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, October 30, 2017

The Ghost of Captain Kidd Guards His Treasure on an Island Off Pelham

It is terrifying to imagine.  Not once; not twice; but, several times treasure hunters on an island off the shores of Pelham and New Rochelle have been confronted by the ghost of William Kidd.  Today Historic Pelham tells the story of the Ghost of Captain Kidd who continues, to this day, to guard his treasure on an island in Long Island Sound off the shores of Pelham.

It is doubtless that the infamous 17th century pirate William Kidd, known as Captain Kidd, prowled the waters of Long Island Sound near Pelham.  Moreover, ancient Pelham lore holds that Captain Kidd buried treasure on an island off the shores of our townSee:

Thu., Jun. 08, 2017:  More 19th Century Reports of Captain Kidd's Treasure Buried Off Pelham Shores.

Wed., Feb. 15, 2017:  Captain Kidd's Treasure: Buried on High Island in the Town of Pelham.

Fri., Jan. 22, 2016:  Did the Notorious Captain Kidd Bury Treasure on an Island Off the Shores of Pelham?

The story of the ghost of Captain Kidd is nearly always the same.  Those who have stumbled into the ghost's lair have told their terrifying tales, but have never revealed which Pelham island is inhabited by Kidd's ghost because, of course, to reveal the ghost's lair would reveal the location of Kidd's buried treasure.  The terrifying tale goes something like this.

Bitten long ago by the gold bug, during the 1870s a bedraggled old treasure hunter hopped from island to island off Pelham shores in search of the storied pirate's treasure of Captain Kidd.  He and others of his ilk (and greed) tore up nearly every nearby island in Long Island Sound.  They explored and dug up virtually every inch of Huckleberry Island, High Island, Rat Island, The Blauzes, Goose Island, South No Nations, East No Nations, Twin Islands, Middle Reef Island, Cuban Ledge, Big Tom, Green Flats, Hunter's Island, Davids Island, and many, many others.

One particular day, the bedraggled old treasure hunter was tired from searching.  The sun began to sink.  Daylight began to fade.  But, the old man refused to give up his search for treasureWith the fading light, he squinted as he poked among rocks and boulders on the island.  His bronzed face was deeply etched with the wrinkles of a long and hard life.  His tattered clothing was speckled with patches, some of which were worn through and in need of patching themselves.  His unkempt gray hair waved in a light breeze as he used an old bent shovel with a weathered and cracked handle to poke at the island rocks and boulders.  Occasionally the old fellow spoke, though there was no one on the island to listen to his rants.

Though easy to dismiss such an old codger, there was something fascinating about him.  It could be seen in his eyes (had there been anyone there to stare into them).  He had brilliant blue eyes that flashed brightly as they searched for treasure.  These were not the vacant, unfocused eyes of a demented old man.  These were the clear eyes of a younger man burning with greed.  They darted back and forth, up and down.  No crevice, rock, boulder, stone, or even speck of ground escaped their searching gaze when the old man was on the prowl.

That evening, the old man's bright blue eyes locked onto an oddity among the boulders and stones of the island he was searching.  Two large boulders rested against one another, but seemed odd.  Though they were separate boulders, they rested together with such a perfect, matched fit that it did not seem possible that even a sheet of paper would fit between them anywhere from top to bottom.

The bedraggled old man tried to stick the blade of his shovel between the two stones.  Only a fraction of an inch of the blade made it.  The boulders seemed fitted together.

Like a predator circling its prey, the old fellow began walking around the two boulders.  On the opposite side there was a cascade of large stones resting against the two boulders.  It looked as though an ancient rock slide had piled the stones in that spot.  Something, however, was amiss.  There was nothing above the two large boulders from which such stones could have slid.

The old man had a hunch.  He leaped onto the pile of stones and began tossing them aside.  They were large and heavy.  That made no difference.  A surge of strength electrified him as he shoved, pushed, and threw aside the stones from top to bottom until . . . . . 

There it was!

Beneath the pile of stones was a large flat stone nearly three feet square.  Clearly it covered something.

The old man scrambled to remove the flat stone.  It also was heavy.  He pried at it with the blade of his shovel as the sun finally rested on the western horizon momentarily, before beginning to sink below.  With Herculean effort, the frenzied treasure hunter pried the stone up enough to get a grip on it.  He dragged it away.  Beneath was a dark hole that seemed to extend downward several feet and underneath the two giant boulders.  

The old man had no light -- no matches or candles.  Sweat beads dribbled down his forehead and into his eyes.  He licked his lips and started down into the blackness of the hole.  

He could sense there was a fairly large open area under the two boulders above him.  His bright eyes darted back and forth, but could see little until they adjusted to the darkness.  Indeed, it was a race against time.  While his eyes were adjusting to the darkness, the light outside was growing dimmer and dimmer, offering little hope that the old man could explore the cave-like area.  

As his eyes searched, he thought he could make out a stack of something in the darkness.  He could not see what it was when he looked directly at it, but when he glanced to the side, his peripheral vision perceived something -- a stack of something.  

The old man stepped forward slowly, sliding his feet on the dirt floor and holding his hands in front of himself to feel his way in the dark.  He approached the stack and stumbled into it.  He felt with his hands all over the stack.  Old wooden boxes!  Heavy old wooden boxes!  Was this what he had sought for years? Was it Captain Kidd's treasure?

As the old man's brain swirled, a flash of light illuminated the room.  He spun around and there before him -- between him and the only way out -- was a large, luminous spiritThe luminescence lit the cave.  The old man now could see that the area was small and was filled with a stack of wooden boxes, some of which at the base of the stack had rotted and were crushed by the weight of the ones above.  The glint of gold and silver could be seen amidst the rotted debris of the boxes at the base that had rotted and settled under the weight of the crates stacked on top.

 The bedraggled old treasure hunter knew in an instant he had found Captain Kidd's treasureHe was torn between exhilaration and terror.  His attention instantaneously returned to the apparition.  Though the spirit made no sound, it began to float around the old man, circling his prey.  The spirit seemed to be dressed in 17th century seaman's clothing that, like the clothing of the old man, was bedraggled and torn.  

The old man turned slowly with the spirit as the apparition slowly circled him.  The old man never let the spirit get behind him and never turned his back on the ghastly ghost.  As the spirit circled, it soon was between the treasure and the old man.  That meant the ghost no longer floated between the old man and the only exit.

The old treasurer hunter began backing up toward the exit.  As he did, the ghost became agitated, then enraged.  In a flash the spirit pulled from somewhere a giant luminous and ghastly saber that flashed as though made of real steel.  The ghost darted forward and slashed at the old man with the giant blade.

Before the ghost could slash again, the old man scrambled out of the hole and ran for his life.  He left his old shovel and never looked back as he stumbled over the rough ground in the dim twilight toward his ancient rowboat on the island's shore.  There he leaped into the vessel and took off for the mainland.  As he looked back, he could see the luminous ghost of Captain Kidd floating above the shore of the island.  It held the flashing saber over its head triumphantly.  Occasionally it pointed the tip of the saber directly at the old man rowing away as if to threaten him.  The old man rowed for his life, never to return to the island again.

Had the old man returned to the island even as early as the following day, he would have seen that everything was exactly as it had been the day before as though nothing had ever happened at the site.  The flat stone was back in place, covered with a large pile of large stones at the back of the two boulders.  The only thing that would have seemed out of place on the island was an old bent shovel with a weathered and cracked handle that was broken into pieces lying on the shore of the island from which the old man had fled.

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Below is an example of an article published in the 1870s that mentions the ghost of Captain Kidd guarding Kidd's treasure on an island off the shores of Pelham and New Rochelle.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

The Settlement and History of New Rochelle.
Special Correspondence of the Cincinnati Times.

NEW ROCHELLE, December 22.

We took the New Haven road for Rochelle, which is one of the handsomest and aristocratic suburbs of New York, about eighteen miles . . . distant from the city.

The history of this town is very interesting.  It was settled by the French Huguenots, who fled from Old Rochelle, in France.  That heroic city which had sheltered the survivors of St. Bartholomew, and for seventy years withstood the power of France, at length only succumbed when conquered by the fiendish ingenuity of Cardinal Richelieu, who erected a mole across their harbor, closing the mouth of their channel, which moles was made impregnable by men and cannon.  The Rochellese defended themselves until their number was reduced from twenty-seven thousand to five thousand, and they were reduced almost to skeletons by starvation.

Their surrender was followed by unheard of cruelties.  Men and women were condemned to the galleys; sent to the French Provinces in America; sold as slaves, and this was done, accompanied by other atrocities hard to believe even in that age.  Many of them fled to England, and finally, came to America.  The charity of Trinity Church, New Rochelle, specified that its members fled from France in 1681.  They were a part of the fifty thousand Huguenots who had found refuge in England.  

Settling here near Long Island Sound, their industry, ingenuity and courtesy soon made their colony a favorite resort.

Nothing could exceed the devotion of these French Huguenots to their God and their religion.  They must attend service on the Sabbath.  The nearest church was the old Church St. Esprit, in Pine street, New York, twenty-three miles distant by the road.  Every Sunday morning, they left their children in the care of friends, put their shoes and stockings in their pockets and men and women began their march to St. Esprit, always singing as they went along, one of Clement Marot's hymns; he who was the favorite and friend of Margaret of Valais, Duchess of Alencon.

Reaching a pond on the edge of New York city, they stopped, washed their feet, and put on their shoes and stockings, preparatory to entering the house of worship.  Their religious duties performed, they divested themselves of their shoes and started for home, generally reaching there late Sunday evening.  Even after their church was erected, they continued to do this at intervals, to partake of the communion, until the breaking out of the Revolution, when the country became too unsettled for such travel.

The French Bible used by these people, also a prayer book and catechism, are still in existence.  One of the prayers read:

'Oraison Du Fidele Detenu En Captivite.'

The Church of New Rochelle, like the great old Church of Rochelle, France, was destroyed by fire.  The present edifice was erected on the ground it occupied.  It has in the belfry the bell which formerly swung in the tower of the French Church du St. Esprit, New York City, and which was presented by Sir Henry Amherst.  On it is inscribed --

'Samuel Newton made me -- 1706.'

On the communion chalice and poten, is engraved,

'The Queen's chalice and poten, presented A. D. 1706.'

This was the gift of Queen Anne of England.


Here, in New Rochelle, is the monument erected by his friends, to Thomas Paine.  Transplanted under the auspices of Benjamin Franklin, from a garret in London to America, Thomas Paine moved in the best society of Philadelphia and New York, and did good work in the cause of independence by writing his 'Common Sense.'  This was followed by his 'Crisis,' and for the service done the cause by these books the State of New York presented him with a farm at New Rochelle.

His subsequent career is well known.  His return to Europe, his connection with Robespierre, his escape from the dungeons of Paris, and his return to this country, and his settling on his farm.  Grant Thorburn tells the following story of Mr. Paine's escape from the guillotine, as told him by Paine himself;

'Paine was in the dungeon, and his name was on the list with 23 others to be executed next morning.  It was customary for the clerk of the tribunal to go through the cells at midnight and put a cross with chalk on the back of the door of such as were to be guillotined.  In the morning, when the executioner came with his guard, wherever they found a chalk the victim was brought out.  There was a long passage in the cellar of this Bastile, having a row of cells on each side, containing prisoners.  The passage was secured at each end, but the doors of the cells were left open through the day, and the prisoners were allowed to step into each others' rooms to converse.  Paine had gone into the next cell, leaving his door open back against the wall of the passage.  Just then came the chalkers, and probably being drunk, crossed Paine's door on the inside, which was out.  Next morning the guards came with an order to bring out twenty-four victims.  They could find only twenty-three, (Paine being in bed and his door being shut,) so they took another prisoner from the other end of the passage, and made up the number.'

In 1809 Thomas Paine died; his remains were interred on his farm.  In 1810, William Cobbett, who had lately become one of Paine's disciples, visited this country, went to New Rochelle, disinterred and carried his remains away by night, and conveyed them to England.  When Mr. Cobbett died, among his household goods and chattels was found a box of bones, which has caused many to doubt if Paine's remains were ever interred again.  If they were, I am under the impression Cobbet made no mention of the fact or the place of interment.

Some thirty or thirty-five years ago, the friends and admirers of Paine, purchased the site of his grave and erected a handsome monument there.  On this monument is a medallion likeness of him, and under it the inscription:

Author of

From out the empty grave near by a hickory tree has grown and spread its branches.

For two generations the French of New Rochelle kept their language in all its parity, and many youths were sent here to learn it.  John Jay and Phillip Schuyler of Revolutionary memory were educated here, as was also later Washington Irving; an ivy covering a house is pointed out as having been planted by the latter.


The harbors of the sound here and on Long Island, were frequented by the notorious pirate, Captain Kidd.  He was employed in 1690 to suppress the 'buccaneers,' from the knowledge he possessed of their numbers, strength and places of resort.  It is said he was unable to govern such a horde of men under no pay, as composed his crew, and therefore he was in a measure compelled to engage in the very business he was employed to suppress.  This, however, is more than doubtful.

After a short but desperate career of a few years, he was captured at Boston, and sent to England, where he was executed in 1701.

He usually provisioned his vessel in this vicinity, and many men of desperate fortunes from the neighborhood flocked to him, hoping by so doing to secure great treasures.  It was reported that he had buried great treasures in the islands in the sound and the shores around, and consequently almost every part of land and island has at some time or other been dug up by infatuated treasure seekers.

Every few years this mania is revived, and we hear of those that are in search of the pirate's hidden gold, but, as yet, I believe none has been discovered.

Huckleberry Island was a favorite resort of the renowned freebooter -- almost every inch of the soil of which has been turned up.  Kidd's Point, on the opposite shore of Long Island, has also received attention in this way, much time and labor having been expended there.

The superstitious firmly believe that Kidd's ghost guard's his treasures to this day, and many amusing stories are told of the adventures of those who have essayed to rob him.  Men have declared that they have reached, and would have secured the golden harvest but for the sudden apparition of Kidd himself seated on his boxes, guarding them with a drawn sword.

M. M. T."

Source:  THE HUGUENOTS-- The Settlement and History of New Rochelle, The Weekly Kansas Chief [Troy, KS], Jan. 18, 1877, Vol. XX, No. 31, p. 1, cols. 4-5.

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