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.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hidden Treasure that Once Belonged to the Father of John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Found in a Discarded Chest in the 19th Century

There are a surprising number of treasure stories -- some true and some apocryphal -- in the history of the little Town of Pelham.  I have written about a number of such treasure stories in the past.  For examples, see:

Mon., May 16, 2005:  The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889.

Wed., Jun. 11, 2014:  Buried Treasure Off the Shores of Pelham: The Legend of Pirate's Treasure.

Mon., May 01, 2006:  The Legend of the Recovery of Pirate's Treasure on an Island Off Pelham

Throughout our region, which was known as the "Neutral Ground" during the Revolutionary War, Patriots and Tories alike buried their family treasures in an effort to hide them from the depredations of the so-called Cowboys and Skinners who roamed the region and tormented any who remained.  Even St. Paul's Church in Eastchester buried treasure -- later recovered -- to protect it against thievery.  See Mon., Apr. 06, 2009:  Paper Recounts Burial of the Bell of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester To Save it from the British During the Revolutionary War.  One can only wonder if there remain buried treasures never recovered by their Patriot or Tory owners in and around Pelham.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes an article describing the discovery of a fabulous treasure -- a chest of Spanish silver coins -- by John Hunter of Hunter's Island.  After discovering the coins in a forgotten chest that once belonged to his father, Robert Hunter, John Hunter had the coins melted and smithed into a fabulous silver service that he used to entertain guests in his luxurious mansion in Pelham and in his home in New York City.  

John Hunter was born August 4, 1778 and died in his home on Hunter's Island on September 12, 1852.  He was a son of Robert Hunter (born ca. 1735, died 1800) and Ruth Hunter (born ca. 1757, died 1840).  He graduated from Columbia College in 1799 and married a wealthy heiress, Elizabeth Desbrosses who died in 1839.  He was a New York City businessman and a politician who served for eight years in the New York State Senate representing the Second District.  He also served as a member of the Constitutional Convention that revised the New York State Constitution in 1846. Before 1812, Hunter bought an island in the Town of Pelham known as "Appleby's Island," afterward known as Hunter's Island.  His mansion became an historic showplace in the Town of Pelham.

Immediately below is the text of the article about discovery of the silver service.

Better Than Captain Kidd's -- It was Found in a Discarded Chest.

One of New York City's most famous hosts in the early days of this century was John Hunter, of Hunter's Island, which is now part of Pelham Bay Park.  In the fine old mansion still standing on it, which he built, in 1807, for a country home, and in his town house at 7 State street, he entertained in a lavish and splendid manner, gathering often as many as forty guests at a time around his table.  The silver that helped to make these banquets princely was as famous in its day as the owner's good sheer [sic], and there yas [sic] a story connected with it, too.

When John Hunter's father, Robert Hunter, who was a nephew of the Colonial Governor of that name, and a man of wealth, came to this country, he brought with him among his baggage an old iron strong box, which he kept in the State street house.  At his death, his son, John Hunter, knowing nothing about it, and considering it too clumsy an article to be given house room any longer, packed it off to a storage warehouse with a lot of other stuff.  It lay there for years forgotten, till finally the storage-keeper, taking a fancy to it, asked Mr. Hunter if he might have it.  Mr. Hunter consented, but decided to have a look inside of it first.  The key to it was not forthcoming, and a locksmith was sent for to force it open.  Within were rows of canvas bags.  Mr. Hunter picked up one of them; it fell to pieces, and Spanish silver dollars rolled over the floor.  The chest was full of silver pieces.  Mr. Hunter sent them to a silversmith and had them made into the service that is still to-day one of the finest in the country.  There was a plateau for the middle of the table 7 feet long, and every guest seated about it was served exclusively from silver dishes. -- New York Commercial Advertiser."

Source:  HIDDEN TREASURE -- Better Than Captain Kidd's -- It Was Found in a Discarded Chest, The Farmer Review [Farmer, Seneca County, NY], May 7, 1898, Vol. XI, No. 42, p. 3, col. 2.  

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