantic in the Quedagh Merchant.

Arriving in the Caribbean in the spring of 1699 he was apprised of his legal status and resolved to return to New England, explain himself and use his network of influence, along with the considerable wealth he now possessed, to get himself off the hook. Most of the valuable cargo was sold off and the collected booty was loaded onto a new ship, in which Kidd sailed back to America.

Before approaching the authorities, he spent some time arranging affairs to best suit him. He seems to have visited several spots along the coast of New England, most notably Gardiners Island at the tip of Long Island, where he buried a large cache of treasure, marking the spot with a cairn. He also communicated with the Governor of Massachusetts via an attorney, claiming to have in his possession ‘goods to the value of 30,000 pounds’. As well as the treasure he had buried, Kidd is believed to have given away a lot of loot around this time.

Convinced that he would be protected by his money and his possession of documents showing that the prizes he had taken in the Indian Ocean were legitimate, Kidd surrendered to Governor Bellomont in Boston. But powerful forces were marshalled against him. Bellomont confiscated the documents and had him clapped in irons and shipped back to London. The documents, which were central to Kidd’s defence, were mysteriously lost and only showed up hundreds of years later, conveniently misfiled amidst government paperwork.Unable to defend himself properly, and testified against by former shipmates, Kidd was sentenced to death. From his cell in Newgate Prison he wrote a desperate letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, promising to lead a committee to a place in the Indies where he had ‘lodged goods and treasure to the value of one hundred thousand pounds’.

It was to no avail, for on 23 May 1701 he was executed by hanging. In a grisly postscript, the rope broke at the first attempt and he had to be hanged again, before his body was tarred and hung up in an iron cage as a warning to all.

The belief that Kidd had left a buried treasure contributed considerably to the growth of his legend. Captain Kidd did bury a small cache of treasure on Gardiner's Island in a spot known as Cherry Tree Field; however, it was removed by Governor Bellomont and sent to England to be used as evidence against him. An amazing plethora of places claim to be linked to Kidd and/or to house a portion of his booty. Partly this is because Kidd is known or believed to have stopped at several places in the area before he gave himself up to the governor – spots where it was common for ships to lie to and/or for landing parties to come ashore for fresh water and victuals.

These included: Gardiners Island, Block Island, Charles Island and the Thimble Islands, all in Long Island Sound; places in Raritan Bay in New Jersey; places up the Connecticut River such as Clark’s Island (sometimes called Kidd’s Island); and places up the Hudson River valley. In some of these places (eg Money Island, a now vanished islet in Raritan Bay), some old coins have actually been found, but given the history of ships, seafarers, merchants and settlers in the region, there is no way of knowing if these have any link to Captain Kidd.

Kidd also visited Block Island around 1699, where he was supplied by Mrs. Mercy (Sands) Raymond, daughter of the mariner James Sands. The story has it that, for her hospitality, Mrs. Raymond was bid to hold out her apron, into which Kidd threw gold and jewels until it was full. After her husband Joshua Raymond died, Mercy moved with her family to northern New London, Connecticut (later Montville), where she bought much land. The Raymond family was thus said to have been "enriched by the apron". On Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy, as early as 1875, reference was made to searches on the West side of the island for treasure allegedly buried by Kidd during his time as a Privateer. For nearly 200 years, this remote area of the island has been called "Money Cove".

There is also a mention of Kidd attacking one of the Japanese islands of the Tokara archipelago, south of Kagoshima. It is the most southern island, named Takarajima, which translates literally as "Treasure Island." The legend says that the pirates requested food and cattle from the inhabitants of the island. Their offer was refused and so 23 of the pirates landed and burned the inhabitants alive in a lime cave. Afterwards, Kidd hid his treasure in one of the caves, never coming back for it due to his execution in England.

In 1983, Cork Graham and Richard Knight went looking for Captain Kidd's buried treasure off the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc. Knight and Graham were caught, convicted of illegally landing on Vietnamese territory, and assessed each a $10,000 fine. They were imprisoned for 11 months until they paid the fine. The Dominican Republic's small Catalina Island, in the Caribbean, is being studied since December 13, 2007, by a team of underwater archeologists from Indiana University, after an Italian tourist announced the discovery of an old wreck at just 10 feet under the clear-blue waters, at a distance of no more than 70 feet off shore. There was no evidence of looting at the site, despite its remains being believed to have been buried since the 17th century. It has proved to be the Quedagh Merchant.

Adding real spice to the story is the discovery in the 1920s and 30s of four apparent treasure maps hidden by Captain Kidd or his family/associates in pieces of furniture that supposedly belonged to him. Guy and Hubert Palmer were English brothers who ran a pirate museum and were devoted collectors of piraterelated memorabilia. Through one of their regular suppliers, antiques dealer Arthur Hill-Cutler, they came into possession of items such as Kidd’s sea chest and bureau, which had supposedly accompanied him back to Britain on his final voyage (although their provenance was unclear). Even more remarkably, they discovered a series of scraps of parchment bearing maps secreted in hidden bottoms and hollow runners, all of apparently the same island. The Palmer brothers had the maps checked by a British Museum expert who proclaimed them genuine, but they were in such poor condition that they could not be handled, so slides were taken and copies made by tracing over the photos. These copies have been pored over relentlessly by generations of treasure seekers, but so far without leading anywhere.

One obvious interpretation of all this is that the whole affair was a crude hoax. This is certainly the opinion of the British Library today, where Peter Barber, the Curator of the Map Department, has declared the maps to be fakes. Treasure hunter Paul Hawkins disagrees, and points out that since the original documents appear to have vanished, leaving only copies, any judgement on their authenticity must be suspended. The appropriately named Hawkins further claims to have deciphered the codes and located the treasure island, which he says is in the Indian Ocean. But, it's just a rumor, so far no one has successfully unearthed any of Kidd’s dozens of alleged buried hoards.

Sources :
Lost Histories : “Exploring the World’s Most Famous Mysteries” by Joel Levy;
Seafaring, Lore & Legends by Peter D. Jeans;;

Pic source :


  1. happy new year. all the best of 2010.

  2. hmm ... a story of a unique journey of life and dramatic. I like this story. unfortunately, they are on busy with his treasure. whereas, it was not necessarily there. if there is probably not many.

  3. Unsolved Mysteries... Like that! Your blog is very informative, the posts are well written, the Captain Kidd's Treasure is one of my all time favorite lost treasure stories... Great read, keep them coming in the new year! (And a happy new one too, of course!)

  4. (@Shimumsy & 3rdStoneFromTheSun) Happy new year 2010 and thank you for all your support :)

    (@the international times) Thank you if you like this story, you know what, maybe there is real treasure of captain Kidd. Happy New Year :)

    (@Patrick Bernauw) Thank you for the compliment, all credits will be given to my sources, especially wikipedia. And Happy new year for you too :)

  5. hello folks,, i am what you may call as an armchair treasure hunter interested mainly in captian kidd ,, is there anyone out there that has any input as to the harold wilkins chart that appeared in his book skeleton island i do understand the story behind the chart that he reproduced from memory because it was placed in his hands for only a short time not out of eyesight of the possesor or was he just misconseving was this map just a figment of his imagination or is there merit to this,does that island really exist??someone out there must have some knowledge regarding this matter,any input would greatly be appreciated,kindest regards,, BUCK


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