By Charles M. Skinner in 1896
The wealth of the Astors hardly exceeds the treasure that is supposed to be secreted here and there about the country, and thousands of dollars have been expended in dredging rivers and shallow seas and in blasting caves and cellars. Certain promoters of these schemes have enjoyed salaries as officers in the stock companies organized for their furtherance, and they have seen the only tangible results from such enterprises.
One summer evening in the middle of the 17th century, a ship dropped anchor at the mouth of Saugus River, Massachusetts, and four of the crew rowed to the woods that skirted its banks and made a landing. The vessel had disappeared on the following morning, but in the forge at the settlement was found a paper stating that if a certain number of shackles and handcuffs were made and secretly deposited at a specified place in the forest, a sum of money equal to their value would be found in their stead on the next day. The order was filled, and the silver was found, as promised, but though a watch was set, nothing further was seen of men or ship for several months.
The four men did return, however, and lived by themselves amid the woods of Saugus, the gossips reporting that a beautiful woman had been seen in their company — the mistress of the pirate chief, for, of course, the mysterious quartette had followed the trade of robbery on the high seas. Three of these men were captured, taken to England, and hanged. The fourth — a man named Thomas Veale — escaped to a cavern in the wood, where, it was reputed, great treasures were concealed, and there he lived until the earthquake of 1658, when a rock fell from the roof of the cave, closing the entrance and burying the guilty man in a tomb where, it is presumed, he perished of thirst and hunger. Dungeon Rock, of Lynn, is the place’s name ever since.
In 1852 Hiram Marble announced that he had been visited by spirits, who not only told him that the pirates‘ spoils were still in their olden hiding place but pointed out the spot where the work of excavation should begin. Aided by his son, he tunneled the solid granite for a distance of 135 feet, the passage being seven feet high and seven wide. Whenever he was wearied the “mediums” that he consulted would tell him to make cuttings to the right or left, and for every fresh discouragement, they found fresh work. For 30 years, this task was carried on, both father and son dying without gaining any practical result other than discovering an ancient scabbard in a rift. The heiress of the house of Marble alone reaped benefit from their labors, for resuming, on a petty scale, the levies of the first dwellers in the rock — she boldly placarded the entrance to the workings “Ye who enter here leave 25 cents behind.”
In several cases, the chasms that have been caused by wear of water or convulsions of nature (their opposite sides being matched) were believed to have been hiding places, but, in the old days in New England, it was believed that the earthquake caused all such fractures at the time of the crucifixion — a testimony of the power of God to shake sinners.
In Massachusetts, the Heart of Greylock is the name given to the crater-like recess, a thousand feet deep, in the tallest of the Berkshire peaks. It was formerly best known as Money Hole, and the stream that courses through it as Money Brook, for a gang of counterfeiters worked in that recess, and there some spurious coinage may still be concealed. The stream is also known as Spectre Brook, for late wandering hunters and scouting soldiers, seeing the forgers moving to and fro about their furnaces, took them for ghosts.
Province Island, in Lake Memphremagog, Vermont, is believed to contain some of the profits of an extensive smuggling enterprise carried on near the lake for several years.
A little company of Spanish adventurers passed along the base of the Green Mountains early in the 18th, expecting to return after having some dealings with the trading stations on the St. Lawrence River, so they deposited a part of their gold on Ludlow Mountain, Vermont, and another pot of it on Camel’s Hump. They agreed that none should return without his companions, but they were detained in the north and separated, some going home to Spain. Late in life, the sole survivor of the company went to Camel’s Hump and tried to recall where the treasure had been hidden, but his search was in vain.
While flying from the people whose declaration of independence had already been written in the blood of the king’s troops at Concord, the royal governor — Wentworth — was embarrassed by a wife and a treasure chest. He had left his mansion at Smith’s Pond, New Hampshire, and was making it toward Portsmouth, where he was to enjoy the protection of the British fleet. However, the country was up in arms, time was important, and as his wearied horses could not go on without a lightening of the burden, he was forced to leave behind either Lady Wentworth or his other riches. As the lady properly objected to any risk to her own safety, the chest was buried at an unknown spot in the forest. For a century and more, the whereabouts of the Wentworth plate and money bags have been a matter of search and conjecture.
When the Hessian troops marched from Saratoga, New York to Boston, Massachusetts, to take ship after Burgoyne’s surrender, they were in wretched condition-war-worn, ragged, and ill-fed, — and having much with them in the form of plate and jewels that had been spared by their conquerors, together with some of the money sent from England for their hire, they were in constant fear of attack from the farmers, who, though they had been beaten, continued to regard them with an unfavorable eye. On reaching Dalton, Massachusetts, the Hessians agreed to put their valuables into a howitzer, which they buried in the woods, intending that some of their number should come back at the close of the war and recover it. An Indian had silently followed them for a long distance to gather up any unconsidered trifles that might be left in their bivouacs, and he marked the route by blazes on the trees. However, if he saw the burial of this novel treasury, it meant nothing to him, and the knowledge of the hiding place was lost. For years the populace kept watch of all strangers that came to town and shadowed them if they went to the woods, but without result. In about 1800, the supposed hiding place was examined closely, and excavations were made, but, as before, nothing rewarded the search.
A tree of unknown age — the Old Elm — stood on Boston Common until the late 19th century. This veteran, torn and broken by many a gale and lightning-stroke, was once a gallows, and Goody Glover had swung from it in witch-times. When the boughs creaked together on tempestuous nights, it was said that dark shapes might be seen writhing on the branches and capering about the sward below in hellish glee. On a gusty autumn evening in 1776, a muffled form presented itself, unannounced, at the chamber of Mike Wild. After that notorious miser had recovered enough from the fear created by the presence to understand what it said to him, he realized that it was telling him of something that, in life, it had buried at the foot of the Old Elm. After much hesitancy, Mike set forth with his ghostly guide, for he would have risked his soul for money, but on arriving at his destination, he was startled to find himself alone. Nothing daunted; he set down his lantern and began to dig. Though he turned up many a rood of soil and sounded with his spade for bags and chests of gold, he found nothing. Strange noises overhead — for the wind was high, and the twigs seemed to snicker eerily as they crossed each other-sent thrills along his back from time to time, and he was about to return, half in anger, half in fear, when his spirit visitor emerged from behind the tree and stood before him. The mien was threatening, the nose had reddened and extended, the hair was rumpled, and the brow was scowling. The frown of the gold monster grew more awful, the stare of his eye in the starlight more unbearable, and he was crouching and creeping as if for a spring. Mike could endure no more. He fainted and awakened in the morning in his own chamber, where, to a neighbor who made an early call, he told — with embellishments — the story of the encounter. However, before he had come to the end of the narrative, the visitor burst into a roar of laughter and confessed that he had personated the supernatural visitant, having wagered a dozen bottles of wine with the landlord of the Boar’s Head that he could get the better of Mike Wild. For all this, the old tree bore, for many years, an evil reputation.
A Spanish galleon, the Saints Joseph and Helena, making it from Havana to Cadiz in 1753, was carried from her course by adverse winds and tossed against a reef near New London, Connecticut, receiving injuries that compelled her to run into that port for repairs. To reach her broken ribs more easily, her freight was put on shore in charge of the collector of the port, but when it was desired to ship the cargo again, behold! the quarter part of it had disappeared; none could say how. New London got a bad name from this robbery, and the governor, though besought by the assembly to make good the shortage, failed to do so, and lost his place at the next election. It was reputed that some of the treasure was buried on the shore by the robbers. In 1827 a woman who was understood to have the power of seership published a vision to a couple of young blades, who had paid for it, to the effect that hidden under one of the grass-grown wharves was a box of dollars. With the aid of a crystal pebble, she received this really valuable information, but the pebble was not clear enough to reveal the exact place of the box. She could see, however, that the dollars were packed edgewise. When New London was sound asleep, the young men stole out and, by lantern light, began their work. They had dug to the water level when they reached an iron chest, and they stooped to lift it-but, to their amazement, the iron was too hot to handle! Now they heard deep growls, and a giant dog peered at them from the pit mouth; red eyes flashed at them from the darkness; a wild goose, with eyes of blazing green, hovered and screamed above them. Though the witch had promised them safety, nothing appeared to ward off the fantastic shapes that began to crowd about them. Too terrified to work longer, they sprang out and made away, and when-taking courage from the sunshine — they renewed the search; next day, the iron chest had vanished.
On Crown Point, Lake Champlain, Vermont, is the ruin of a fort erected by Lord Amherst above the site of a French work thrown up in 1731 to guard a now-vanished capital of 1500 people. It was declared that when the French evacuated the region, they buried money and bullion in a well, in the northwest corner of the bastion, 90 feet deep, in the full expectancy of regaining it. In the mid-1800s, this belief had grown to such proportions that 50 men undertook to clear the well, pushing their investigations into various parts of the enclosure and surrounding fields. They found quantities of lead and iron but no gold.
Follingsby’s Pond, in the Adirondacks, was named for a recluse who occupied a lonely but strongly guarded cabin in the early part of this century. It was believed afterward that he was an English army officer of noble birth who had left his own country in disgust at having discovered an attachment between his wife and one of his fellow officers. He died in a fever and, while raving in delirium, spoke of a concealed chest. A trapper, who was his only attendant in his last moments, dug over the ground floor of the hut and found a box containing a jeweled sword, costly trinkets, and letters that bore out the presumption of Follingsby’s aristocratic origin. What became of these valuables after their exhumation is not known, and the existence of more has been suspected.
Coney Island, New York, is declared to have been used by a band of pirates as the first national sandbank, and, as these rascals were caught and swung off with short shrift, they do say that the plunder is still to be had — by the man who finds it. But the hotel keepers and three-card-monte men are not waiting for that discovery to grow rich.
In Shandaken Valley, in the Catskills of New York, it was affirmed that a party of British officers buried money somewhere when they were beset by the farmers and hunters of that region and never got it out of the earth again.
On Tea Island, Lake George, New York, the buried treasures of Lord Abercrombie have remained successfully hidden until this day.
The oldest house at Fort Neck, Long Island, New York, was known for years as the haunted house, and the grave of its owner — Captain Jones — was called the pirate’s grave, for, in the last century, Jones was accused of piracy and smuggling, and there have been those who suspected worse. A hope of finding gold and silver about the premises has been yearly growing fainter. Just before the death of Jones, which occurred here in an orderly manner, a crow, so big that everybody believed it to be a demon, flew in at the window and hovered over the bed of the dying man until he had drawn his last breath, when, with a triumphant cry, it flew through the west end of the house. The hole that it broke through the masonry could never be stopped, for no matter how often it was repaired, the stone and cement fell out again, and the wind came through with such a chill and such shrieks that the house had to be abandoned.
The owner of an estate on Lloyd’s Neck, Long Island, had more wealth than he thought it was safe or easy to transport when he found the colonies rising against Britain in 1775, and flight was imperative, for he was known by his neighbors to be a Tory. Massing his plate, coin, and other movables into three barrels, he ordered his three slaves to bury them in pits that they had dug beneath his house. Then, as they were shoveling back the earth, he shot them dead, all three, and buried them, one on each barrel. His motive for the crime may have been a fear that the slaves would aid the Americans in the approaching struggle or that they might return and dig up the wealth or reveal the hiding place to the king’s enemies. Then he escaped to Nova Scotia, though he might as well have stayed at home, for the British possessed themselves of Long Island, and his house became a resort for red-coats and loyalists. It was after the turn of the century when a boat put in, one evening, at Cold Spring Bay, and the next morning the inhabitants found footprints leading to and from a spot where some children had discovered a knotted rope projecting from the soil. Something had been removed, for the mold of a large box was visible at the bottom of a pit. Acres of the neighborhood were then dug over by treasure hunters, who found a box of cob dollars and several casks. The contents of the latter, though rich and old, were not solid, and when diffused through the systems of several Long Islanders, imparted to them a spirituous and patriotic glow — for in thus destroying the secreted stores of a royalist were they not asserting the triumph of democratic principles?
The clay bluffs at Pottery Beach, Brooklyn, New York, were pierced with artificial caves where lawless men found shelter in the unsettled first years of the republic. A wreck lay rotting here for many years, and it was said to be the skeleton of a ship that these fellows had beached by false beacons. She had costly freight aboard, and on the morning after she went ashore, crew and freight had vanished. It was believed that much of the plunder was buried in the clay near the water’s edge. In the early colonial days, Grand Island, in Niagara River, was the home of a Frenchman, Clairieux, an exile or refugee attended by a negro servant. During one summer, a sloop visited the island frequently, laden on each trip with chests that never were taken away in the sight of men and that are now supposed to be buried near the site of the Frenchman’s cabin. The report had it that these boxes were filled with money, but if well or ill-procured, none could say unless it was the Frenchman, and he had no remarks to offer on the subject. In the fall, after these visits of the sloop, Clairieux disappeared, and when some hunters landed on the island, they found that his cabin had been burned and that a large skeleton, evidently that of the black man, was chained to the earth in the center of the place where the house had stood. The slave had been killed, it was surmised, that his spirit might watch the hoard and drive away intruders, but the Frenchman met his fate elsewhere, and his secret, like that of many another miser, perished with him. In 1888, when a northeast gale had blown back the water of the river, a farmer living on the island discovered, just under the surface, a stone foundation built in a circular form, as if it had once supported a tower. In the mud within this circle, he found several French gold and silver coins, one minted in 1537. Close by, other coins of a later date were found. A systematic examination of the whole channel has been proposed, as it was also said that two French frigates, scuttled to keep them out of the hands of the English, lie bedded in the sand below the island, one of them with a naval paymaster’s chest on board.
On the shore of Oneida Lake, New York, is an Indian’s grave, where a ball of light is wont to swing and dance. A farmer named Belknap dreamed several times of a buried treasure at this point, and he was told, in his vision, that if he would dig there at midnight, he could make it his own. He attempted, and his pick struck a crock that gave a chink, as of gold. He should, at that moment, have turned around three times, as his dream directed, but he was so excited that he forgot to. A flash of lightning rented the air and stretched him senseless on the grass. When he recovered, the crock was gone, the hole filled in, and the light has hovered about the place ever since then. Some say that this is but the will-o’-the-wisp: the soul of a bad fellow who is doomed to wander in desolate regions because, after dying, Peter would not allow him to enter heaven, and the devil would not let him go into the other place, lest he should make the little devils unmanageable; but he is allowed to carry a light in his wanderings.
In Indian Gap, near Wernersville, Pennsylvania, the Doane band of Tories and terrorists hid a chest of gold, the proceeds of many robberies. Witches guard it, and although it has been seen, no one has been able to lay hands on it. The seekers are always blinded by blue flame and frightened away by roaring noises. The Dutch farmers of the vicinity will dig for it, all the same, for it is said that the watch of evil spirits will be given over at midnight, but they do not know of what date. They will be on hand at the spot revealed to them through the vision of a “hex layer” (a vision that costs them 50 cents) until the night arrives when there are no blue flames.
In the southern part of Chester County, Pennsylvania, is money, too, but just where nobody knows. A lonely, crabbed man, who died in a poor hut after the American Revolution, owned that he had served the British as a spy but said that he had spent none of the gold he had taken from them. He was either too sorry for his deeds or too mean to do so. He had put it in a crock and buried it, and, on his deathbed, where he made his statement, he asked that it might be exhumed and spent for some good purpose. He was about to tell where it was when the death rattle choked his words.
The Isle of the Yellow Sands, in Lake Superior, was supposed by Indians to be made of the dust of gold, but it was protected by vultures that beat back those who approached or tore them to pieces if they insisted on landing. An Indian girl who stole away from her camp to procure a quantity of this treasure was pursued by her lover, who, frightened at the risk she was about to run from the vultures, stopped her flight by staving in the side of her canoe so that she was compelled to take refuge in his. He rowed home with her before the birds came to attack.
Old Francois Fontenoy, an Indian trader, buried a brass kettle full of gold at Presque Isle, near Detroit, Michigan, that is still in the earth.
On the banks of the Cumberland River in Tennessee is a height where a searcher for gold was seized by invisible defenders and hurled to the bottom of the cliff, receiving mortal injuries.
The Spaniards were said to have entombed $300,000 in gold near Natchez, Mississippi. A man to whom the secret had descended offered to reveal it, but his offer was laughed at as he was a prisoner. Afterward, an empty vault was found where he said it would be. Somebody had accidentally opened it and had removed the treasure.
Caverns have frequently been used as hiding places for things of more or less value — generally less. Saltpetre Cave, in Georgia, was a factory and magazine for saltpeter, gunpowder, and other military stores during the Civil War. The Northern soldiers wrecked the potash works and broke away tons of rock, making it dangerous to return. Human bones have been found here, too, but they are thought to be those of soldiers that entered the cave in pursuit of an Indian chief who had defied the State in the 1840s. He escaped through a hole in the roof, doubled on his pursuers, fired a pile of dead leaves and wood at the mouth, and suffocated the white men with the smoke.
Spaniards worked the mines in the Ozark Hills of Missouri in the late 17th century. One of the mines containing lead and silver, 18 miles southwest of Galena, was worked by seven men who could not agree on a division of the yield. One by one, they were killed in quarrels until but a single man was left, and he, in turn, was set upon by the resurrected victims and choked to death by their cold fingers.
In 1873 a Vermonter named Johnson went there and said he would find what the Spaniards had been hiding, despite the devil and his imps. He did work there for one day and was then found dead at the mouth of the old shaft with marks of bony fingers on his throat.
The seven cities of Cibola that Coronado and other Spanish adventurers sought in the vast deserts of the Southwest were pueblos. A treacherous guide who had hoped to take Coronado into the waterless plain and lose him but who first lost his own head had told him a tale of the Quivira, a tribe that had much gold. So far from having gold, these Indians did not know the stuff, but the myth that they had hoarded quantities of it survived and caused the waste of lives and money. Towns in New Mexico that have lain in ruins since 1670, when the Apache butchered their people — towns that were well built and were lorded by solid old churches and monasteries erected by the Spanish missionaries — these towns have often been dug over, and the ruinous state of Abo, Curari, and Tabira is due, in part, to their foolish tunneling and blasting.
One day in 1841, a Spanish ship put in for water off the spot where Columbia City, Oregon, now stands. She had a rough crew on board, and it had been necessary for her officers to watch the men closely from when the latter discovered that she was carrying a costly cargo. Hardly had the anchor chains run out before the sailors fell upon the captain, killed him, seized all the value they could gather, and took it to the shore. What happened after is not clear, but it is probable that several of the claimants were slain in a quarrel over the demands of each man to have most of the plunder. Indians were troublesome, likewise, so it was thought best to put most of the goods into the ground, and this was done on the tract known as Hez Copier’s farm. Hardly was the task completed before the Indians appeared in large numbers and set up their tepees, showing that they were meant to remain. The mutineers rowed back to the ship, and after vainly waiting for several days for a chance to go on shore again, they sailed away. Two years of wandering, fighting, and carousal ensued before the remnant of the crew returned to Oregon. The Indians were gone, and an earnest search was made for the money — but in vain. It was as if the ground had never been disturbed. The man who had supervised its burial was present until the mutineers returned to their boats when it was discovered that he was mysteriously missing.
More than 40 years after these events, a meeting of Spiritualists was held in Columbia City, and a “medium” announced that she had received a revelation of the exact spot where the goods had been concealed. A company went to the place and, after a search of several days, found, under a foot of soil, a quantity of broken stone. While throwing out these fragments, one of the party fell dead. The spirit of the defrauded and murdered captain had claimed him, the medium explained. So great was the fright caused by this accident that the search was again abandoned until March 1890, when another party resumed the digging. After taking out the remainder of the stone, they came on several human skeletons. During the examination of these relics — possibly the bones of mutineers who had been killed in the fight onshore — a man fell into a fit of raving madness, and again the search was abandoned, for it is now said that an immutable curse rests on the treasure.
Charles M. Skinner, 1896. Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2023.
About the Author: Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the complete nine-volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in 1896. This tale is excerpted from these excellent works, which are now in the public domain.
Ghosts, Legends, Myths, & Mysteries