Buried Treasure

From a 1967 article by Joseph Chase Allen:

The wild duck and goose on passage may well look down in surprise to see this pond. An acre, perhaps an acre and a half in area, it is so close to the waters of Vineyard Sound that hurricanes have always driven the sea through gaps in the sand dunes to flood the narrow deep valley beyond and to swell this pond to unusual proportions.

The waters have quickly subsided, leaving the pond much as it was before, and passably fresh after a few weeks’ time. But the bushes and dunes around it have been and still are littered with the flotsam and jetsam brought in and deposited by the sea.

All this is concealed from the casual glance. The beach-hiker who passes by a few rods away will never know of the pond so near, for there is no hint of it visible to him. He will not realize that ice was once harvested here and that the foundations of an icehouse still stand half-buried in the dunes. Nor will he be apt to spy something even more significant buried in the brush and green briars — a low mound with a shallow hollow beside it, which marks the site of what was once a home.

There is no evidence there was ever any other house closer than a mile away, and one must wonder why anyone selected such a lonely spot for home building. Perhaps in years before there were any Island roads, before draft animals were numerous and lumber was scarce and expensive, a vessel might have been wrecked near this spot, thereby bringing a quantity of timber from the wreck to a point from which it was easily sorted and assembled for building.

The only fact that supports such a belief is that the house was standing at the time of the Revolutionary War and that it had been standing for some time previous.

Old inhabitants called this Beck’s Pond, the name being derived, by that curious Island habit of corrupting and twisting names and words, from the name of a woman known to have lived there.

Rebecca Skiff, or Skiffe, was her name, but whether she was married, single or widowed, no one has known for at least a century. From the fact that the pioneer James Skiff owned a huge tract of land in and about this vicinity, it is clear enough that she must have been a connection of some kind to this patentee of the manor of Tisbury.

The story which goes with this place is one which has survived for generations and seems unlikely to be entirely forgotten. For it is a tale of buried treasure, which has been hunted through the years, but never found.

As the tale has been old, Rebecca was able to watch the blockading ships of the British fleet at the mouth of the Sound and she was able to check upon their movements. She could do this sufficiently, it would appear, to realize when she saw the flotilla of small boats on the move, that a raid was imminent. This was Grey’s famous raid on the Vineyard.

Fearful of what might occur, Rebecca, so the story goes, collected her valuables and hid them. Exactly what this hoard might have included is another question. A silver teapot has been mentioned and silver spoons. If she was a blood relative of James Skiff, there might be many a reason for supposing that she possessed such things and much more. However that may have been, she went around the house and, concealed by it from the sea, buried her valuables and disguised all signs of her digging.

The story has never related whether her lonely habitation was visited by the raiders, nor whether there were relatives or others on the spot. All that the story has related is that when the raid was over, she could not find the spot where she had buried her treasure. The story says she never did, nor did the searchers who came after her.

The land in the vicinity has been tillage at some time or other; the ancient corn-hills show plainly wherever there is a clearing in the brush. But the plow may not have penetrated to the depth of the buried treasure, and it is not likely that the land was plowed close to the house. Digging and probing with iron bars has failed to disclose anything concealed there, and never a story or a word of gossip has ever hinted that the treasure was found and made away with by one who came by stealth.

It may be assumed that whatever Rebecca Skiff buried is still where she buried it. Teapot, spoons, silver or gold coins, jewelry lie somewhere beneath the brush and moss that covers the ground. It is not likely that any development will take place whereby this ancient tillage would be disturbed, but it may come in time. And if and when it comes, the scooping power shovel, digging a cellar for a summer home, may pick up the teapot of Rebecca Skiff.

Perhaps the finders will wonder how such an article came to be there and who buried it. Should the treasure be found, let it be remembered that there are still descendants of James Skiff still living, and that any or all will enjoy looking at the treasure buried by their Revolutionary ancestor.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner