Captain Kidd's Treasure: Buried on High Island in the Town of Pelham
Treasure! Gold and silver! Finding a fortune! Such words set the hearts of some racing.
Buried and hidden treasures actually have been discovered repeatedly in our little Town for many years. In addition, rumors and legends of hidden (yet still undiscovered) treasures long have been part of Pelham lore. Among such lore are stories about the legendary Captain Kidd who once prowled the waters around New York City and those of Long Island Sound including Pelham waters.
There long have been claims that the infamous Captain Kidd buried portions of his treasure on Huckleberry Island and Glen Island. It seems that there now is evidence that the ubiquitous Captain Kidd, who seems to have hidden portions of his storied treasure on every single one of the thousands of islands and rock outcroppings surrounding New York, also left buried treasure on High Island, once part of the Town of Pelham.
Fri., Jan. 22, 2016: Did the Notorious Captain Kidd Bury Treasure on an Island Off the Shores of Pelham?
Tue., Nov. 24, 2015: Another True Tale of Buried Gold Found in Pelham.
Wed., Sep. 23, 2015: Yet Another Tale of Buried Treasure in the Town of Pelham.
Thu., Aug. 20, 2015: Pre-Revolutionary War Pewter Plates Were Discovered in Pelham in 1938.
Mon., Jan. 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.
Thu., Feb. 19, 2015: Another Account of Gold and Silver Treasure Found in a Pelham Manor Backyard in 1889.
Wed., Jun. 11, 2014: Buried Treasure Off the Shores of Pelham: The Legend of Pirate's Treasure.
Wed., Oct. 14, 2009: 1879 News Account Provides Additional Basis for Some Facts Underlying Ghost Story of Old Stone House in Pelhamville (tells legend that Mrs. James Parish hid gold on the grounds of the home).
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.
Mon., May 01, 2006: The Legend of the Recovery of Pirate's Treasure on an Island Off Pelham.
Mon., May 16, 2005: The Discovery of a Gold and Silver Treasure in the Backyard of a Pelham Home in 1889.
Jim Murphy, The "King of High Island"
Known as the "King of High Island," Jim Murphy was an eccentric man. In 1912, he claimed to a reporter that he came to the Town of Pelham in about 1833 (though research suggests he actually arrived in the late 1850s). He settled on High Island in an ancient home that he claimed was built there many years before he arrived. Though he took a wife who joined him on the island, she later died, leaving him a loner on High Island.
So far there is no evidence that the "King of High Island" ever owned the island (or any part of it), so he likely was a tenant, a squatter, or a tolerated resident. By name, he also was known as Captain Jim Murphy, retaining the "captain" sobriquet from his younger days as an oysterman. For most of his life, however, he made his living as a clam-digger.
Rumors swirled during the 19th and early 20th centuries that a portion of Captain Kidd's gold was buried on High Island. Captain Jim Murphy fanned the flames. In 1909, he told a reporter from The Sun, a New York City newspaper, that "About every two years I have chaps coming over here from the mainland trying to find some gold." In his later years, the King of High Island claimed to know where Captain Kidd's Treasure was buried on the island.
High Island, once known as Shark Island due to the many sand sharks that swam nearby, is roughly an 18-acre island a few hundred feet off the northeastern tip of City Island. It is part of the "Pelham Islands" that once were part of the Town of Pelham but since have been annexed by New York City. At low tide a sandbar links the island with City Island. A small private bridge wide enough for a single vehicle to pass also links the island to City Island. It is said by some that the island is so named because it is comparatively high versus surrounding islands.
Over the centuries, High Island owners have included Captain Samuel Wooley, New York City Mayor Elisha King, David C. Curtis, a "Mrs. Miller," and others. For many years during the 19th and 20th centuries, the island was a popular tent and bungalow summer resort. In about 1962, the bungalows were removed and, in 1964, Columbia Broadcasting System purchased the island as a new location for its transmission tower for WCBS Radio. In 1967, a small plane crashed into the tower, knocking out radio transmissions the day before WCBS switched to an all-news format. Consequently, that switchover was delayed by about a week. Today, the island is believed to be one of only two places in North America where "a single tower radiates not one but two non-directional 50,000 watt signals." See Tower Site of the Week from FYBush.com, High Island, New York (April 24 - May 1, 2003) (visited Jan. 29, 2017). Today the private island is home to two famous AM radio signals: WFAN (formerly WNBC) on 660 AM and WCBS on 880 AM.
King Murphy's Tale of Captain Kidd's Gold Buried on High Island
In 1909, a New York City newspaper described Jim Murphy as the "Crusoe of the Sound" and said that he was the only inhabitant of High Island. According to that report, Murphy lived in "a two-story weather-beaten, ramshackle house, which is patched on the upper part with planks and pieces of wreckage which have drifted ashore on the beach. On the lower floor a veranda patched and repaired in the same manner as the upper floor still seems to cling together."
Jim Murphy could spin entertaining yarns. He claimed, in 1909, to be 73 years old and to have lived on High Island since before the Civil War. Indeed, he claimed that during the Civil War Union Army deserters from the army post on nearby High Island frequently swam to High Island and begged and attempted to bribe him to take them to the mainland to further their escapes. Instead, he captured each one and returned each to authorities on Hart Island where he was paid a $25 bounty for each. As Murphy told one reporter, "that paid as good as digging clams."
Three years later King Jim Murphy had two "subjects" living with him on High Island. He apparently had aged a good bit in the previous three years. After telling a reporter in 1909 that he was 73 years old, he told a reporter in 1912 that "I am a good deal more than eighty years old now, and never knew a day's sickness."
King Jim spun a wild tale for the reporter from The Evening Telegraph in New York City in 1912. He claimed that for more than 75 years, he had known, but kept secret, the exact location on High Island where Captain Kidd buried a portion of his legendary treasure. He pointed out that rumors of the treasure had been rampant throughout the New York region for years. He claimed that on "half a dozen" occasions, New Yorkers had sent "expeditions" to High Island "to dig for the treasure." Murphy claimed "I never bothered them, for they always started digging in the wrong place." Murphy further claimed that once, while he was away from the island, one such expedition broke into his house and dug up his cellar floor searching for the gold. Murphy said that he would laugh at the treasure hunters and taunt them saying that "some day I would show them where the gold was, but I was too busy looking after the island and the folks."
King Jim told The Evening Telegraph reporter that he had simply been too busy for the last seventy-five years to dig up the treasure. As Murphy put it: "I could go out and dig it up easy as half a bushel of clams. That's the trouble -- clams. I've been kept so busy digging them darn clams for the last seventy-five years that I never did have time to go out and get that treasure."
The story that Jim Murphy told regarding how he learned of the location of the buried gold was just as entertaining. He claimed that he came to live on High Island in 1833. Shortly after he arrived, a "half breed Indian" paddled up to the island on a canoe and asked if he could camp on the island. According to Murphy: "I told him to go as far as he liked and to bring his whole tribe with him."
The grateful visitor stayed on the island. According to Murphy, his offer to allow others to camp on the island in addition to his new friend:
"sort of pleased him, and one day he went out fishing with me and told me how his father had watched Captain Kidd and his men bury their treasure. It was right north of my house, he said, and we went in and he showed me the exact spot. I aimed to dig it up then, but I got an order for clams that day and put it off, and then the next there came other orders. I've been aiming to go out and dig up the old pirate's treasure these many years, but something's always turning up. One day it would be hurry orders for clams and the next day chasing the Long Island pirates off my clam beds or sand worm bank."
The reporter pressed King Murphy for more detail. Murphy told the reporter that the treasure was buried fifty feet north of his house. Murphy ended the interview with a tease. He told the reporter: "I've put off digging up that treasure of Captain Kidd's a good many years, but I'm going to do it this week and then the boys [his two "subjects" also living on the island] will be satisfied, for they wouldn't dare look for it themselves without my permission. You come here, young fellow, on Thursday and I will let you see what we dig up."
Alas, there is no record that the reporter showed up the following Thursday or that King Jim and his subjects ever found the time to dig up Captain Kidd's buried treasure on High Island that day. It appears as though, once again, on that Thursday more than 100 years ago, Captain Jim Murphy was too busy digging clams or chasing Long Island pirates off his clam beds and sand worm bank to worry with digging up a fortune's worth of Captain Kidd's gold.
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Below is the text of a couple of articles that form the basis for today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"A CRUSOE OF THE SOUND
Capt. Jim Murphy the Old Inhabitant of High Island
(New York Sun.)
Off City Island on Long Island Sound lies High Island. On it among the thick shrubbery and trees is a two-story weather-beaten, ramshackle house, which is patched on the upper part with planks and pieces of wreckage which have drifted ashore on the beach. On the lower floor a veranda patched and repaired in the same manner as the upper floor still seems to cling together.
The only inhabitant of High Island is an old fisherman, Capt. Jim Murphy. Capt. Murphy is always ready to extend a welcome to the visitors who come in launches to the island in the summer season; no one goes out to the dreary place in winter.
Capt. Murphy is his younger days was one of the best known oystermen around City Island waters. He lives in the old house alone and says it is over a hundred years old. He himself is 73.
He remembers when Hart's Island, which is across from his island, was used as a military station in the Civil War. Many a time the deserters swam across to Capt. Murphy and tried to bribe him to sneak them over to the mainland. Tales of war and the history of the house the captain can spin, and after having done this he lets the parties make themselves familiar with the island.
'One thing I want to tell you,' he said to a Sun reporter. 'About every two years I have chaps coming over here from the mainland trying to find some gold. One fellow said he had a dream that Capt. Kidd's treasure was buried down under my house over yonder. I let him dig till he got sick and then quit.
'This old home of mine passed into about a hundred hands afore I ventured out in these regions. When I first came, the oyster fishing was excellent -- that's nearly fifty years ago -- but now it makes me grin once in a while when I spy those city chaps up around here a-hunting for oysters. Oysters are done for around here, and each year steadily sees less catching of fish.'
When asked if he did not feel like a Crusoe, the captain said:
'Living out here is like everything that appears odd to those who live in the city. I am used to it. In the winter months my friends are the big Sound steamers, who generally blow a salute to me. Here comes the Yale up now!'
Sure enough when the steamer was off the island three sharp blasts sounded.
'Didn't I tell you she'd blow,' cried the old man gleefully. 'I hardly ever see a paper out here, but many a time I have picked distressed launches up from the beach here in one of them squally Sound storms, and even ventured out to tow them in. No paper ever heard about that because the family pride is in old Jim and the Murphys never was puffed up about such things as they'd did.
'Well, come over ag'in some day and see me, for I grow lonesome many times after the missus passed away, God bless her!'"
Source: A CRUSOE OF THE SOUND -- Capt. Jim Murphy the Old Inhabitant of High Island, The Tennessean [Nashville, TN], Sep. 27, 1909, p. 10, col. 5 (Note: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
"Captain Kidd's Treasure Will Be Unearthed Soon by 'King of High Island'
'Jim' Murphy 'Too Busy Digging Clams,' Anyway, to Begin Search at Once.
HAS KNOWN FOR 75 YEARS WHERE IT LIES, HE SAYS
Half Breed Indian, Whose Father Saw Pirate Horde, Pointed Out Place to Him.
If he can spare an hour or two some day this week 'King Jim' Murphy, of High Island, is going to show his subjects just where Captain Kidd buried his treasure. For more than seventy-five years 'King Jim' has known of the hiding place of the pirate's hoard, but between digging clams and laying down the law to the subjects of his island possession he just couldn't find time to go after the treasure. 'Jim' is monarch absolute of High Island, a twenty-eight acre piece of ground in Long Island Sound, just north of City Island.
Why, sure I know all about where Captain Kidd hid his treasure,' said 'King Jim' to-day.' 'It's right here on High Island, and I could go out and dig it up easy as half a bushel of clams. That's the trouble -- clams. I've been kept so busy digging them darn clams for the last seventy-five years that I never did have time to go out and get that treasure.
It's buried right here within fifty feet of my house, and I know where it is, and so do my subjects.
Half Breed Showed Him.
'I came up here to live on High Island seventy-nine years ago, and I had only been here a little while when an old half-breed Indian came along in a canoe and asked me if I minded his camping on the island. I told him to go as far as he liked and to bring his whole tribe with him.
'This sort of pleased him, and one day he went out fishing with me and told me how his father had watched Captain Kidd and his men bury their treasure. It was right north of my house, he said, and we went in and he showed me the exact spot. I aimed to dig it up then, but I got an order for clams that day and put it off, and then the next there came other orders.
'I've been aiming to go out and dig up the old pirate's treasure these many years, but something's always turning up. One day it would be hurry orders for clams and the next day chasing the Long Island pirates off my clam beds or sand worm bank.
'Half a dozen times they have sent expeditions out here to High Island to dig for the treasure, but I never bothered them, for they always started digging in the wrong place. Once they broke into my house while I was away and dug up my cellar floor, thinking the treasure was there, but they didn't find it. I used to laugh at the treasure hunters and told them that some day I would show them where the gold was, but I was too busy looking after the island and the folks.
He's the Healthiest 'King.'
''Folks call me 'High Island Jim' and say I'm king of the place, and I guess they are pretty near right. I've only got two subjects living here now, and they are my two boys, 'Tinker' and Harry. 'Tinker's' nearly forty and Harry's nearly ten years older than him, but they mind me just like I was a real king. You bet neither of those kids would dare go in swimming without asking my permissions, for I wallop them for it just the same as I did thirty years ago, and they mind their 'pop.'
'I'm the healthiest king in the world, too. I am a good deal more than eighty years old now, and never knew a day's sickness. I can lick any man my age in the world, and can row a boat with any fisherman in this district and dig more clams in an afternoon than any two of 'em.
Do you know what's made me so husky? Doing just as I pleased. When I want a drink I take it, and I've been chewing tobacco since I was a kid knee high. I get wet every day on the clam beds, and can sleep just as good out of doors to-day and be ready for a day's work to-morrow as I could when I used to catch bounty jumpers who tried to desert the army camp on Hart's Island during the civil war. I used to get $25 apiece for the deserters and that paid as good as digging clams.
'I've put off digging up that treasure of Captain Kidd's a good many years, but I'm going to do it this week and then the boys will be satisfied, for they wouldn't dare look for it themselves without my permission.
'You come here, young fellow, on Thursday and I will let you see what we dig up. Before you go I just want you to say one thing when you print the story of our getting the treasure, and that is that High Island is going Democratic this fall.'"
Source: Captain Kidd's Treasure Will Be Unearthed Soon by "King of High Island" -- "Jim" Murphy "Too Busy Digging Clams," Anyway, to Begin Search at Once -- HAS KNOWN FOR 75 YEARS WHERE IT LIES, HE SAYS -- Half Breed Indian, Whose Father Saw Pirate Horde, Pointed Out Place to Him, The Evening Telegraph [NY, NY], Sep. 22, 1912, p. 4, cols. 6-7.
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