Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Buried Treasure Off the Shores of Pelham: The Legend of Pirate's Treasure

The ancient, hand-drawn map had been carried by seafaring men for one hundred or maybe even one hundred and fifty years -- or, so it was said.  Scribbled on the map was a set of clues to help the bearer of the map find the "X" that marked the spot.  Those words read:

"Islands four, along the shore; 
Narrow one, follow sun;
Rocks and Sand, Little Land; 
At full tide, rocks hide; 
Where cross is big, there dig."

Legend says that in 1886, that map led to the discovery of one of the richest treasures ever discovered buried along the Long Island Sound -- only a couple hundred yards off the shores of the Town of Pelham.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog reveals a little more about the legend of the buried treasure.

As I have written before, surely there cannot be a community along Long Island Sound that has not, at one time or another, laid claim to be the site where the notorious Captain Kidd or others of his ilk once buried fabulous pirates' treasure. Morever, legends of buried treasure have fascinated many a young school boy and school girl.  One legend involving buried pirate's treasure relates to an island off the shores of Pelham and New Rochelle -- Glen Island.

I have written about this legend before.  See Mon., May 01, 2006: The Legend of the Recovery of Pirate's Treasure on an Island Off Pelham.  I also have written of treasures that have actually been discovered and recovered within the Town of Pelham.  See Mon., May 16, 2005:  The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an article published in 1931 that included an image of the map that purportedly marked the spot where the fabulous treasure supposedly was found on Glen Island in 1886.  It seems, however, that the legend of the treasure and its recovery was concocted by the 19th century showman John H. Starin who built a surprisingly successful amusement park on Glen Island, formerly known as Locust Island.  In 1887, Starin's concerns printed a tiny booklet entitled "A Trip to Glen Island and the Tale of the Wonderful Treasure Chest that was Found There."

The article is transcribed below and includes the image printed with the article of the map that led to the treasure.  Following the transcription is a citation to the source.

Above chart, carried around world by seamen
for 150 years, revealed Pirates' gold on Glen 
Island in 1886.  Spot believed rendezvous of
Captain Kidd."
Source:  Pirates Gold on Glen Island Bared By Cryptic
Map in 1886,  The Yonkers Statesman, Jun. 24, 1931,
p. 3, cols. 5-6.

 "Pirates' Gold On Glen Island Bared By Cryptic Map In 1886
Tale of Hidden Treasure and Captain Kidd Legends Revived in Development of County Park Site -- Stevenson Based 'Treasure Island' on Incident

Recent rumors that Glen Island was one of Captain Kidd's many hidden treasure locations are doubtless revivals of a tale that apparently was a workmanlike specimen of the press agent's art in the mode of the elegant but slightly naive eighties.

Captain Kidd did not figure in the tale but the ample cast of characters included a fugitive Frenchman coming to America with an oaken treasure chest, and dying sea-faring men in various parts of the world who passed along a cryptic map in the best Edgar Allen Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson manner.  The map was said to show where the chest was buried on what was then a rocky islet known as the New Venice part of Glen Island.

The dramatic personae also included John H. Starin, the owner and very able entrepreneur of Glen Island, as a refined family resort, and a bluff tugboat captain of the 'it's a rough night on the coast sir,' type.  There also was Pinkerton, the greatest detective of the blue goggle and false mustache tradition, and prying reporters who scented a good story.  The principal prop was the iron-bound oaken chest containing no end of gold and silver as well as mysterious papers.  

Treasure Chest Found

As an interesting coincidence, it may be noted that Starin bought Glen Island in 1879.  In 1881 Robert Louis Stevenson published the 'Sea Cook,' his famous romance that was later called 'Treasure Island.'  In 1887 the Glen Island treasure tale appeared.  It was printed in great detail under the title of 'A Trip to Glen Island and the tale of the wonderful treasure chest that was found there, being an authentic account of the remarkable discovery of a chest of treasure which lay buried for many years in a cave on 'New Venice' with a description of the chest's contents, and a brief narrative of the astounding adventures of several persons who knew of its existence.'

Briefly, the story was that one stormy night in December, 1886, a tug-boat captain called on Starin's superintendent in New York and told him that there was something wrong at Glen Island.  Coming down the Sound in the afternoon, he had noticed a boat of suspicious looking characters anchored close to the shore.  The next morning the superintendent went on the steamer 'Blackbird' to Glen Island and on the narrow strip called 'New Venice,' found a rocky cave in which there was evidence that a treasure chest had been removed.  The evidence consisted of a rusty iron band such as was used on chests, and a gold coin similar to a Spanish ounce.

The Superintendent notified Starin who employed a noted detective, Robert A. Pinkerton, to find the chest.  Pinkerton inserted an advertisement in the papers (quoting the book) 'which excited a great deal of curiosity at the time and will no doubt be remembered by many readers of this book' -- 'Oak Chest -- The persons who carried away an oak chest on the night of December, 1886, will hear something to their advantage by addressing R. H. D., Box 2217, New York Post Office.  A reward is offered for the recovery of the goods.'

Chest Recovered By Ad.

Many letters in reply to this advertisement were received  but the great detective recognized most of them as being from prying reporters who scented a good story.  One, however, was believed to be an authentic and a reply had to be made to him through a personal advertisement in the newspapers.  Mr. Pinkerton then published the following advertisement.

'Oak Chest -- The owner of the chest will pay full value for everything carried away and a reward for information about the affair.  R. H. D., Box 2227.'  

Finally the correspondent disclosed his identity and arrangements were made to have the chest brought to Starin's home.  There the chest was opened and it was found to contain bags of gold and silver plate, Spanish, French and Mexican coins; doubloons, pistols of Louis de or, sovereign pesos and two swords with gold hilts, diamond and pearl studded, and many papers also were contained in the chest.

The story of the discovery of the chest as passed along by two or three dying seafaring men of different parts of the world was that a fugitive Frenchman had hastily gathered together these valuables in the oaken chest and left France on a British ship for America.  Two seamen who were assigned to set him ashore murdered him and buried the chest in a rocky cave on the shore of Glen Island.  It was thought to have reposed there for about 100 or 150 years before its discovery through the medium of a map with the following cryptic key:

Islands four, along the shore; 
Narrow one, follow sun;
Rocks and Sand, Little Land; 
At full tide, rocks hide; 
Where cross is big, there dig.

Staring resisted all temptation laid before him to exhibit the contents of the chest in the show windows of great jewelry establishments 'and the American public will never have a chance to see them' -- for the papers gave clews to the noble descendants of the murdered Frenchman.  Starin generously communicated with them and the old family pieces that came out of the chest were in due time returned to a palace in the outskirts of Paris from which they came.  The chest, however, was sent to Starin's country home in the Mohawk Valley.

The Westchester County Park Commission acquired the Glen Island property as a County park in 1923.  Originally there was a group of islands as shown on the treasure map.  The channels and mud flats between the separate islands were filled up to provide recreation grounds and parking space and now form one large island."

Source:  Pirates Gold on Glen Island Bared By Cryptic Map in 1886,  The Yonkers Statesman, Jun. 24, 1931, p. 3, cols. 5-7.

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