From the Vineyard Gazette edition of August 26, 1920:
A rakish gray ship steals up the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard. If you are close enough you may see and hear that all is not well on board. You may hear coarse voiced men, gathered in secret conclave, plotting death and theft, You may see the captain and his mate, outwardly calm, but betraying now and then, by a nervous movement, that some idea of their impending fate had reached them.
Then you may watch that gray ship come to anchor, you may gaze, breathless, at the battle in progress on its decks, you may see first the mate, then the captain, fall senseless, and a moment later see the mutineers toss their bodies overboard.
Now they forsake the vessel, lowering over her side with great care and difficulty large pots filled with something heavy. They scuttle their ship and make their perilous way in the tiny boat to safe harbor.
A fairy tale? What might have been? Then read this.
An entry in a journal: “We are informed to day that the people of Edgartown have been exploring and digging Chilmark Beach, in quest of gold, which they suppose was buried there eleven years ago, by four pirates which landed there and murdered one of their crew.
“One of the pirates had lately been convicted when on his death bed in New York, and confessed the treacherous act. He confessed that they hove their captain and mate overboard, robbed the vessel of all the gold and silver, scuttled and sank her, and escaped in the boat which they left on Chilmark Beach. He confessed, likewise, that after knocking the man down three times they cut his throat, because he stood out in a violent manner, and would not join them in their wickedness, and declared that he would not have anything to do with their money.
“Likewise that when they landed they thought themselves on Long Island and they were about to make their escape to New York with their booty swung across a pole on their shoulders. But the fog clearing up they found their mistake, buried their booty in the beach and hired George West to carry them immediately to New Bedford, for fear they might be detected. Captain West said at the time that on their passage the pirates fell a-quarreling about their passage money and he dare not speak nor stir for fear they would throw him overboard, for they had the appearance of murder in their visage.”
What a plot for a Stephenson or a Conrad! Or coming down to 1920, and these United States, what a potent argument for Grover Cleveland Bergdoll to advance the next time he wants his freedom, provided he ever returns from his present search for a pot of gold.
Few stories of buried treasure are complete unless the lure which leads men and women to take ship for far distant lands in search of it is contained in some musty old trunk or some secret drawer, and is scrawled in faded ink on an ancient bit of paper or preserved for gold-loving posterity in a torn and time worn journal.
Then here, in these excerpts from a cherished journal, penned almost one hundred years ago, are the very bone and sinew of a breath-taking thriller relating to the crimes and adventures of pirates of yesteryear. Stifle your reaction to its disclosure as you will under an assumed nonchalance. But won’t you admit that the lure is there, that if it weren’t foolish and unheard of and impossible and if it weren’t the twentieth century which refuses to swallow tales of Spanish gold and swash buckling pirates and if it weren’t for a lot of other modern and unimaginative inhibitions, you’d run out there before you were much older and dig your dig for the treasure from the scuttle ship?
It was more than ninety seven years ago, January 18th, 1823, that Miss Hannah Smith made the entry in her journal regarding the romantic adventures that occurred on the Vineyard coast eleven years before that. Mrs. Ruth B. Mayhew, of Edgartown, her niece, remembers the tale as it was told with amplifications, by her mother and aunts. Its Vineyard flavor is enhanced in the telling, for, so the story goes, there was another confession, made by a member of the pirate crew, but one of island birth. He it was, perhaps, who set his desperate comrades right as to their error in fancying themselves on Long Island.
Long years ago it seems he lay dying in New York. Somehow he learned that a woman from the Vineyard was in the city, and he asked to see her. As potent as conscience the approach of death makes talkers of us all. He admitted that he had been one of the crew on the ill-fated vessel, but disclaimed any part in the murders, or profit from the booty, and felt only remorse about the whole affair.
And the treasure? Is it still buried treasure? For months, people dug for it without success. After the great September gale of 1815 the beach was thrown in by the sea several rods on the marsh, and, it is supposed, buried the treasure full fathom deep.
Compiled by Hilary Wall