Penobscot Bay

For those interested in sunken treasure, somewhere in Penobscot Bay, Maine, not far from Vinalhaven, are the charred remains of the side-wheeler Royal Tar, and her treasure chest of $35,000 in gold and silver.

The 164-foot side-wheeler steamer was a new ship, having been built the previous spring of 1836 in St. John, New Brunswick. Truly a show palace on the water, she was often considered the sturdiest and safest craft on the run between Maine and New Brunswick.

It was small wonder, therefore, that a circus returning to the States after a highly successful summer tour of New Brunswick should charter the Royal Tar for the voyage home.

The circus was so big, however, that the steamer was almost too small to hold it. This necessitated the removal of several of the Royal Tars lifeboats in order to fit the troupe aboard. The removal of the lifeboats was to have fatal consequences later in the voyage.

When the wide-wheeler sailed for Portland, Maine, on October 21, 1836, she rode low in the water with her decks crowded with huge cages filled with horses, camels, and other circus animals, including the shows headliner, Mogul the gigantic Indian elephant. When the circus wagons and other gear were added to this, it should have been plain to all that the vessel was overloaded. But in spite of her tremendous cargo, the sturdy Royal Tar encountered no major problems on her journey down the coast, until the unexpected happened!

As the steamer lay at anchor about two miles off the Fox Island thoroughfare in Penobscot Bay, disaster hit without warning. One of the boilers became dry and quickly overheated, causing the wooden timbers to burst into flames.

Whipped by winds of near-gale force, the fire grew with lightning intensity until it was beyond control. The flames raced at will through the overcrowded decks of the anchored steamer. Realizing the futility of the situation, Captain Reed immediately ordered the few lifeboats filled and lowered.

Seven hours after the fire had begun, the Royal Tar sank beneath the waves. It is estimated that, in the meantime, she had drifted some 20 miles, as the captain had pulled the anchor.

What is interesting to the treasure hunter, however, is the fact that $35,000 in the pursers safe was untouched by anyone during the fire. It is understandable that all concerned had to abandon the ship too hastily to think about saving the money. At least, this was the report of all those questioned following the disaster.

So the treasure was still on board the Royal Tar when she sank, and the facts seem to indicate that it is still there, on the bottom of Penobscot Bay.


The story of treasure on Johns Island, in Casco Bay

I have no way of knowing whether there is any truth to the story of treasure on Johns Island, in Casco Bay. Many stories cling to this little island, which is famed as being the summer home of the Lauder family and Gene Tunney. Tradition has it that there was a large frame tavern on the north end of the island, a hangout for seamen. One of these was a Portuguese who never did any work, but always had plenty of gold and silver to spend when he appeared from parts unknown. This went on for years. Finally, he died in a foreign land, but before he breathed his last, he gave a friend a map of Johns Island, showing the location of a hidden well near the tavern. At the bottom of the well, he said, gold and silver would be found because I helped put it there from the pirate craft Dare Devil, commanded by Dixie Bull. Searches have been made for this well, but without success.

Maine Treasure Lead

Here is a treasure lead in Maine that, to my knowledge, has not been publicized too much. It is based on legend, but dont let that bother you. Legends do come true!

The legend states that Indians under a Captain Sunday mined silver near the town of Cornish, Cumberland County. The place was marked by three small hills flanking the Saco River near its junction with the Ossipee River. The mined silver was stored and never used. After working the mine for several years, the Indians sold the land on which it was located to William Phillips, who spent the remainder of his life searching for the mine, but never found it.

Historic Maine

Jean Vincent de lAbadie, Baron de St. Castine, was a French nobleman who inherited land on Penobscot Bay in what is now the state of Maine. He took possession in 1665 and ran a successful trading post at the village of Pentagoet for nearly 25 years, amassing a fortune.

During this time the French Canadians and New Englanders were engaged in fierce border skirmishes. Although de Castine fortified the village, it was plundered by the British several times. Sir Edmund Andros, Governor General of Massachusetts, led one such attack in June 1688. However, the baron had fled with his treasure.

In 1840, Captain Stephen Grindle and his son Samuel were hauling logs to the Narrows, about six miles from the village, when they found a coin, a French crown. The pair dug until dark, recovering 20 more coins. It was in late November, and during the night a severe blizzard struck, so digging was suspended until the spring of 1841.

Returning in the spring, the Grindles dug up nearly 500 coins from France, Spain, South America, Portugal, Holland, England, and Massachusetts. Was this the de Castine hoard, missing for 137 years?

Everyone believed that it was, and that there was much more to be found. The old rumors that the baron had been forced to bury his treasure as he fled were revived. Dying shortly after felling, in France, de Castine had never been able to return to America to retrieve his fortune. Now the Grindles had found at least some of it. In April 1841, Dr. Joseph Stevens, of Castine, Maine, named after the baron, visited the site and was present when more coins were unearthed. He purchased one of each type of coins dated between 1642 and 1682.

The collection also contained 150 Pine Tree shillings and sixpence dated 1652. This was the first coinage struck in the colonies. The Pine Tree shillings are valued up to $2000 each.

It was reported in 1855 that a man named Conolley, another Narrows resident, found an old chest with the remains of clothing and other goods.

Records show Baron de St. Castine fled with six money chests. Thus far, only one has reportedly been found. Records further indicate that a year before the Barons flight, a French visitor had estimated the treasure to be worth $200,000.

Over three hundred years have passed. What is the value of those five missing chests today?

Crawford, in Washington County

Crawford, in Washington County, once the center of extensive lumbering operations, was the scene of many stagecoach robberies. Favorite yarns of early stagecoach travel tell of how, when deep snow impeded the progress of the coach, packs of wolves would follow the wheel tracks and were warded off only by the alertness of the drivers and the quick cocking and firing of hand-loaded and primed guns.

Other exciting tales abound in this region. One concerns three brothers, living near Bangor, who became highwaymen and terrorized this district, stopping coaches several times a week and extracting all valuables from the passengers and their luggage. It is said that a passenger who had been robbed while traveling through the area, several months later in Boston recognized a man lounging in a tavern as one of the three bandits. Accused, the man shouted his innocence, but a gold nugget, hanging from his watch chain, was found to bear the initials of the coach passenger. It could pay to do local research on this gang.

Tale of Jim Dolliver

One of Maines little-known treasures concerns Jim Dolliver, a wealthy sawmill owner who secreted over $10,000 in gold for safekeeping between The Forks, now Manchester, and Murphys. He had previously made an overland journey to Montral, where had converted his notes, checks, shares, and bonds into gold sovereigns. He liked the feel of gold ratherthan paper. This occurred during the 1890s.

During his journey home on the old French trail, Dolliver saw some half-breed Canadians following him. Were they going to rob him? Would they kill him? As Jim tore through the dense woods to evade the real, or imagined, robbers, he went completely insane from fear after hiding his money in an old stump.

Relatives later stated that Dolliver died battling imaginary thieves. These same relatives offered three-quarters of the money to whomever should find it, and they spent $3000 in efforts to discover its whereabouts, to no avail. As far as is known, this cache has never been found.

Manana Island

This little-known treasure was found by accident and then lost again and has never been rediscovered. Manana Island is off the middle coast of Maine. Around 1900, several fishermen stopped their boat at this island to relax. They decided to play a game of soccer. When a wild kick was made by one of the crew-members, the captain of the group ran to retrieve the ball. As he picked up the ball, he noticed rusty metal sticking out of the sand. He dug the sand from around the object, and saw that it was an old iron pot filled with coins. Since he was out of sight of his crew, he stuck the pot into a nearby rock crevice, intending to come back for it later.

After playing for a while longer, the crew went back to their fishing boat. The captain made an excuse to stay behind for a short time. Returning to what he thought was the crevice where he had put the pot of coins, he was amazed that he could not find the right one. Deciding that part of the coins would be better than none, the captain called his crew and told them what he had done.

The entire company spent several hours in search of the coins, but were never able to find them. As far as is known, somewhere on Manana Island, stuck in a rock crevice, there is a cache of coins waiting for a lucky treasure hunter.

counterfeiting in Maine

One of the few instances of counterfeiting in Maine was done on Ragged Island in Cumberland County. This gang operated for several years until they were finally routed by Federal agents. The island, because of its isolated position, was also a rendezvous for different lawbreakers for several years. This little-known location could pay off, because it is almost certain that something was hidden by some of these outlaws.

Outer Heron Island

This short story has a mystery concerning a treasure location that has never been reported solved. Outer Heron Island, Maine, lies a few miles offshore from Boothbay Harbor.

Around 1900, two young men came to Outer Heron Island from New York. They had a map of the island showing where a chest of pirate gold was supposedly buried. The two never revealed how this map came into their possession. With a specially constructed auger that could be lengthened indefinitely by adding sections of iron rod, they started boring near a lone, grotesquely-shaped spruce tree on the highest point of the island.

After a month of constant work, and at a depth of 30 feet, the auger brought up oaken chips. They penetrated this, and the bit came up with particles of what seemed to be gold. The two then hired two Italian laborers and excavated a 30-foot shaft. At this depth, a 6-foot oak plank was found, and that was all. The gold had come from a copper spike which the auger point had rapped.

The mystery is how did a copper spike and a six-foot plank get 30 feet underground, unless some kind of excavating had been done years before? No report of any treasures being found in the area can be located.

Samuel Bellamy and Paulsgrave Williams

The story of the two pirates Samuel Bellamy and Paulsgrave Williams, circa 1716-1717, has been written before, but my version comes from a book dating to before 1900 and contains information which I have not found in any other publication.

It was not at the mouth of the Machias River where the two pirates had their stronghold, but further upriver. They did dig a subterranean treasure house, but it was not inside the fort. There is little doubt but that the vault holds a large hoard of what we call treasure today. The story of Bellamy and Williams started out as what could have been just another instance of illegal salvaging in the West Indies. After several years of wrecking ships from the shore, the two men decided to try it at sea by becoming pirates.

Now, for piracy, they needed a ship, which they did not have. But the problem was shortly solved with the appearance of the British merchant vessel Whidah near their headquarters. The Whidah, her holds bulging with precious metals, ivory, and gems, took shelter in a small West Indian cove. Here the British proceeded to replenish their water supply before starting the long voyage to England. A few hours later, the land-bound pirates were rowing toward the unsuspecting ship. In a matter of minutes, every member of the crew was dead. Bellamy and Williams immediately commissioned the Whidah as a pirate ship and headed north.

After looting a number of ships along the way, the pirates arrived at a destination selected by Captain Bellamy, the only navigator on board. The spot was near the mouth of the Machias River, far from any civilized community at that time. It was here that the two leaders put into action a plan they had had for some time. They reasoned that the cargo which their ship carried should be hidden before they sailed again.

The two decided to build a permanent headquarters, which took the form of a large log fort with defensive fences and earthworks. Close by, a large vault was excavated to serve as a treasure house. Here the spoils of their pirating were secreted.

When all of this was done, and the Whidah had been overhauled, Bellamy and Williams set sail again. For several months their piratical deeds were the byword from New England to the Carolinas. After several forays, the treasure house was filled. So extensive was the wealth that Bellamy and Williams decided they could afford to quit pirating.

However, the temptation to make one more trip was too much, and on the last trip out, near-disaster occurred in the vicinity of Fortune Bay. The pirates spotted a wealthy-looking vessel, which, when they came within range, was a French corvette with 36 guns. In the battle that followed, most of the crew of Bellamy and Williams were killed, although the battered Whidah did manage to elude the French vessel and sailed back to their pirate headquarters. When the Whidah was repaired, they again set sail on one last trip.

Near Nantucket Shoals, Massachusetts, the pirates captured the Mary Jane, an outbound whaler from New Bedford. It carried nothing of value. Bellamy appointed the Mary Janes captain to lead the Whidah through the unfamiliar shoals until the tip of Cape Cod was passed, and then Bellamy himself would navigate.

The captain of the Mary Jane, threading his way through the reefs, led the Whidah around, and both vessels were torn apart. All the men onboard both ships were drowned except the captain of the Mary Jane, who finally made it to shore.

Seven pirates who were following the two vessels in a small sloop also reached the shore, but they were swiftly captured and hanged by the angry townspeople of Eastham, Mass.

The headquarters of Bellamy and Williams, near the mouth of the Machias River, has just about disappeared. Butsomewhere nearby is hidden one of the richest pirate caches in North America, one that has never been reported found.